Don't Just Think Outside the Box

Destroy the Box.

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Be Still.

Some philosophy hit me this afternoon so I figured I’d philosophize a second.

Be Still.The world whirls around us.
New status updates ping our phones.
The roads are crammed with commuters.
It’s constantly Go, Go, Go.
Be Still.

We’re making plans for the holidays.
The weekend looms and we’re checking schedules.
We have meetings to attend.
It’s Go, Go, Go.
Be Still.

You get asked to serve on yet another committee.
The deadlines are looming.
Bills are coming due.
It’s Go, Go, Go.
Be Still.

In the Stillness is where the answer comes.
It’s where everything else around you fades away and your mind is tuned in.
It’s the beginning of inspiration.

Stillness doesn’t necessarily mean physical stillness, although it can.
Stillness is that warm shower where the ideas storm your mind.
Stillness is sitting alone on a sunny porch with a warm cup of coffee.
Stillness is being quiet and alone in nature.
Stillness is hearing the seagulls and the waves lap the shore.

But how can I be Still when there is so much to do?
You must make time to be Still.
It must be placed in your calendar if that’s what it takes.
But isn’t that forcing the issue?
Perhaps.
Do whatever it takes.
Be Still.
We were intended to be Still and notice the Greatness engulfing us.
Surrounding us.
Swarming us.

Ok, now get back to work! ;)

 

 

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Travel Hacking.

I’m a pretty big fan of personal finance and I love the hunt for great deals.

I’ll open a new bank account and use their debit card a number of times in the first 90 days to get a free $100 credit.
I’ll open a credit card to get a bonus $100 cash back if I spend $500 in the first 3 months.
I make 2% back on my credit card for doing nothing – spending $10,000 on normal expenses in a year yields me a free $200.
[notes of importance: I pay off my balances in full every month so that I don’t incur any interest charges. I have my cards set on auto-pay so that I don’t even have to think about the monthly payments. I only spend my credit cards on normal monthly expenses. *In 10 years, I haven’t had to use a credit card in an emergency situation, but I wouldn’t hesitate if the situation was life or death].

With that said, I’m just now beginning to look at the possibilities of credit cards with airline bonus miles.
I know, I know, some of you are probably laughing at me because you’ve had them for years.

But I’ve always used the following strategy: use credit cards that give me a good cash back bonus and then shop for the best airline deals. I always figured that this would be an approximately equal deal. And with the simplicity of it all it might just be.

But I’ve been recently turned on to skymile cards from a friend that met me in Guatemala and used his airmiles in order to get there.

I had an hour long talk with him and I want to give you the bullet points of what I learned on travel hacking.
These simple notes may easily be the difference in hundreds of dollars of savings for you.

1. Most domestic flights in the U.S. cost 25,000 miles
1a. These flights are in a zone and you can often fly to other close by countries (in Central America for example) for the same amount of mile – so plan accordingly.

2. Some credit card offers will give you 40,000-50,000 bonus miles with their credit card offers (most are only 30,000) so it pays to google search and look around.

3. United has the most generous policy overall and is the simplest to redeem your skyline miles with.

4. Most of the cards have an annual fee after the first year. If you decide you don’t want the card, you can call an cancel it prior to being charged the fee. You will be able to keep your skymiles as they are tracked in a separate independent account.

5. With United Airways you get 5,000 mile discounts when booking domestic flights.

6. Pay close attention who controls the hub at your local airport (in my case it’s Delta). You may want to use this airline’s credit card programs. Otherwise, you may have to go to neighboring airports in order to get on the flights of your choosing.

This is enough info to get you in the game.
Another great source that I’ve heard of is Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hackers – although I must disclose that I’ve never used myself.
Happy Travels!

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My Rules for Retirement

I grew up reading financial books – learning about the stock market – increasing my investment vocabulary – on and on.

I loved it.
I’d read more.
More books – Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Knack, The Number, etc. – you can find them on my resource page if you’re interested.

I loved it.
I got into business – I started a blog – I started investing in houses – I got a real estate license – I started a local entertainment website – I started a real estate brokerage.

I love it.
But I realized that my mindset was shifting.
I realized that I didn’t agree with a lot of mainstream thinking.
I now read Money magazine and view it similar to Cosmopolitan – the same stuff packaged in different ways.
Nothing different.

Going further, I realized that some of my principals were different.

1. I can’t stand the idea of setting aside a certain % of cash for future consumption each month.
How do I know that I will make it to 40? to 50? and not 120?
The truth is, I don’t.
But what if I do?
Then I better be ready.
But I don’t believe that we’re supposed to worry about that.
We aren’t in control.
We can’t take any of it with us.
When the game is over it all goes back in the box.

