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Archives for February 2007

Love Your Competition. Their Job Is To Make You Better

ScoreboardWhenever I surf into a blog that’s built with Typepad I wonder why anyone would do that. And then I smile and I’m glad they did. They help make WordPress better.

I’m not trying to knock Typepad and rave about the wonders of WordPress. We all have our own reasons for why we like the things we do. The point is, both blogging platforms help make the other better through the spirit of competition.

In business, and a lot of things, it’s usually better to play your own game rather than play someone else’s. It helps you focus on moving forward. Keep your eye on the targets of progress, growth and success rather than on the competition.

But you can’t completely ignore your competition either. To survive, your goals have to meet or exceed theirs. Your amazing ability to create new products, services or innovative features has to meet or exceed theirs. You have to embrace change, new standards and technologies, and the future as much as they do.

So you have to check out what your competition is doing every once in a while. Keep score. Adjust your goals. Get up to speed. Brainstorm your next innovation. And be better than you were. Better than they are, and better than they will be in the future.

Your competition has one job. To make you better. Think of them as your training partner. High level athletes use training partners to help push them further. The better your partner is, the harder they’re going to push you. And the further you’re going to go.

Let your competition inspire you. They will. You can plan on it.

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Making Executive Decisions: Is The Juice Worth The Squeeze?

OrangeAs a leader, you don’t always have to have the best idea. But you do have to recognize the best idea. And then you have to make the decision to go with that idea.

Some decisions are easy. Others … not so much.

Is The Juice Worth The Squeeze

There is a funny comedy called The Girl Next Door starring Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert. It’s a zany story about a high school guy who’s trying to win a scholarship. He always plays it safe and never does anything wild. Everything he does is to push towards his goal of a career in politics, so he keeps his world really buttoned up.

And then he falls for the new girl that’s just moved in next door. The catch is … she used to be a porn star. He lets loose, gets himself into deep waters, and around every turn he’s forced to make big decisions that could affect his future.

The theme (and a line in the movie) is this: Is the juice worth the squeeze? It’s a great line to think of when you’re under pressure and you have to force yourself to stop cold so you can weigh the consequences of your decisions.

The Juice, The Squeeze, And Making A Decision

You’re under pressure, people and situations are coming at you a hundred miles an hour from all directions and everyone is looking at you to make the call. The best thing to do is STOP.

  • Stop
  • Think
  • Observe
  • Plan

Maybe you’ve got 3 weeks to do this. And maybe you only have 3 seconds. S.T.O.P. is an acronym used in wilderness training to offset panic and teach people how to deal with unexpected situations. It works in the concrete jungle too. Clear minds always prevail.

Stop

You can make split-second decisions when your experience or your gut tells you it’s the right move. If you’re not sure though, and you try to force a big decision then you usually have a 50/50 chance of being right. Probably less than that because neither of your initial options might be the best. The best decision might be one that goes in a totally different direction.

Think

Explore your options. Look beyond what is right in front of you. Maybe there’s a creative solution that makes this not such a difficult decision after all.

Once you know your options, it’s time to weigh them. This is where you figure out if the juice is worth the squeeze. List the good points and the bad points. Factor in the short term and the long term repercussions. See what or who else you can bring in to turn some of the bad points into good ones.

Observe

By this time you should find yourself leaning towards a particular decision. Test it. Bounce it off the wall. Roll it around. Look and see if there’s anything you’ve missed. Look into the future and really be honest about what might or might not happen if you make this decision the way you think you’re going to make it.

Plan

It’s time to make your executive decision. But it isn’t a simple decision and you have to make sure it’s executed properly to take advantage of the good points and skirt around the pitfalls.

If there are other people involved, make sure everyone knows what to do and why it has to be done a certain way. Outline the steps to be taken. Ensure that everyone is aware of the pitfalls and that they know the goals they need to reach.

After The Dust Settles

Good decisions pay off. You know when you’ve made one. Everyone knows it. No matter how hard they are to make at the time, as long as you stop, and ask, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”, the outcome after a good decision will always tell you …

“You’re damn right it is”.

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The Nirvana Business Model For New Entrepreneurs

NirvanaLove what you do.

Nothing illustrates this better than the recent CommunityNext panel of successful web developers moderated by Guy Kawasaki. You can see the whole video on Guy’s blog.

