Entrepreneurship is a Love Unrequited

Entrepreneurship is a Love Unrequited

Imagine giving your all; your nights, your weekends and even your sleep to something and not seeing your return for days, weeks, months, or even years. You spend the dreams of your days and nights working, thinking, and re-imagining dilemmas, new approaches, and ideas for this thing. But, nothing gives. All that stands is what you’ve given and there’s no take off. There will sometimes be a glimmer of flight, but then it doesn’t sustain. So again, you go back to the drawing board and think, where’s the damn love?

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” – T. E. Lawrence

Business ownership is often touted as possible for everyone, withstanding through time, passion inducing, exciting, and even sexy. But, just like that ex, it’s got no love for you. A small business does not care how much time or energy you’ve given. It doesn’t care that you’ve told everyone you love about them. It doesn’t care that you have given the most precious thing a human can: time. It does not care that you have the education, experience, network, capital, or drive.  It’ll take, and take, and take and look at you like any parasite does: pathetic.

About two years ago my father and I prepared for two weeks for a major bid submission. It was two weeks of 12-14 hour days mulling over contracts, cost analysis, vendor research, and combing through verbiage. I ended up sick during this time and between the piles of tissues, stacks of documents, and going cross eyed we treaded on. By the end of our submission we were wiped. We stood back and looked at the marvel. We felt so proud. This bid was our baby and we just loved the damn thing.

A year later that baby looked at us brand new and rejected us. Yes, sir. We did not win that bloody bid and we felt so defeated. We gave it our all; our snot, sweat, and tears and we lost. How? I mean, we were perfect for it, in every possible way. It was going to be our major break. We prayed over it, our family prayed over it, our friends did as well. And there it went: our time, energy, and hopes. In the weeks following we heard of other competitors who won and couldn’t help but wonder, “but they couldn’t love or treat you better than we could”. Ha!

All jokes aside, we heard that the bid was a bust and that those who won were being paid very little and being enforced by rules and regulations that were strict and daunting. Reimbursement for services would allow most to break even and the demographic was not necessarily desirable. In the end, the loss was a win. All that time and energy we put in, the several months after we remained faithful and envisioned a future with this win, and in the end it served us better to be without it.

The moment we let go other opportunities and contracts became available. And, because of the crash course we experienced, we shaped up our own policies and procedures. The experience made us better, and in the end we were rewarded with better opportunities because of how we grew from the experience. It’s funny, because now, if offered to us on a silver platter, we’d kindly decline that bid. Maybe not kindly, but we’ve got better having to do less. So, bye.

“Perfect behavior is born of complete indifference. Perhaps this is why we always love madly someone who treats us with indifference.” -Cesare Pavese

I believe, this is often why so many business go bust within the first few years. You cannot unwaveringly love someone without knowing them to their core. In business terms you’ve got to know the industry, you have to know the market, you’ve got to offer something new or different, you’ve got to have the startup or be willing to work for free, and finally have the kind of focus and ethics that will ingratiate you to not only your consumer base but any partnerships you forge within or outside of your business. Just like you know that love like the back of your hand, you must have a command of your industry. You know who that person may be seeing or have an interest in; know your competitors and what they offer. You know that your ex is a compulsive liar; market on that weakness and market integrity as your leverage.

The business itself has eventually learned some reciprocity. The toxic relationship it once was is now turning a bend and offering a return for our tireless commitment. But it’s a love not meant for everyone. It’s an endless endeavor that carries you beyond the computer screen and into your bed. It’s there in the meals you miss, the social activities you cannot go to, the bottles of wine you empty, and arguments you regret. It’s there, a pit in your stomach, that you cannot pass.  Entrepreneurship is for the unrelenting; for the kind of formidable force that will not recoil at “no” and retain hope in the face of seeming failure. It’s an endeavor not for most for it’s a love that even when seemingly won, requires constant attention.

If in the face of failure you leave and look elsewhere, a 9-5 working under Bob or Sue may be better for you. Otherwise, if picking back up and taking failure as leverage excites you like the sadist you are, entrepreneurship is an adventure to eventually grip the reigns of. A love to not see as hopeless, but always on the horizon.

