Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

Gen Y Wants to Work It!

With the new website coming to life (huge thanks to Andy Merrick) and a few exciting meetings last week, I’ve been tied up and unable to blog as much as I usually do. All of these developments for my business are so exciting but have sapped some of my creative juices away. In attempt to get back into the swing of things, I’ve been sitting here contemplating what topic to kick off the week with.

Thanks to the newest poll feature, I noticed that of the few people that actually took the poll, everyone had the same answer. To the question, “What’s your biggest career fear?” Everyone’s response was: “working for someone else my whole life.” Very interesting.

I know that entrepreneurship has always been a dream of mine, but is it also a dream for the majority of my generation? According to a recent article written by Michael Malone in the Wall Street Journal, “An upcoming wave of new workers in our society will never work for an established company if they can help it. To them, having a traditional job is one of the biggest career failures they can imagine.”

Wow, a career “failure” is working for an established company? That might be a first. What about these shocking statistics: Today, 80% of the colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer courses on entrepreneurship; 60% of Gen Y business owners consider themselves to be serial entrepreneurs, according to Inc. Magazine. Tellingly, 18 to 24-year-olds are starting companies at a faster rate than 35 to 44-year-olds. And 70% of today’s high schoolers intend to start their own companies, according to a Gallup poll.

So as Gen Y continues to get the reputation of being self-centered, obnoxious, lazy and under-dressed, we are apparently also quite ambitious and independent as well.

Owning your own business is no walk in the park. It requires managing money, marketing, selling, paying attention to details, using your life savings for start up costs, making tough decisions, taking risks and wearing many hats at once. In my short time in starting a business, I’ve learned how completely consuming it is. It is definitely NOT something that I can stop thinking about once the clock strikes 5pm.

I do wonder though, what is it about how us twentysomethings were raised or the times that we live in that make us want to take on owning our own businesses so much? Perhaps we saw our parents get laid off from their big safe job after 30 years with no loyalty back from their company. Perhaps we saw large politicians and CEO’s break our trust after we initially looked up to them so much.

Or, maybe we really are just too damn selfish to want someone else to tell us when we can take off work or how we are supposed to run our division. Maybe we hate rules and authority. Or perhaps we are just so creative that we feel stifled when we have to work under someone else’s vision rather than our own. We’re not afraid of technology and we feel we deserve everything that we want in a career.

So, my little poll question quickly gave light to a huge topic I need to spend more time writing about because apparently I’m not the only twentysomething who wants to talk about starting a business. I’m sure many of us are nervous about the economy, nervous about keeping our jobs and also nervous about how to pay down our debt. The answer might be starting a business to hedge the risk and do something you love.

I get super irritated when people complain but don’t do anything about it. If you dream about working for yourself someday, why can’t you start now? You’re the only one who can get yourself to the next level, so start dreaming about what you want and then figure out how to get it. Anything is possible, right?

And if you have questions along the way, ask me and any other person who is passionate about entrepreneurship because we are all willing to help.

Resilience in Times of Economic and Career Crisis

I received the following Facebook message from someone I went to High School with today:

Nicole,

I am finding that my motivation to do my job is falling off little by little every day and the push to keep going and insure I am the best is becoming a greater challenge every day.

I am telling you this in hopes that you- one of the very few people who may understand my mentality that anything short of the best is not good enough- could offer some words of wisdom or bits of advice on how to push through it.

I find myself day dreaming of what it would be like to have a normal job, one that does not include the responsibility of keeping others employed, or having to continuously be an ass, or worst of all put up with two moron bosses that never communicate. You know, the kind of work where I have a few simple tasks a day and maybe a slightly difficult decision from time to time, and then I can go home to an average life…

Well hopefully you have some words of wisdom, because I’m running out of them…

-C.

I asked my friend if I could use his message for a post, because I’m almost positive a majority of twentysomethings feel hopeless about their job and career path at times.