The panel featured Sean Suhl, Akash Garg, Drew Curtis, Marcus Frind, Max Levchin and James Hong. These entrepreneurs have all built their success without following the standard cookie-cutter rules of business model development.

The one thing they all have in common is that they built success by doing something they really wanted to do. Stuff that was fun. Stuff that was engaging and meaningful to them. Drew Curtis just wanted to amuse himself and his friends. Fark was born. Marcus Frind was an asp programmer. He wanted to learn the new asp.net technology. He didn’t want to do it by readng a book so he built PlentyOfFish.

Don’t Let Your Business Plan Take Away Your Passion

There’s a lot to be said for creating a business plan. But one thing that’s vitally important is to not allow your plan to paint you into a corner. Or take away your passion for what you’re creating.

A big trap in business planning comes from all the research you do to create your plan. As you research your markets and your competition theres a real danger that what you create will just be a copy of what’s already being done by others. It won’t be nearly as successful.

Here’s why:

I was having a discussion with a high school friend of mine one time about music. We were talking about Grunge and Alternative and he said something amazing. He said “All the bands that came after Nirvana and Pearl Jam tried to do what they did. What they didn’t realize is that what Nirvana and Pearl Jam REALLY did, was something new”.

I’m the last person to say that business planning isn’t important. It is. Extremely. It’s just not as important as loving what you do.

Love what you do. Success will follow.

*Update. As soon as I posted this, I realized that my garage band analogy fits in with the fact that Guy is the founder of Garage. My subconscious is probably feeling pretty good about itself right now.

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The Internet As A Creative Currency Zone

Internet CurrencyWhen someone says the word currency, most people automatically think money. Paper money. Dollar bills. But the internet is changing that thinking in some big ways.

Money is just a common and convenient medium of exchange. It’s easier to attach a common market value to everyday items we purchase with a universally accepted form of tender like money. It’s easier and more convenient than trying to trade chickens for horseshoes.

A currency zone is generally country specific. It’s an area where a certain currency is the dominant currency. Canadian dollars, US dollars, Euros … all different currencies, used in their prospective countries or regions. Or zones.

Digital Money

With the widespread use of bank cards and credit cards, the borders between currency zones have fallen away. All you need to travel to another country is your ATM card and a credit card. If you need paper money in a different currency you simply withdraw or charge that amount and it’s automatically converted for you.

Electronic funds and the computerized management of funds has made it easier to cross through different currency zones. And though the zones are still different and each currency carries its own value, the medium of exchange that people use everyday is not just paper money. It’s plastic.

Enter The Internet

The internet has changed the medium of exchange even further. It’s no longer plastic. It’s simply a number.

Your credit card number + your name + the expiry date on your card. That’s the common medium of exchange on the internet.

New Currencies On The Internet

Difficult problems require creative solutions. Here are a few inventive ways that people have come up with to create alternative forms of currency:

Online Gaming

The online gaming industry has been hit hard by the fact that legislation signed last October forbids the use of credit cards, checks, and EFTs to fund online betting accounts. Difficult problem. Creative solution required.

So, since then, people have been using gift cards, phone cards, and whatever they can get away with to stay in the game. These are just different stores of value being used as currency to get around the legislation.

Online Socializing

The online virtual world of Second Life has it’s own currency called the Linden Dollar. They’re directly convertable to and from US dollars at a rate of about 250 $Linden to 1$US. The large gap in the exchange rate allows players to use prices similar to those in the real world while conducting commerce in Second Life, without costing them the equivalent price in real world dollars. Nobody is going to pay a real world price for a virtual world house.

Links As Currency

I like to surf by SEO blackhat once in a while. I’m not into blackhat stuff, but I always find Quadszilla’s posts to be bold, off the cuff, and entertaining. Right now he’s putting together an SEO poker tournament.

You can’t buy your way into this tournament with cash. To get yourself a seat at the table, you have to have a website with a homepage pagerank of 4 or better. The grand prize is a link to your site for one year from all the participants in the tourney.

All these links contain a lot of potential value for driving traffic to a monetized website. How much value is dependant on a lot of different factors. And so, unlike phone cards or Linden dollars, the exchange rate into paper dollars is not easily pinned down.

Are These Things Really Currency?