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My Father is Not Your Baba (and Other Funny Stories)

My Father is Not Your Baba (and Other Funny Stories)

Inevitably, when working with your family, there are going to be cringe worthy moments of either complete embarrassment or disaster. Before embarking on joining my father, I wasn’t sure what to anticipate as far as our work relationship was concerned. Would he be a totalitarian and dictate to me how he wanted things? Are we going to fight over every important decision? Will we think likeminded and maintain professionalism? How would our work and home life balance?

Suffice to say, working with my father has probably been the easiest part of this experience. We discuss and analyze options and directions logically and try to maintain compassion for our customers/patients without getting personal or taking anything to heart. This doesn’t mean faux paxs and mild arguments don’t occur. Sometimes we do take work home and to the dinner table. There have been times I haven’t spoken to him and vice versa at home, but upon entering the office doors, we resume communication. But really, he’s probably the easiest person I’ve ever worked with.

Honestly, the best anecdotes are the funny or embarrassing ones. The very first incident being the story behind this post title; which I think I may turn into a series where I compile all the embarrassing, cringeworthy, and/or funny moments I’ve experienced working with my father.

For around the first two years of my joining the business, it was only my father and myself. We did everything. From my scrubbing the toilet to interviewing hires, to him visiting his patients to going to business meetings; it was just us two keeping the ship afloat. As such, the environment was more familial than professional. I got used to yelling across the office, “Hey Baba, did you get a chance to…” or, “Baba, I thought we were going to…” In turn he’d respond or call for me by my full name: Kalkidan. It was, after all, just us.

As business grew we made our first hire. This person has come to be an important part of our team, but at the time was simply an employee who was neither kin or kinfolk. Simply put: she’s a white woman. Okay? So, she joins our team and we begin to build our workflow and rhythm for our day-to-day. Well, one morning she knocks on the door to come in for the day and my father opens it. All of a sudden I hear her say, “Hi Baba, thanks for opening the door.” Maaan. We definitely had a good laugh.

I no longer call my father Baba in the office, but by his first name. And because my full first name is not used by Americanas, he started calling me, “Kallie”. There is a lot of intimacy in language and this was a lesson we both had to learn for the sake of professionalism. Not that my full name is unprofessional, or that my father should not be called endearingly, but that the way you communicate with one at home is not for your professional world to be invited to. If you can’t pronounce Kalkidan, don’t try because I’m not amused. And don’t call my father Baba, because he ain’t your daddy.

Moving On Up (…To the West Side)

Moving On Up (…To the West Side)

For the past four years, we’ve been operating out of an office nestled in a large, cozy house. It has seen the business grow from one full time employee to four. The house kept us at a low overhead and considering my father owned it, we were renting at a price that allowed us some financial cushion. The house fostered an environment that reiterated that at its core, our business runs as a family. But, as a baby outgrows a crib, we have outgrown the home. And so, we move.

We need to hire more employees and this humble abode will not do. How exciting is that, though? Business has grown so much that we need more staff, but do not have the physical space to accommodate them. Pretty good dilemma to have. And while it sucks having to go from renting for little, and also renting smart by essentially being our own landlord, it’s a move that we have no choice but to oblige.

In our search for the perfect location we used five criteria: cost, location, space, environment, and accessibility. An important element to our cost analysis was that we wanted to see the promise of the expansion of business either through a new contract or referral source. We needed to know that an increase in rent would never pose as a constraint. Because we were able to, just recently, secure a lucrative insurance contract, as well as a few more dependable referral sources, we felt comfortable in our financial cushion. Profit growth was just about guaranteed.

An important element in determining our location was not wanting to stray from the general vicinity where we had established a presence both with patients and with insurance providers. Because much of our competition exists in other cities, we wanted to maintain a service area presence that is otherwise not being served. Often referrals come to us simply from the distance of a patient’s home, and considering our proximity to Baltimore City; this is important. We also wanted to be certain the area fit our professional vibe and was safe.