First, the news has becoming depressing. Hearing about friends and family members losing their jobs and getting pay cuts is sad. Feeling the slow down of being in an industry that is highly dependent on the economy is scary. Seeing huge financial institutions fail, and their CEO’s making millions of dollars a year is bizarre. The fact that America is now considered “debt nation” and the government has to bail us out is awful. All of this “doom and gloom” has probably led many people to a small case of temporary depression!

As far as offering advice to this common situation, my first suggestion would be to take a few days off. Or maybe more if you can. Perhaps a little vacation would give you time to get your head together and either cope with the situation or pursue a new path.

Second, if you’ve determined that you are truly miserable accept that only YOU can change your situation. This may require going back to school, moving to a new city, quitting your job to pursue a new one, etc. Usually you will know if it is time to take the leap. My guess is that you will feel a million times better once you do.

Lastly, I think C.’s email brings up a VERY important topic: resilience. When talking to my business partner, Blake, over the weekend we emphasized how important this trait is when facing the challenges of building a solid business or career. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it- right? C. mentioned that “anything short of the best” is not good enough for him. If that is the case, he may need to accept that either a. he is not in the right job at all, or b. that being the best, or accepting the most difficult challenges are usually the most daunting and the least fun.

So why is resilience so important? Resilient people bounce back and don’t quit or give up easily. Their ability to keep going will eventually lead them to success. Resilient people can thrive and progress in difficult circumstances, and tend to get ahead when less adaptable people won’t.

After receiving C’s message, I wrote back and asked if I could post a response to his dilemma. He agreed and then wrote the following:

I asked my friend yesterday if he thought what is going on around us right now will affect the way our generation saves, works, changes… The way I see it is that we turning into our grandparents’ generation, that of the depression era. The mentality of working until your eyes are burnt, fingers are bleeding, and thoughts are worthless all to go to bed and wake up the next day to do the same thing. And for what? The fear that we will lose our jobs and be out of work for years to come?

That is a very interesting question that I hadn’t thought about before, but really it makes perfect sense. Living our twenties-a vulnerable time period in it self- while in a time of economic hardship and turmoil must affect the way we handle risk, finances and career choices. It seems that many of us are becoming paralyzed by fear, and therefore settling in many areas of our lives. It sounds like people like C. are hoping to hold on to anything that is stable and secure, even if it makes them feel like they are dying inside.

Gen Y is said to be a self-centered, free thinking and entrepreneurial generation. It’s almost ironic that Gen Y is also living through the present conditions we are. Perhaps it’s a big lesson we needed to learn.

Either way, my advice is to make choices that make you happy and keep looking forward. Be resilient and know that we are only in our twenties and have the rest of our lives to pursue more glamorous ventures.

Good luck to C and all others who are feeling this way!

Chapter 1 of My Journey as an Entrepreneur

So rather than a career or personal finance lesson, today I’m going to share what being a budding entrepreneur has been like for me lately.  A few words that immediately come to mind: coffee, energy, passion, and time management.

3195538796_e83eb19d4f Let’s start with coffee.  Yes, I read and loved Skinny Bitch and I know coffee is not the best habit to hold. Yet without it, I’m not sure how I could manage to write blog posts, launch a new website site, maintain a partnership with “The Mindset of Wealth” in Washington D.C., in addition to working a full time job in Commercial Banking that I really enjoy, work out and sleep. I always swore I would never be a coffee drinker because my parents are completely hooked on it, and of course I never wanted to do what they did. Yet now that I’m older, I see how my Mom ran a successful company, played Mom to 3 kids, cooked fabulous dinners most nights and made sure we all had what we needed. Thank God coffee is a legal substance, because to me it is a wonder drug that helps you make the most of your day.