They’re all stored units of value. And unlike bartering your web design services or something like that, they all have a certain capacity as a universal, or at least widespread, medium of exchange.

The crazy, crazy internet. You gotta love it.

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Protect Your Company From Industrial Espionage

Corporate SpiesI’m guessing that shortly after the first wheel was invented by someone, someone else came along and stole it. Or at least the idea of it.

Industrial espionage is not James Bond stuff. It’s just not that sexy. It’s more like Marc Barry stuff most of the time. If you’ve seen the movie The Corporation, then you know that Marc Barry is what’s called a Competitive Intelligence Professional. A corporate spy. What he does is very simple; On behalf of his clients he interviews employees of their competitors. Under the guise of wanting to hire them he conducts lengthy interviews and extracts information about what their company is doing.

Sometimes industrial espionage even has a humorous edge to it. What I want to talk about is how everyday espionage is conducted so you know what to look for. Then you can put together policies and procedures to limit it’s impact on your business.

The ABCs Of Industrial Espionage

Corporate espionage is all about getting information. To get that information a spy has to get access to it. Sure, there are some shady operators but most of the time the target company simply hands the information over to the spy.

Just hands it over. “Here you go”.

The reason this happens is that most spying looks like nothing more than legitimate business. Here are three ways that corporate spies get into your business:

  1. They walk in and say they want to buy something. They actually don’t plan on buying anything. All they want is information so they can compete with you. What they want is pricing, information about your suppliers, your procedures, the special services you provide. They want to learn how you do what you do. They also want to find your weak spots so they can badmouth you and show customers what a mess your company is compared to theirs.
  2. Someone you know brings them in. The easiest way to get into a manufacturing facility is to know a little bit about the equipment they have. A spy will then contact the appropriate equipment seller and get them to schedule a little tour to see the equipment in action. Most manufacturers have good relationships with their equipment dealers and some even have agreements to showcase the equipment in exchange for a discounted price. The spy is not looking at this equipment as much as he’s looking at everything about your operations that he can get his eyes on during the tour.
  3. The due diligence scam. This is like number 1 but the spy takes the ruse a lot further. What they do is start serious negotiations to give you their business. In the course of these negotiations they require a lot of documentation from you in the name of quality control. They have to be sure that every aspect of what you do is done properly for the benefit of their customers. What they really want is a complete manual and list of resources for doing what you do.

How To Protect Yourself From Espionage

As you can see, these spying techniques are almost indistinguishable from normal business practices. That’s what makes them so effective. If you get paranoid you could easily turn away legitimate business so you have to be careful about how you handle this.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Use your connections. Check people out when they approach you. If they’ve been approaching a lot of companies for quite some time in the same manner without producing any business for these companies, chances are they won’t give you any business whether they’re spying on you or not.
  • Be stingy with the documentation you hand over. I’ll give out a Table Of Contents of my quality control procedures or operations procedures. I might even give them a few select documents. I’m not going to hand over the whole How-To manual to anyone.
  • Create policies that forbid large tours and photo-taking of your operations.
  • Check your gut. If it feels wrong, stall until you can get more information about who these people you’re meeting with are.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. There’s very little that any company does that can’t be found out somewhere if someone really wants to find it out. As long as you keep the amount of access that outsiders have limited and controlled, there usually isn’t much potential for harmful leakage of your proprietary data to occur.

How Big A Problem Is Industrial Espionage?

Unless you’re a $10,000,000+ company, it’s not that big of a problem. The main things that companies have to protect are proprietary technologies or processes. You also have to protect your documentation if you have extensive technical or quality control procedures.

Just in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not a corporate spy. But every once in a while I do feel the need to get ethical.

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Format Wars: The Game’s Chess, Not Checkers

HD DVD vs Blu-rayDeveloping and licensing technologies is a very lucrative business.

There is a format war happening right now between HD DVD and Blu-ray. The prize for winning the war and becoming the standard technology used by everyone is the right to get a piece of every high definition video disc produced by licensing the format technology to everyone else.

Sometimes the best technology wins. A lot of times it doesn’t. To win a licensing war depends on a lot of things:

  • Who’s first into the market
  • Strategic alliances with companies who will utilize the technology
  • Usability and performance
  • Cost

HD DVD vs Blu-ray. Who’s Going To Win And Why?