Space, for us, was important in two regards. The first being space for employees, both old and new. Secondly, we needed warehousing space for our ever growing catalog of medical supplies. Ideally we wanted a space that was slightly too big and thus would allow for us to grow into. We want to avoid another move for at least five years, so we imagined what our potential for employee and product line expansion would be and if that space could house us at maximum capacity.

Having worked in stuffy office environments before, I felt it important to have as much clear and open spacing as well as sunlight available to the majority of staff and potential patients, customers, or visitors to our office. I also wanted to have as much of an open layout as possible for internal staff, with enough private spaces for patient consults and one-on-one meetings. Following our familial ethos, I think it’s important to have a communal environment where employees can easily consult with one another and work in enough proximity to feel encouraged to work as a team.

Finally, as we are located right off of the beltway and in a corporate park; ease in finding our location as well as ample parking space were important for the obvious reasons. While most of our business actually occurs outside of our office, we still often welcome walk ins. Commute for our staff and ourselves was also important as we wanted to avoid any issues of getting to the office as quickly as possible and/or in case of an emergency.

After having visited various locations and assessing options such as leasing versus purchasing; we settled on a location that hit all our markers. And while ideally we were looking to purchase a property, the right fit could not be found. So, we settled on a location that did meet our mark with the exception of purchasing. It was one hell of a search, but eventually we found the right space.

Today is our last day in this home. As much as I’ve nurtured this endeavor, I’m overwhelmed by how much it has grown. Our once cozy office cannot contain the behemoth that is burgeoning. It is officially a season of harvest and our piece of the pie is in sight. We’re finally moving on up and out…to the West side!

Making the Government Your Customer

Making the Government Your Customer

Regardless of the current political climate, the United States government does have an interest in supporting entrepreneurship and opportunities that favor its own citizens. There are Federal and, depending on where you live, State contracting programs that encourage partnership with small and minority owned businesses. Maryland offers an aggressive program administered through the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). It’s actually the oldest State administered program in the country, that in 2015, had procurement contracts awarding $2.3 billion to minority business owners.  Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at MDOT. I was both overwhelmed by the information yet excited for the prospects of new business avenues.

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There are four types of certification: Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), Small Business Enterprise (SBE), and Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE). Eligibility for consideration requires that the business be small, that it be at least 51% owned by a socially and economically disadvantaged person(s), and that it not exceed specified net worth caps. Once you’ve successfully completed the application you become eligible for both government and private sector contracting opportunities. The application is a bit rigorous and the requirements vary depending on the type of business you operate under (i.e. C-Corp, LLC, or Partnership). Minority status falls under the following groups: women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Subcontinent Asian Americans, and disabled persons.

I had the opportunity to chat with Michael D. Smith, the Public Relations and Outreach Manager for the Maryland Department of Transportation Office of Small & Minority Business Policy:

How/why is MDOT the official certification agency for MBE? What’s the connection, if any?

By statute, the Maryland General Assembly directed that the Board of Public Works designate, by regulation, one State agency to certify and decertify minority business enterprises for all State units through a single process that meets any applicable federal requirements.  Md. Code Ann., State Fin. & Proc. 14-303(b)(1)(i).  Pursuant to COMAR 21.11.03.15A, the Board designated MDOT as the certification agency for the State.  As a recipient of federal funding from the United States Department Transportation, MDOT also serves as the Unified Certification Program for the federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program under 49 C.F.R. 26.81.    

MDOT’s role as the official certification agency for both the MBE and DBE programs, allows the State to provide uniformity in application requirements and the ease of a “one stop shop” for firms seeking certification in both programs.     

What do you find is the biggest obstacle for many business owners in the successful completion of MBE certification?

The most common cause for delay in acquiring certification is the submission of an incomplete application package.  Applicants frequently do not provide all of the required documents with their initial submission.  Before an application package can is assigned to an MBE Officer for review, it must be accompanied by all the requested supporting documents.  Therefore, attendance at the free application assistance workshops held on the first Tuesday of every month at MDOT Headquarters in Hanover, MD. can be critical.  The workshop walks potential applicants through the entire application process and provides an opportunity for applicants to have a face-to-face meeting with a certification expert to ask questions that are specific to their company.   Please visit http://www.mdot.maryland.gov/newMDOT/MBE/ApplicationAssistance/ApplicationAssistance.html to register.