Caffeine isn’t enough to start the engine of an entrepreneur though. For me it has taken an incredible amount of mental energy. Energy is important for me when I don’t feel like getting on conference call number 5 over my lunch break, waking up at 6am to run before work because I know I can’t do it after, coming up with new ideas, or focusing 100% on my job while I am there. Perhaps a better word for this energy is discipline. Sometimes it’s hard to make myself connect with others to market what I’m doing, or focus on developing a project I’m working on. Yet somehow I love what I’m doing so much that my mental energy carries me through.

That leads us to passion. It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that you must be completely obsessed and in love with your entrepreneurial venture. Why? Because you will breathe, think and dream it constantly and live every moment of your day thinking about it. If you’re like me, you will talk about it while socializing at a bar with new people, you will talk about it the minute you get home from work and sometimes get up in the middle of the night to jot down a fleeting idea. Perhaps that sounds a bit crazy to some, but for me it has been crucial in getting things done.

I learned in one of my Ladies Who Launch workshops that female entrepreneurs are especially known to think of their business as their “baby.” Or even as an extension of themselves which they identify with. This is absolutely true for me. As I develop the new and improved version of this blog (which will soon be called “Ms. Career Girl”) and make it into an interactive site for women, I see my personality and things I need help with being brought to life through the new site. In addition to the blog posts, there will be tools, job postings, networking events, more personal finance information, “ask a professional career girl”, recommended reading and more.

The eight year old girl in me who talked to her friends and family about being a business woman when she grew up is coming to486569058_9b91ccc458_m life. Now I see why I played office instead of house, and preferred riding my pink BMX boys bike to playing with dolls. I see why coming downtown Chicago to visit my aunt while she was in law school excited me so much. I see why I’ve always been obsessed with Oprah and what she has done for so many women around the world. I feel less strange for wanting to read books any extra minute I get, because I see that the information I get from these books can be used to help and inspire others. It’s so weird how all my little personality traits have come together and can be reflected through my entrepreneurial venture.

Lastly, time management. I think we’ve gone over how I manage my time enough, but I do want to share something quick that I learned this weekend at another one of my Ladies Who Launch workshops. As my leader Megan McKenzie says, “time management is a myth because you can’t create time.” Therefore here’s a trick to make the most out of what you DO have.

Take a 3 x 5 index card and look at it vertically. At the top write today’s date. Under that, write your top 4 items you want to get done that day. One of those items must be for you. Draw a line beneath those four items. Any items below that line are tasks that can be pushed to tomorrow. I started using this little time management tool this week and it’s crazy how much more focus I have had. I’ve accomplished more this week than usual. Try it!

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. As things get off of the ground, I’ll be sure to write Chapter 2 of my journey as I know it will be an evolving experience with many lessons. In the meantime, it’s coffee time for me! Ciao!

Raise Your Hand!

479567869_1175a2d9ef_mMy friend Allie and I went to coffee the other day and she casually mentioned that she spoke at her college graduation ceremony. I’m not talking small tiny college here: she spoke at Michigan State’s commencement- WOW! So I immediately interrupted her story and asked HOW she was able to partake in such a great honor. I assumed she must have been valedictorian or student body president but she wasn’t. She simply said, “I just raised my hand.”

Apparently she found out about the opportunity and volunteered. Perhaps no one else had the guts to represent but either way she had the great honor of representing her class.

So we got on the topic of how important it is to raise your hand in life. We agreed that it is especially important when first starting out.

Allie told me another story about someone she knows who randomly decided to email the President of a large, well respected international company when she was in college. The email suggested that they should go to lunch when the president was in town presenting to her college. They went to lunch and the person has been employed with the company ever since.

The moral of the story here is, don’t be afraid to take on a new challenge. Raise your hand for a new project. Volunteer for the opportunity to present to new clients or your company’s executive board (even if you are terrified). Send an email to someone you dream of working for. Ask someone you admire to lunch. Reach out to those who intimidate you because most others won’t. The simple action of raising your hand can lead to many exciting new partnerships, adventures and opportunities.

