Summer Reading List 2014

Summer Reading 2014 BooksI love summertime because I travel more. Traveling more means more time on airplanes and in train stations. As much as I enjoy the destinations I visit, I sometimes enjoy the journey even more because it gives me dedicated time to read. My favorite way to relax while still feeling productive is by reading business books.  This allows me to keep up with what other entrepreneurs are thinking and doing.  Here are some of the books I have been diving into over the past few months.

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie. I read this book in one sitting, on a train from Washington D.C. to NYC. I was so inspired by Blake’s enthusiasm I immediately told all of my friends to buy a copy and to start wearing TOMS shoes.   Blake discusses how to do good for the world and make money and I was really inspired by his approach.  I think it would be hard to read this book and not be motivated by Blake’s generosity and spirit.

Do Cool Sh*t by Miki Agrawal. I stumbled on this book when it popped up on my recommended reads from the New York Public Library. It is a super quick read but it packs a big punch. What I love about it is that it gives you Miki’s story woven in with tasks and challenges for the reader. If you don’t already have your own business you will want to start one after reading this book, AND, thanks to Miki, you will also have the basic know-how to do it!

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. What struck me most about this book was how success has to do with some hard work and some factors out of one’s control. The book tells fascinating tales about how “overnight successes” really have a lot more going for them than we can see on the surface. Timing is everything – the time you start a project, the time you put in to it. Sometimes the stars are aligned for something unusual to happen.  It struck me that you have to keep working hard, but you also have to be open to what the universe is putting out there for you.

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I read this book after Malcolm Gladwell inspired me to become a connector in his book The Tipping Point (another great read). I finished Never Eat Alone without a “To Do” list of at least twenty things. Mr. Ferrazzi is clearly good at connecting and he gives some definite and concrete steps that even the shyest people can try.  I find myself re-visiting this book when I want to try a new way of connecting with colleagues and clients.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. You can’t read only business books, it’s summer after all! This was one of the top five books I read last year and I can’t recommend it highly enough. This author is incredible – you can see for yourself in her TED talks on the danger of a single story and why we should all be feminists. In this book she tells the story of a Nigerian native who comes to the United States and eventually decides to return to Nigeria. The voice was stunning and the characters crawled into my head and refused to leave.

Have you read any of these books?  Did you enjoy them? What book should I pick up the next time I am on the road? Leave me a comment and let me know!

What You Should Know about Small Claims Court

Decorative Scales of Justice in the CourtroomPeople don’t always deliver on their word.  Even though you were sure to get a rock-solid contract, people disappear or a business may just plain refuse to pay. This bad behavior leads many people straight to the courtroom.  If the contract wasn’t worth a large sum to begin with, however, you may wonder, is it really worth the hassle to pursue legal action?

You may think that if you were only scammed out of a small amount of money, then pursuing legal action isn’t worth the work of initiating and following through with a lawsuit.  After all, there will be papers to file and courtroom appearances to make.  But before you make this decision, you should know what to expect in small claims court.

Here are five truths to consider before deciding whether or not it is worth the hassle to pursue a case in small claims court.

1)   In New York City, the maximum you can sue for in small claims is $5,000.  If you want to collect more than $5,000 the ease that Small Claims can often provide is not an option.

2)  You don’t need a lawyer.  New York City’s Small Claims Court is surprisingly easy to navigate without legal assistance.  The majority of claimants and defendants in small claims court don’t have attorneys. The judge and the court staff are used to dealing with people without legal backgrounds.  The judge makes an effort to speak in plain language.  You can initiate an action simply by filling out a form with the clerk.  These efforts can make a small claims case much easier to manage while going about your daily business.

3)   You can choose between a daytime or evening court time. Many people choose the evening time because they don’t want to miss work.  This can be a good call, but on the evening you are set to appear be prepared to sit in the courtroom until 10 or 11 at night, it can often take some time for the court to dispose of your case.

4)   You should be willing and prepared to settle.  Small claims courts encourage settlement.  After you serve the other party he or she may suggest a settlement.  This can be a very good thing because if you settle, you don’t have to worry about chasing the money down later, which can be the most difficult part of the process (see number 5 below).

5)  You should have a plan to collect the money.  Unfortunately, many people refuse to pay even after a judge has ordered that they must.  For a small claims case to be worth your time, you need to know how you will get the money if the other party still refuses to pay after a court order.  This can be as simple as knowing where the delinquent party banks, but it can sometimes be more complicated.  Small claims is probably not worth the hassle if you don’t have at least some idea of how you might get paid in the end.  If you are going to pursue the action, make sure you have a payment plan in mind.

Have you ever brought a case to small claims court?  Did you find the process hard to navigate?  What do you wish you had known before jumping in? I would love to hear from you!

Five Things to Ask for When You Can’t Get More Money

Ripped DollarThe first thing everyone wants is more money.  I don’t want to discourage anyone from asking outright for a larger salary or an increased hourly rate.  After all, I have never heard of anyone reneging on an initial offer just because a contractor or an employee asks for more money.