What sets Maryland’s MBE program apart from other state programs?

Maryland’s MBE program fosters open and equal access to State procurements for small, minority- and women-owned businesses, and is a source of great pride for the State of Maryland.  Contract by contract goal-setting and the availability of waivers demonstrate our commitment to implementing a fair and flexible program. Through our comprehensive certification process, MDOT ensures that only eligible firms are certified for participation.  The Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs (GOMA) oversees the statewide implementation of the MBE Program.  For additional information on the MBE program, please visit GOMA’s website at http://goma.maryland.gov/Pages/About-Us.aspx.

What do you say to those who question the point of tax and State supported minority business contracting? (i.e. entrepreneurs should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”)

The Maryland MBE program was established to remedy racial and gender discrimination in the Maryland marketplace.  The goals of the program include ensuring non-discrimination in the award and administration of contracts and removing barriers for businesses owned by minority and women entrepreneurs.  The MBE program levels the playing field for minority- and women-owned businesses that might otherwise be unable to participate in State contracting because of discrimination.  

What’s the most rewarding “success” story you’ve come across where a small, minority owned business has grown out of their MBE?

To be certified as an MBE, a firm must be a “small business” based on size standards prescribed by the United States Small Business Administration.  One measure of success is when a firm exceeds the small business size standards.  When that occurs, a firm will graduate from the program or from a specific industry segment.    

The end goal for MBEs/DBEs/SBEs/ACDBEs is to not stay in the program but to essentially no longer qualify under the financial thresholds for eligibility. In other words, you’re making too much bank to need help! Unfortunately I’m only scratching the surface of not only Maryland’s programs but other programs that fall even under city and county jurisdictions. I really encourage those who fall under potential eligibility to join one of the monthly held workshops. At the conclusion you are even able to speak with contracting officers and ask questions specific to your business.

I’m not going to lie, the application is intense. But considering the opportunities, it’s definitely worthwhile. Endeavoring towards higher sights, it becomes so clear that regardless of industry, others have advantages of relationships and status not available to the rest. Programs like these try to level the playing field for those who before weren’t allowed to play. It’s pretty damn exciting!

For more information about Maryland’s MBE Program visit: http://www.mdot.maryland.gov/newMDOT/MBE/Overview.html

 

Beyond a Man: A Mensch, Anthony Kritt, Esq.

Beyond a Man: A Mensch, Anthony Kritt, Esq.

It’s seldom you know when a good friend’s time is coming near. Unfortunately, a friend and an uncle of mine has passed away. Anthony Kritt, was a man who had sewn and supported my father through a dream of his for many years. And, unfortunately on April 2nd, 2017, could no longer see it in person.

An advisor, a lawyer, an accountant, a friend, and a brother; Tony gave more than time; he become a part of our bloodline. He supported my father and never expected compensation beyond the chance to see a friend succeed. He was there through thick and thin. He actively supported and gave counsel. I’m so grateful for the patience he gave and the time he took to teach me the tools I needed to support the business. He was tough. But like any good teacher, he knew that to challenge meant to push someone to excel.

He had the chutzpah to be a Jew with an Italian name! Beyond brilliance, charisma, and confidence; he embodied love. He was love. Tony, I hope we make you proud. I hope through all the stupid mistakes I made, that you corrected, that we prevail. Most of all, I hope that possibly the most selfless soul I know, is at peace. You deserve peace; and may it extend to your beloved wife Sharon and your incredible children Erica and Jordan.

P.S. I still want to write you e-mails about my successful tax deposits and call you about new changes in tax laws. I always trusted you like an uncle. Your legacy lives on and I hope your children reap what love you’ve sewn.

Payroll for Employers Who Remedial Math Was Enuf

Payroll for Employers Who Remedial Math Was Enuf

Admittedly, I skirted taking the more challenging mathematics courses throughout high school, undergrad, and grad school. I think I shot myself in the foot because basic math gets me feeling like “the big one is coming”.  (#FredSanford) It becomes a whole ordeal and I become moody and dramatic. It’s just stressful as hell! 