Applying “The ‘Next!’ Principle” to Rock Rejection

The fear of failure is the #1 reason most people never reach new heights in their personal and professional lives. Perhaps people feel that too much could be lost if they try something different or get out of their comfort zone. The truth is, nothing is lost considering you never had what you were looking for in the first place.

Think logically about a very simple example for a minute.

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Going on a blind date. The cost is the initial discomfort, being nervous and possibly being bored for a few hours at dinner. The benefit is meeting someone new, overcoming a fear, enjoying a new restaurant, and potentially building a new relationship. Why focus on the cost of the initial 30 minutes when you could focus on the possibility of a new friend.

And so what, he never calls again. Who cares?! You overcame your fear of going on a blind date, you learned about his random career that you never knew existed before, you tried duck for the first time and realized you had a mutual friend from college who you end up re-connecting with. It sounds to me like you gained something rather than lost it.

But then again, that’s all up to you and your perspective.

 
Plug in any relevant scenario here: Getting a D on a huge exam (been there more than once), being deceived by someone you love (experienced it) or having a less than stellar performance review at work (umm guilty).

When I was in college, my best friend Katie and I had this funny little thing we would do when we were at2391037726_277a933af6_m our favorite bar Brick Street (which now has 90’s night-how bizarre) our senior year at Miami. We would meet new guys, chat with them for a few minutes or maybe even dance to a song or two, then give each other the signal: “Next!” We would take a break for a minute, then move on to mingle with new people. If we weren’t impressed (or if they weren’t impressed with us) we would just laugh and shout “Next!” and move on without taking anything personally or thinking twice about it.

I must say, Katie and I still apply “The ‘Next!’ Principle” to our lives today. We’ve both had jobs that didn’t work out and dated guys that didn’t work out. We never sat and sulked in what happened or viewed our decisions as mistakes. We just said “Next!” and moved on to the next adventure.

In order to apply The “Next” Principle, you must be willing to take responsibility for yourself. This means no blaming, no complaining and no trying to change others. You also must view failure as a huge opportunity. If people say your idea stinks, think “wow, I must be on to something!” If a prospect says no, consider it a maybe.

 
Understand that failure is a huge illusion created to hold people back. This is probably why there is only a small percentage of really successful people: those are the people who were able to take risks to reach greater heights.

 

Katie decided not to go to medical school after spending 4 years studying her butt off in pre-med. She could’ve sulked about the money and time that was spent on her pre-med education. Instead, she picked herself up moved to Chicago and started a new career path for herself without looking back. She is now a Registered Investment Advisor who owns her own successful company. Yes, she deals with the stock market and manages a growing portfolio even in a turbulent economy. I too decided to start my own business at age 24 while working full time when several people told me I am way too young and inexperienced and could never pull it off. Here I am.

If Katie and I let our fear of failure get in the way, I highly doubt we would be dating great men, loving our careers, and living in Chicago.

So when the going gets tough, just say “Next!” and leave the past behind. Life will always present you with new obstacles along with plenty of rejection and disappointment, but it is all how you choose to move on from those situations that will determine your outcome.

Accurate Representation of Millenials in the Workplace?

Check out this clip from a 60 Minutes segment on “Millennials” in the workplace.  Although we’ve heard some of the stereotypes before, the video makes our generation of workers out to be very narcissistic, casual and even a bit lazy.  I suppose this could be an accurate representation of some, but I’m really hoping it isn’t true for all of the workers in the twentysomething age bracket!  Have you ever scheduled work around your yoga class?  I sure hope not!  Or refused to follow the dress code, or stay late once in a while?  Eek!

The video suggests that twentysomethings are all about themselves: their plans after work, their texts, their friends.  That we were raised to do extracurriculars for fun and participation, not to put in hard work practcing and mastering something.

Another very interesting point that I personally resonate with is the fact that many recent college graduates decided not to work traditional summer jobs growing up, but instead volunteer or travel because they feel that it looks better on a resume.  Although  I feel diversifying experiences is very important and these experiences are valuable, many of the best lessons I’ve learned came from working 2 or 3 summer jobs at once- many of which were not glamorous or fun.  Those summer jobs teach you how to be on time, deal with authority, and also motivate you to do great things with your own life so you aren’t stuck working at that type of job for the rest of your life.