It’s our jobs to be steward of what we get while here — time, resources, etc.

With that said, this doesn’t mean that I don’t save.
I do.
But when I have the opportunity to take from my savings and invest in myself and others for education, business opportunities, experiences, giving, etc. – I do.
Why? Because to me, this is compounding my investment.
What if I lose it? So what. I will be smarter and better and ready to move with the next opportunity.

I believe in investing in yourself and creating opportunities that will either give you passive income or large chunks of cash.

2. I can’t stand insurance
My goal is to eventually get rid of all insurance except health insurance (too risky to be without for me).

Auto Insurance: I hate having full coverage on my autos. I’ve never had a wreck that largely damaged my vehicle. Insurance preys off fear. The “what if” scenarios. Well, I don’t plan to get in a wreck. But if I do, it’s a risk that I’m willing to take. I will either fix it myself or call it a loss, but the only coverage that I need is liability insurance.

Life Insurance: When I was 29 and single I got a $100k term life policy because a good friend told me that it was unfair to stick my family with all of my debts if I were to die. Great point. So $10/mo. later I had it. It’s cheap.
But then, my bank accounts started offering free $1,500 policies hoping that I’d increase the policy. I didn’t but I did sign up for the $1,500 ones.
Then my house gained equity. Serious equity. Even in a depressed market.
So I figured that without a family yet there was no need for the term insurance at this point.
It was almost more of a nuisance to cancel than not, but now that I did I’ll be happy to save the $120/yr. Now that I’m 31 and married I’m back to having a life insurance policy, but currently only carry $250k (I’m banking on investing in myself with the savings from a higher premium).

Home Owner’s Insurance: I hate this too, but I have it. Because the bank requires it. And if I pay off my loan I’d still keep it since my house is currently my largest asset. It’s currently $1,900 annually.
I’m in the real estate industry (I win when I sell houses) and you should seriously look at renting. For starters, you would get a month + of free rent every year just by dropping property insurance – not to mention yard upkeep, major repairs, property tax.
Yes, you would lose out on deducting my interest, but shouldn’t the main goal be to lower expenses in the first place? Paying money just so that you can deduct a portion of it is insane to me — read “The Fair Tax” if you never have — interesting read.

Insurance on New Electronics: No Thanks. If it breaks I’ll buy a new one.

Insurance on my Package Shipped: No Thanks. I’d prefer for you to do your job and not lose it.

Insurance for my Insurance: Uhhhhhh, what?

3. I can’t stand having tons of stuff.
Having less stuff can do a few things for you.
It can cause you to need less insurance (yess!)
And it can cause you to get used to living a simple life which will make life in general much easier.
If you live a simple lifestyle then there’s no problem commuting by bike, having only one car, downsizing a home, not owning a boat, riding a bus, cooking at home, drinking less, growing your own food, etc.
Living simpler can cause you to need less money currently, which means you can give more away or invest more in yourself (there’s that long term plan again!)

With that said my Rules for Retirement consist of:
1. Creating opportunities of passive income.
2. Creating opportunities during my life to bank large chunks of cash.
3. Moving from an amount of greater insurance to less insurance.
4. Always trying to live with less.
5. Putting the “game” back in the box when I die.

What are your rules?

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Homeaway (VRBO) vs. AirBnB – Costs to Owners

airbnb - my listingThis article is to help those with a home that they want to rent decide which site will yield them the greatest return, AirBnb or Homeaway (VRBO). [if you’re a renter, know that in my opinion, AirBnb provides the most seamless and easy experience – here is a referral link for $25 off your first booking].

I’m assuming that you already have a basic understanding of what both of these companies do. In essence, they allow you to provide your home as a rental on a short term basis, whether that’s 1 night or longer terms like a month or so. For us, the average, has been 2-3 nights, with folks coming to town to visit, vacation, do business, etc.

Homeaway was started in 2005 and is more focused on vacation rentals. It has acquired a number of other rental sites in order to increase its market share and help with productivity tools for owners and property managers (a large part of their model).
AirBnB started in 2008 and was more geared towards the tech savvy traveler looking for a room to rent. But it’s grown and has expanded into full home rentals and vacation properties, since in essence any home can be used for vacation.
Both are close in terms of their number of listings and worldwide presence, but I feel that AirBnB is much better positioned for growth. They seemed to have the vision from the start and Homeaway seems to be playing catch up and acquiring companies that can help them make things easier (which I find in the short term can have an adverse effect and be more difficult for their users, owners and renters alike).