So, when we hired our first employee, and then a contractor, and then another employee, and so on, I found myself having mini panic attacks when it came time to filing taxes and payroll. It got to the point where our tax lawyer had to break things down like I never learned how to count beyond ten. We currently use QuickBooks, but when you’ve got only a couple employees (or yourself), that can be expensive. And, honestly, not necessary. I got away with not using QB for years using some free tools and maintaining a diligent schedule that allowed for me to check, re-check, then check the numbers one last time.

This website came in pretty hand, and free: http://www.paycheckcity.com/calculator/salary/

QB has their own free tool, as well.

See attached for an excel sheet that our tax lawyer provided to calculate payroll. It’ll also help with tax filing as well. This spreadsheet is not specific to Maryland, as it only has the current rates for Social Security (6.2%) & Medicare (1.45%). So you will need to have the numbers for Federal & State taxes. That’s where the above links will come in handy.

Always make sure that you are maintaining the most current exemptions for your employees, as these can change (by their request) at any time. I keep my state’s (MW507) & the Federal (W4) forms handy. It’s not uncommon for a person to change their filing. It’s also not uncommon to make mistakes, so I often reference those documents to confirm if someone is filing married, single, and the number of exemptions or allowances. And, depending on your State, income tax may not be collected. Do confirm your State’s guidelines to avoid any filing mistakes. 

All of this changes if you have hired a contractor or freelancer. They file as a 1099, so while you don’t have to worry about calculations for each pay period, the headache will come at the end of the year. This is a good option for hiring those who don’t necessarily keep hours and have a bit of autonomy with their schedule and day-to-day tasks. For an example, when hiring a salesperson, you may offer payment per referral or sale. It may not necessarily be feasible to maintain an hourly or salaried rate, especially if their work isn’t best quantified by hours put in.

For keeping record of contractor payments, a simple spreadsheet with the date paid, amount, and check number should be sufficient.

Even if you are not involved with payroll, it’s incredibly helpful to have some cognizance of calculations and method as your employer may make mistakes on calculations that could result in owing taxes. Ultimately it is your responsibility to pay the government what it is due, and while your employer is liable, they won’t be helping you pay the IRS for a few miscalculations.

I may make this a two part post because monthly federal, quarterly withholding, sales & use, unemployment, etc all give me hypertension and I felt so incompetent (and still do) filing them all. I should also warn that I’m not an expert, so do check and double check with an accountant, any methodology you employ for payroll and tax preparation.  

I’ll leave you with a bit of word (Matthew 22:19-2, NIV):

“Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

My point is even Jesus said to pay the Man what’s his, so do it right and stay encouraged!

Petty Manager Rant

I really have to say I never knew how much work it took to be a “good manager”. (I may not even be one myself.) But, I think anyone who has been in the workforce for years can say they’ve experienced several bad managers. But I understand them now. I really do. Because human beings are terrible to manage. I think all bad managers were good at some point and then either decided they could not expend the type of energy required to deal or couldn’t find the delicate balance between involvement and the ability to check out.

Do you know how exhausting it is to have to either read or hear a 30 minute story on why someone is 30 minutes late? I actually don’t care why you’re late. You just are. You’re alive? You’re here? You’re okay? Right, so either you have learned how to avoid that situation so it doesn’t happen again or you will make the same mistake or one similar some time in the near future. Either way, I don’t care. Just be here, on time, be productive, and leave. Thank you.

And it’s not the one-timers. The people who are usually on time, never call out, always dependable. Those people, yes. What is going on? Because you are always here and reliable. I’m genuinely concerned. But you habitual perps?

I’m considering a relativist approach to persistent tardiness and call outs. Maybe you think it’s okay, so me too. Me too!  

“You know that one relative I never interact with? They are in the hospital. That has nothing to do with payroll…but I may not get to it anyway.I hope you understand.”

“I had a long week and just couldn’t get around to confirming our account balance before direct deposits hit. I will get on it first thing on Monday morning…if I don’t have car trouble.”

“Up for review? Gosh, you know I think I’ve come down with something. Can we discuss your raise at another time?”

Just a thought.

Happy Monday!