I fear that those who spent their college years climbing mountains, traveling, and building homes for the poor may face a huge Quarterlife crisis (or let down) once they graduate and find out that working in an office (or hospital, or wherever you work after college) is not so adventurous and glamorous after all.  That disappointment has the potential to lead to a lifetime of being unsettled and feeling that any job you are doing is just “not enough.”

Let me know your thoughts!

7 Tips From a Tax Attorney

I’m so excited and honored to have Kelly Phillips Erb guest post for careergirls today!  Kelly is Tax Attorney and the author of taxgirl.com.  She is brilliant and a  fabulous writer too!  Enjoy!

By, Kelly Phillips Erb, PC

When I accepted my first “real job” after graduation, I did what any career girl in her 20s would do:  I updated my look.  I bought a new bag (somehow my canvas school bag seemed inappropriate), some real shoes (my Docs wouldn’t fit in at the office) and I ditched my jeans for a nice outfit or two.

What I didn’t do?  Update my finances.

Despite being a tax attorney, I was somehow under the impression that the transition from my job at the Gap to my job at the law office wouldn’t affect my bottom line.  I didn’t own a house, I had no investment portfolio and I was spending almost everything that I took in to pay expenses, including student loans.  Come tax time, I quickly filled out a form 1040-EZ and moved on.  I figured, as a young career woman, that my taxes were simple and the money would work itself out later.  I was wrong on both counts.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make early in your career is assuming that your finances are too simple to focus on.  It’s never too early to start making sense of your finances.  Here are a few tips to speed you along:

1, Understand your organizational style. The thing to keep in mind is that no matter how great an organizational tip is, it’s not great if it won’t work for you. I will never successfully use a Franklin Covey binder – my husband swears by his. I like post it notes stuck all over my computer – “experts” say this is a terrible idea. You have to find what works for you. And no web site, no expert, and no blog, no matter how fantastic, can figure that out for you.  Experiment. Play. Don’t be afraid to throw things away. Don’t be intimidated into buying new products if they’re not for you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing the “wrong” thing when it comes to organizing.

I tell my clients to keep their receipts and important papers together but I don’t tell them how.  Some folks are great at organizing from scanning receipts into their computer to entering expense reports into their Blackberry.  But if you’re not like that, don’t make the mistake of doing absolutely nothing, which tends to be the default when folks get overwhelmed.  Do something.  Keep a list of expenses in a spiral notebook if that works for you – and always keep receipts, even if that means piling them into a drawer.  Yes, it’s better to be super organized.  But know your limits and work around them.

2, Be picky about your records. Once you’ve mastered your style of organizing, keep it up.  Divide your records into things you can easily get your hands on for the current tax year and “old records.”
Here’s a handy list for what you might need to access quickly for the current tax year:  http://www.taxgirl.com/ask-the-taxgirl-first-time-filer/

With respect to “old records”, it’s important to understand what to keep and what to toss.  You don’t need to save everything.  I suggest that you hold onto your tax returns for 3-7 years, depending on your circumstances; absent fraud, failure to file or serious/gross understatements, the statute of limitations is 3 years after the latest of the filing date or the due date for most federal returns.  Supporting documents for those returns should be held onto for as long. Supporting documents would include canceled checks, old bills and bank statements.

But other financial records? That parking ticket from 2 years ago? Throw it out.
3, Know where to look for information. You don’t have to know everything about finance and tax – but you should know enough to make smart decisions.  Choose one or two solid sources for finance and tax information and make a commitment to browse the headlines at least once every day (subscribing via email is very helpful).  Alongside mainstream sites like CNN Money and WSJ.com, there are a number of terrific financial and tax blogs that offer tips, information and more.