Maybe you’re thinking about renting your home using these platforms or maybe you’ve already done it a few times. You may have known about one but not the other. I’ve found that after close to 6 months of renting my home full time that we get close to 50% of our bookings from AirBnb and the other 50% from VRBO, so I’d definitely recommend setting your rental up on both of the websites. It also helps if your property is close to where people want to be (downtowns, beaches, lakes, quiet peaceful country, etc.)

Understanding the costs is pretty simple, but you have to spend a bit of time studying closely to understand them, so let me break down what I’ve found out.

AirBnB: Takes 3% of the overall rental price (plus added fees) as their charge. This includes credit card processing fees also. (note: guests are apparently charged 6-12% of the booking as a fee to them, so keep this in mind when pricing your home compared to your competition).

VRBO: They have the option of no listing fee and 10% fee per booking. This includes the credit card processing fees also. You can also choose to pay a yearly fee starting at $349 for the year. It says there’s a 0% fee, but it’s a bit misleading since you still have to pay for credit card processing. So in reality it’s a 10% fee with no yearly fee or a 3% with $349/yr. (or more depending on plan).
We are actually in the process of determining if that net 7% booking fee will cost us more than the $349/yr.   And it’s looking like it may. If that’s the case, we may be upgrading and paying the yearly fee in order to lower our fees from 10% to about 3% (credit cards).

So the net effect to the renter is that clearly AirBnB will leave more money in your pocket.
But what will your pricing need to be to stay competitive?
Will you have more renters from VRBO?

My advice is to get your home on both platforms and measure your experiences over time, both with finances and your enjoyment of the experience of working with both.

Happy Renting!

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Life List Updates

So I keep a Life List – these are items that I want to do during my lifetime.
Some will take years.
Some I could do in the next week if I really wanted to.

I don’t believe in a fixed list.
As my interests change I add to and take away.

I keep a list in an app that I use (Trello) so that when something cool hits me I can add it.

Here are my latest additions to my Life List:

Own a car that runs on vegetable oil.

Get sprayed by pepper spray (still debating).

Solve a rubik’s cube.

Complete the rubik’s cube in less than 1 minute.

Raise backyard chickens.

Experience sea turtle hatching.

[I’ve got the white side down on the rube.  A Long way to go].
White Side Conquered - Rubiks Cube

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you’re keeping up with projects that I’m working on, you’ll see that a recent project that my wife and I recently took on was Bottega Collection, a women’s clothing boutique. We’ve chosen to use Shopify as our tool of choice to run it and I wanted to write this post in order to explain why so that you can see if it’s the right fit for your small business.

Shopify - Women's Clothing Boutique

Shopify is a full e-commerce platform tool that you can use to create your online store. If you have a physical product to sell, this is a great outlet for you to use. All of the independent items that you’d have to figure out — payment processing, order fulfillment, inventory management — are all done on the back end of this easy to use website.

Here are some of the highlights of what shopify does for our women’s clothing boutique and why we chose it as our tool:
syncing of our inventory
payment handling
simple setup
mobile payments option
ability to provide coupon codes
a free facebook store
ability to add apps (many for free)

Let’s discuss these a bit further and why we find them so useful.

Syncing of our inventory: Once you load your inventory (read widgets) into shopify, shopify tracks that inventory. So if you sell a dress or other item from your website (or in person using their mobile app!) shopify will automatically update your inventory.

Payment handling: There are lots of payment processing systems out there (paypal, square, etc.) and shopify also integrates with a payment processing system so that you don’t have to worry about doing so yourself.

Simple Setup: You can literally be up and running the same day. If you’re familiar with wordpress, then you’ll find the back end of shopify fairly easy to design and navigate. And if you have questions, the support is excellent. I had what I considered to be a complicated issue, but I was stoked when I was able to hop right on the phone with a shopify consultant and get it handled in under 10 minutes.

Mobile payment options: Just like most payment processors (paypal, square, etc.) you have the ability to collect payments on the go. For a women’s clothing boutique, this is perfect for trunk shows and other in person sales opportunities. Shopify has its own branded card reader (you have to purchase additional ones). The cool thing is that using it along with the mobile app (currently only for apple ios) allows your inventory to be synced.

Ability to provide coupon codes: We are able to provide our ladies with coupon codes. We can have them activate and expire on cue. We can give out specific codes to groups or individuals. You also have the ability to allow customers to purchase gift cards but this doesn’t come with the basic account.

A free Facebook store: There is no effort needed on your part. All you have to do is install the app and your customers can now shop from your small business boutique directly from Facebook!

Ability to add apps (many for free): There are tons of great apps, many of them for free. Email newsletter integrations, coupon code pop-ups, order fulfillment and printing shipping labels; there are over 800 apps in the app store, many great apps starting with a FREE price tag.