Arguably, Blu-ray is a better format because the discs can hold 25GB of information per layer as opposed to 15GB per layer for HD-DVD. Blu-ray also transfers data at a faster rate than HD DVD does.

The problem with Blu-ray is that it’s more expensive to manufacture. Because the information stored on the disc is so close to the surface of the disc, scratches were a big problem with the Blu-ray technology. to combat this the disc is coated with a special scratch-resistant coating. This and other things add cost to manufacturing the discs.

The majority of consumers would not pay more for a movie or a videogame because it was on a different kind of disc. This means that the revenue potential per unit of HD DVD and Blu-ray are the same … but the Blu-ray costs more to manufacture which gives HD-DVD more profitability per unit.

More profitability means more marketing dollars to wage the format war. This is the same thing that killed Beta. Betamax was a better quality format than VHS, but it lost the war because it was more expensive than VHS.

HD DVD is backed by a consortium of companies headed by Toshiba while Blu-ray was developed by Sony. If HD-DVD wins the format war this could give Microsoft an extra edge in the gaming console wars since they are backing HD DVD with the Xbox. This, combined with the resurgence of Nintendo with the Wii could slowly grind away at Sony’s PS3 marketshare.

As you can see, it’s not just a question of which format is better. There are a lot of other strategic factors to consider when it comes to licensing technology. The game involves a lot of money. And the game’s chess, not checkers.

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How To Turn Your Job Into Your Own Business

Small BusinessYou can make more money with your own business than you can make anywhere else.

Better than a great salary or investing in stocks or real estate, a successful business has the potential to make a lot of money. If it’s your business, you’re the one making that money.

Types Of Jobs You Can Turn Into A Business

Most jobs can be rolled into a business if you’ve got the creativity and the drive to find a suitable business model. Even if all you do is wash cars, you can start your own detailing business. You just have to figure out how, where, and how much it’s going to cost you to get going.

Here are some types of jobs that are easier than others to turn into a business:

  • Technical jobs. This could anything from drafting to engineering to writing quality control documentation.
  • Creative jobs. Everything from web design to hair stylist.
  • Trades. Plumber, electrician, painter, tilesetter … the list goes on.
  • Sales positions. If you’re a sales wiz, your customers care more about the service they get from you than the company you work for.

The Advantages Of Turning Your Job Into A Business

There are three main advantages, and they’re big ones:

  1. Money. You can make more money if you cut out the middleman (your employer). As a small entrepreneur with low overhead expenses you can often offer clients a better deal and still make more money. You can also write off your expenses; like part of your mortgage and utility bills if you have a home office.
  2. Be Your Own Boss. You have to be a tough boss (to yourself) if you want to succeed, but you’re in the drivers seat. You control how fast the business moves forward, in what direction, who you work with … everything.
  3. Cashing Out. After a few or many years of building up a successful business, you can sell it and retire. If you have a true entrepreneurial spirit, you probably won’t sell it unless you really want to start a new business venture, but the option (and the equity) is always there.

The Caveats

There are some things to consider before jumping in. Think about these things carefully:

  1. Managing People. The hardest thing to do is to manage people. It’s starts with finding good team players but that’s just the beginning. Are you an effective communicator? Can you lead people?
  2. Competition. Who’s you competition? Your current employer? Do you have an anti-competition contract with them? What can you do between now and the time it expires?
  3. Failure. Can you handle it? How do you pick up the pieces if you try to make a go of it and don’t succeed? How much is it going to cost you financially?

Tips To Help You Succeed

Alright, you’ve looked at the advantages and some of the caveats and you’ve decided to go ahead and start your own business. It’s time to create some zoom! Here are some things you should know to increase your chances of success:

  1. Sell. A job is easy because most companies have experienced and connected salespeople out making the sales that pay your wages. Without sales there is no business. Job one for you as a business owner is not washing cars, it’s getting customers into your car wash. And you have to actively pursue sales. “If you build it, they will come” is not a good business strategy. You have to network. You have to go out and pound on doors and talk to people. Lack of sales is the number one killer of new businesses.
  2. Start Small. And suffer through the growing pains. Too many people bite off more than they can chew because they believe they need to be bigger to compete or because they want to plan too far ahead. Keep your costs under strict control. You need a bucket and a rag to wash cars. You don’t need a $20,000 lighted sign that says “Joe’s Car Wash” … not yet. Starting too big is the second biggest killer of new businesses.