You can find instructions and tax forms for all federal tax returns on the IRS website.  Also consider bookmarking your state tax department web site for easy access to forms, instructions and FAQs (just Google the name of your state + the word “tax” to find the site).

Don’t get sucked in by the “sky is falling” hysteria with new administrations and new laws.  Find out the facts yourself and how they might affect you.

4, Surround yourself with smart people.
Nobody said you have to do everything on your own.  You could do your books and your taxes yourself. But consider the time value of money. How long do you think it will take you to do your own taxes? What is your hourly rate? Consider that a CPA will usually be able to prepare your return for between $200 and $500, depending on the complexity and your geographic location.  If you can do it on your own – and you want to – for the equivalent of $200-$500 of your own time, then do it. If you can’t, hire someone.

There’s no shame in hiring someone to help. It’s not waving a white flag. It’s being smart. Do you really think that Oprah is hunched over a computer with TurboTax trying to make sense of it all?

For tips on finding a tax professional, check out this post from taxgirl.com.

5, Understand that things change.
I had my life all mapped out when I entered college.  But life happened.  I moved to a different city, fell in love, bought a house, got an additional graduate degree, quit my job, started a business and got married – in that order.  Practically nothing happened like I had planned.  And it all happened so quickly.

Since life isn’t going to slow down for you (and c’mon, you don’t really want it to), take the time each year to do a quick self assessment.  One year, your income may be too high to allow you to take a student loan interest deduction but the next year, you may qualify.  Laws change and circumstances change.  Regroup each year and think about what’s different – and what you hope will be different in the new year – and plan accordingly.

When to plan an assessment is the tricky part.  I think mid-January is a much better time than the often-recommended end of the year.  Why?  For one, your spending patterns in December tend to not be representative of your regular behavior.  Plus, with all of the social and family obligations that have at the end of the year, you may not have the time to make a proper, honest assessment.  To do it right, wait until things slow down, then take a deep breath and look at last year’s books.  Make a mental note about what you could have done better and what you plan to do differently next year.

6, Plan ahead. While you can’t plan for everything (see #5), you can take steps now to maximize tax and financial benefits.

Worrying about deductions in April isn’t as smart as thinking about them in December. Check out this list of year end savings strategies and make a note to reconsider them next year.

Instead of dumping a year end bonus into your regular bank account, consider putting a few dollars into a deferred tax savings plan, such as an IRA.  You can make a contribution to an IRA through April 15 and still get credit as if you had made the contribution in the prior tax year.
Considering a major medical expense this year?  If it’s something you can plan around, such as braces, major dental work or corrective vision surgery, fund a medical savings account (MSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) early in the year, depending on what your employer allows.

There are also tax credits and deductions available if you’re shopping around for a new job, buying a new car, buying a new house or improving an existing house.  Plan ahead and get the facts first.

7, Never be afraid to ask questions. One of the things that I see most often – and I’ve been there – is that many finance and tax professionals assume that they know what’s best for you, especially if you happen to be a young woman.  They don’t.  You do.  You just need to arm yourselves with the facts.  Ask why your financial advisor thinks a Roth IRA is a good idea.  Question whether investing in tech companies is a good idea.  Request a copy of the types of accounts a bank offers, complete with a fee schedule.  Insist that your tax professional walk you through your tax deductions.  It’s your money.  And people who are working for you should take the time to make sure that you understand everything.  If your finance and tax professional isn’t willing to take the time to give you thoughtful answers, it’s time to move on.

Taking control of your finances is an important step for all career women, but that doesn’t mean that your finances have to control your life.  By making a few key changes now, you can stop worrying about your money and start focusing on the future.

Kelly Phillips Erb is a founding shareholder of The Erb Law Firm, PC, in Philadelphia, PA, where she focuses on tax law.  Kelly authors the popular tax blog, taxgirl.com, recently cited as one of the top 100 legal blogs by the ABA Journal.  She also used to be a little something of a diva.