If the other party is not willing to talk about more money, don’t despair.  There are other things you can ask for that can be almost as good as a larger paycheck.

Here are five things to consider asking for:

1)   More Vacation Time – This is an obvious ask and doesn’t require any additional, up-front finances from the company.

2)   Professional Development and Education – Ask the company to cover you for the time and cost to take a class that interests you.  Knowing more about a topic usually makes you better at your job.  This could be anything from a public speaking seminar to computer programming classes to Spanish lessons.  If you are in New York City check out Smartt Talk, General Assembly, or Brooklyn Brainery to get some inspiration.

3)   Transportation or Travel Expenses – Your employer could offer to cover the cost of your daily commute or reimburse you for business travel.

4)   Special Provisions – The beauty of this is that it can be ANYTHING.  Picture your ideal job – Do you wish you could travel more or less? Do you want a nicer office? A company car? Something else that those lucky people at Google get?  Propose the wild idea and see how the other party responds.

5)   A Scheduled Time to Re-Visit the Issue – If you aren’t completely satisfied, ask the company to give you a date in three or six months to discuss your negotiating points again. Regular and more frequent meetings mean more face time with the people that matter and more opportunities to talk up your skills and hard work.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised when asking for more at a year-end review?  I would love to hear how the negotiations went!

Three Reasons to Think Twice Before Agreeing to a 50/50 Split

Business_Partners-300x199If you are contemplating starting a new venture with someone else one of the first questions to discuss is how to divide the equity and profits.  Everyone thinks this topic is easy-peasy.  Your business will be HUGELY successful, there will be tons of money to spare and a 50/50 split of $1 Billion dollars is still a heck of a lot of money.  So you and your partners agree to split everything evenly before addressing what the everyday, real work is going to look like.

In actuality, the dream is usually not as you initially anticipated.  This is why talking about a partnership where equity is divided differently is important.  Without a doubt, this is a hard conversation to have with people you want to work with.  It is imperative, however. Here are 3 reasons why partnerships are almost always not equal.

1)   You and your co-partners will not work the same hours.  Most times you and your partners are at different stages in life.  One of you may be starting a family or seeking a promotion at a full-time job or juggling two part-time jobs.  Someone may be unemployed at the time and able to devote 100 hours a week to the new venture.  Often, time equals money, and the partner putting in more hours may want to think about whether she is comfortable splitting the profits with a partner who can’t devote full-time hours to the new venture.

2)   You and your co-partners have different skills.   It almost never makes sense to partner with someone with the same skill set as yours.  After all, if BOTH of you know a lot about web design and no one knows how to manage the books or recruit clients, then the business won’t go very far.  These varying skills often have different values to a start-up company.  You and your partner should discuss the value your skills bring to the long-term goals of the company and how that value relates to the success and profits of the company.

3)   You and your co-partners are contributing different amounts of capital.  Start-ups cost money.  There are the filing fees, the cost of development and networking, not to mention product development and market research.  All of these cost cold, hard, cash.  People have different comfort levels with regards to how much they are going to pay forward without a guaranteed return.  If one partner is willing to commit more funds (or find people who are willing to take this risk) this might lead to that partner believing he is entitled to more profit.  This is a conversation you want to have BEFORE committing yourself to an even split.

These points suggest that you should have a long discussion with potential partners before agreeing to any split in writing.  Instead of assuming an equal split, each partner should sit down individually and address where she feels her time, skills and money lie in regards to the start-up.  Then the partners can have an open conversation about where things should start.  A good partnership agreement can set out timelines for changing the profit structure over time or if circumstances change.  The key is to set something down in writing that works for the current situation but is flexible enough to change when needed.

Clarify Contracts by Losing the “Legal-ese”

bill of rights scrollI have been reviewing a number of contracts and releases lately.  Although the subject matters of each of them have varied, I have noticed they all share the common denominator of using confusing language.  I want to use this blog post to make a plea to businesses and lawyers alike to STOP with the long sentences and giant words.  Confusing terms and ambiguities don’t make your contract better or more important, they only serve to confuse readers and participants.  I always make an effort to simplify my contracts by following these rules whenever possible.

1) Keep sentences short and direct.  Instead of saying “NOW, THEREFORE, in consideration of the premises and mutual covenants contained herein and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, the Parties hereby agree as follows:”  Say simply: “The Parties agree as follows:”  It saves ink, it saves time, it saves sanity.

2) Use the active voice, and not the passive voice, whenever possible.  This makes it very clear who is supposed to be doing something and who she is doing it for.

3) Definitions are your friends!  If a term can be construed in more than one way, and it is important to you  or the other party how that is defined, clearly state what that term means in a definition section.  This leads to clarity, something all contracts need more of.

If you have been asked to sign something you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask questions of the other party.  Contracts can easily be marked up on the spot with a simple cross out and margin notes.  It doesn’t have to go back and forth for a thousand revisions. Don’t be intimidated by the legal-ese that often shows up.  Instead, ask for clarification and make sure you know what you are agreeing to before signing on the bottom line.