Even a complicated business is about nothing more than buying and selling. If you can focus on going out and getting sales first and then focus on keeping your costs under control, you’re going to have a better shot at success than a lot of people do.

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Security: Hard Targeting Your Business

CastleOne of the most important things to protect your business against is the classic B&E. Businesses are always good candidates for thieves to commit a break and enter crime because they usually have:

  • Things of value
  • No one around at night

I’ve had a few break-ins occur and I know several other businesses who have had trouble with break-ins and theft. Thanks to these “experiences” I have a number of rules and philosophies about how I handle security. Here are some things you can do to hard target your business:

Layer Your Security

Having an alarm is a no-brainer, but a lot of thieves don’t really care if there is one or not. They know that it will take a certain amount of time for the cops to arrive once the alarm goes off, and it’s all the time they need. You have to slow them down and this means creating layers.

Anything you can do to slow down the crooks is good, especially AFTER the alarm goes off. Here are some ways to slow them down:

  • If there are two doorways to go through, lock and alarm the outside door, but also lock the inside door. Now they have to tackle that inside door which costs them time while the alarm is going off. Most commercial properties should have steel doors already. If not, replace any wooden doors with steel ones. 
  • Lock down computers and expensive office equipment with computer cables. Desks that have a cable pass-through are great for this. Computer cables are attached using an extremely strong epoxy glue and good cables are difficult to cut through. Attach one end to the computer case, pass the cable through the desk and attach the other end to your monitor. You can attach printers directly to the desk they sit on.
  • Keep your tools or equipment in a workshop and keep it locked.
  • Padlocks are spring loaded and easily pop open with a single hammer blow where the shackle meets the body. This doesn’t even damage the lock. They’re only secure if you use a padlock with a shielded shackle or you use them with a hasp that has a shielded cover.
  • Install both a deadbolt and doorhandle lock on your outside doors. Two locks are better than one.
  • Install bars or security blinds that can be rolled open during the day on windows.
  • Install concrete filled steel posts in front of doors so they can’t drive through your door. Thieves love to steal vehicles and use them to ram through doors. An easy way to fortify large doors is to buy a concrete road barrier. They weigh up to 2000 pounds, they’re cheap, and you can always get them moved out of the way if necessary.

Don’t Give Thieves The Tools They Need

Remove anything that’s lying around that someone can thow through a window or use to smash their way in to your place. And don’t leave vehicles parked in an unsecured place; thieves will use them to mow down fences and ram through doors.

Know that anything outside that’s not nailed down might be stolen. And I mean anything. I had about 20 feet of copper plumbing pipe loosely attached to a wall outside that wasn’t hooked up to anything. Someone came by one weekend and stole it. They probably just took it to a scrapyard to get a couple bucks for it. I wasn’t too concerned about the theft, but anything that’s lying around that can be stolen attracts the wrong kind of attention.

What To Do After A Break-in

There’s always a lot of things to do after a break-in. You have to report the crime to the police, replace essential equipment that was stolen and talk to your insurer (depending on the value of what was stolen and the cost of your deductible). You also have to repair the point of entry, whether it’s a door or window that was broken.

Do a complete security assessment after a break-in. A lot of times, companies will fortify the point of entry and that’s all they do. The next time, the thieves pick another weak point and break in through a different entry. Secure all your points of entry and add layers to all your points of entry.

The Thing About Thieves

They’re very creative and very bold when it comes to crime. If they put all that energy into a legitimate career or business venture, a lot of them would probably be very successful people.

Be thorough in your security assessment. Add layers and remove the tools and the opportunities that can be taken advantage of by would-be thieves.

If you have any experiences or security tips, share them in the comments.

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Technorati Blog Claiming

Technorati mastheadThis post has only one function. Okay, actually it has two.

The main function is to have a post with my Technorati blog claim code embedded in it so that Technorati can verify that this is my blog and list it under my profile. Here’s the tag!

Technorati Profile

If that’s all this post was for, then it wouldn’t make much sense to keep it around once the Technorati spiders verifed my ownership of Zoomstart (the post could be deleted once Technorati finishes verification).

I figured “Hey, while I’m here, why not write a decent post and keep it around”

About Technorati

As I’m writing this, Technorati tracks over 66 million blogs. Not every blog they track is a member, but it’s safe to say, they have a pretty large network of users. It’s a great place to network and get the word out about your blog. Here are some of the features they have:

  1. Your Profile. Lets people know a little about you and your blog. It’s always good to put a picture in your Technorati profile. It’s going to be small (64 x 64 pixels). They feature newly claimed blogs on their homepage and they do this by showing your profile picture as an icon that clicks through to your profile which links to your blog.
  2. Tags. Technorati loves tags. There are different ways to tag your blog posts so people can find them when they do a search for specific keywords (tags). If you use WordPress, you can use a plugin like Ultimate Tag Warrior to make it easy. If you don’t use tags, Technorati users can still find you by searching for keywords that are contained in your post.
  3. Linking. Technorati track blogs that you link to, and other blogs that link to you. When other blogs link to you, your ranking goes up. As your ranking goes up, your blog has more visibility which makes it easier for people to find you.

So that gives you a bit of an idea of what Technorati is all about. It’s about networking, visibility, and ultimately bringing traffic to your blog. And after all, you’re writing to be read right?

At the end of the day, great content is what you will link to and it’s what will get others to link to you. Technorati’s job is to help everybody do that and to create a hub where cool, new, and intersting things can be found. It’s about keeping the conversation alive and flowing.

And who knows, if you become a top 100 ranked blogger like Shoemoney, you could really get the word out about your blog because major mainstream media publishers (tv, radio, newspapers) are always keeping an eye out for what’s hot on the net.

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The Difference Between Ethics And Integrity

Ethics vs IntegrityEthics In General

If you understand that ethics is a set of standardized rules for conducting yourself morally, then it’s easy to see that ethics is a lot like the tax code. It’s a system where people are looking for loopholes and shelters. They’re looking to get away with whatever they can while still staying within the rules.

Ethics In Business

Ethics in busines is pretty much the same as it is anywhere else. It’s a code of conduct for a very competitive sport. No biting, no eye gouging, hit above the belt.

High profile companies can be rocked by scandal for shady business practices just as easily as politicians can. And scandal for a company can hurt the bottom line. When you have dozens or hundreds or thousands of people out in the world doing business and representing your company, the only way to manage all of them is to apply a set of rules or ethics to a questionable situation.

For small companies without high profiles, the boundaries of ethics are much easier tested and pushed. The repercussions are still there, but they’re limited without mass media exposure.

Integrity

True integrity comes from individuals. Integrity is a personal code of conduct that goes above the letter of good conduct and encompasses the spirit of good conduct. Your word is your bond. Your word is good. Your intentions are to create a win-win situation. People count on your professionalism and they know they can.

Integrity builds relationships. It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. Just as important, it’s how they see you. To conduct business at a high level requires people to have a lot of confidence in you.

Serious business people understand the importance of good relationships and the role of integrity in forging them. Two companies can make each other stronger and worth more if they work together to make each other a success. You simply can’t do that if you’re playing the rules of ethics against each other.

You can’t fake integrity but it is a great strategy. If you find yourself in a deal involving multiple parties, integrity will build your stake at the game over ethics any day. At least, it will when you’re dealing with serious and capable people. Integrity often loses when someone is selling something that isn’t real, and the other guy buys it. But that really isn’t a deal you want a part of anyway.

Getting Burned And Getting Ethical

I try to act with integrity as best I can with anything I get involved in. There is a time though when I like to get ethical. REAL ethical.

If you’ve never been burned in business, you haven’t done much business. It happens. It’s going to happen. As sure as the sky is blue it’s going to happen. With time and experience you can learn how to protect yourself from getting burned or at least minimize the damage and the costs.

With a little more time and a little more experience, you learn how to see it coming before it happens. That’s when I like to get ethical.

I’m not going to do anything shady or immoral. I’m certainly not going to ruin my own reputation. But I won’t sit back and hope karma evens everything out either. When I get burned or I see it coming, I hit back.

Most times when I see it coming I just walk away from doing business with that person or company. But if I’m already involved with them, I have to protect two things; the business and myself. The only thing to do is to stay within the confines of ethical behaviour, hit back, and hit back hard.

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