All in all, shopify is a great option for businesses like women’s clothing boutique that sell physical products. It doesn’t matter whether you do $1,000 in revenue per month or $1,000 per hour. Shopify has a solution that will work awesome for you.

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So, What Do You Do?

This is a question that I get typically within 5 minutes of meeting someone.
After getting a name and maybe where they’re from, this is typically the next one.
What – Do – You – Do.
For some reason, I haven’t been very good at asnwering this.
So I want to take this time to flush it out.

A good friend of mine said that I need to narrow what I do down to a paragraph.
Good advice, but I think I want to go a bit shorter.

I’m thinking if I’m talking with someone that I may never talk to again that I’ll keep it simple.
I’ll say “I’m in sales” or “I’m an entrepreneur.”
Simple.
Done.

But my regular answer probably needs to be a bit longer.
But I don’t want to put my new friends to sleep now do I?

“So Brooks what do you do?”
“I’m in women’s clothing, real estate investing, metal art work, and other online projects.”
[recently added women’s clothing to my project list ha!]
Too vague?
Short enough not to bore but long enough to entice them to ask more questions if they’d like?
Well, in that case maybe I should change the order (as if the first thing I heard out of a guy’s mouth was women’s clothing, I most likely wouldn’t hear the rest).

So in that case “I’m involved in real esate investing, metal art work, and an online women’s clothing boutique.”
I think I like that better.
Thanks for Listening.

 

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unconventional marriage weddingOne of my life list items was to get married to a beautiful woman (both inside and out). 

It happened.
As of this writing, I’ve been married about 2 months and it’s still blowing my mind.
But it was an unconventional marriage and didn’t happen at all as I would have expected.
Let me explain.

Over the last few years I’ve realized that I’m just not good at being like everyone else (see one of my favorite books, the Art of Non-Conformity).
That it’s ok to not do things the way that others do.
That nothing is perfect.
That you learn as you go and correct along the way.
All of this assisted me in getting married.

Where I live, folks date.
After they’ve dated for some pre-determined amount of time and they still like each other, they get engaged.
I’ve been told figures about how much a man is supposed to spend on a wedding ring (I choked on my sandwich the first time I heard).
Then they start planning on the wedding.
Typically the female has dreamed of this moment but sometimes the man is just as excited (often times, he just wants to please his future bride).
Then the marriage.
I’ve been to a lot of friends’ weddings.
And they’re beautiful.
But they always seem so dang stressful.
The bride and groom want everything to go perfectly on this one perfect day.
They have lots of people to say hello to and they’re whisked from place to place (my buddy that recently got married joked that he had calculated that he had 2 minutes and 40 seconds to speak with each guest that came up to say hello).

None of the above fit my personality and apparently not my wife either (which I assume is one of the reasons why we’re married!)
What’s a “perfect” wedding day for anyway?
Don’t you have each day to wake up and attempt to be the best you can for each other?
Why is the day you get married supposed to be the most important?
Why not EVERY day?

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we treated the 100th and 1,000th day with our spouse the same as the 1st?

Ok, so I said that I wouldn’t have guessed this is how it would have ended up for me.
Here are a few of my wedding’s fun facts:
– My step-son (he now calls me Dad2!) was snacking on a banana during our ceremony. It was awesome!
– The only people present at our ceremony was God, the court pastor, my wife, myself, and our son.
– Rings weren’t even yet present for the ceremony.
– We didn’t know 100% that we were able to be married until the day of our ceremony.

Family was told first and friends have slowly come to learn of our unity.
We get 2 main reactions:
“I had no idea you guys were getting married!” to which we respond “We really didn’t either!”
or
“I didn’t even know that you guys were engaged!” to which we say “We skipped that part!”

So why did we do what we did?
I think the honest answer for me is “Why Not?”
Over the course of the past year that we dated, we discussed everything that you would need to know about a marriage partner — life goals, spiritual ideas, finances, which way the toilet paper roll should be installed, etc.
We looked at getting pre-marital counseling, but we wondered what in the world that they could tell us that we didn’t already know about each other?
We had asked countless folks, learned from other’s experiences, read books, etc.

The only real thing that was holding me back was FEAR.
Fear of “if I could do it.”
Fear of “will she love me if she sees what I’m like every day”
Fear of “settling down.”
Fear of “children.”
Fear of “fear.” – yep it started getting ridiculous.
So I finally said, “What else do we have to figure out? What are we waiting for? Let’s do this.”
My woman happily moved forward (she knew all along that we would be an incredible team and was patiently waiting for me to get off of the fence that I ride — yet another incredible reason why I love her).

But of course we wanted to find a way to include all family and additional loved ones.
So we’re in the process of planning a reception celebration.
At a barn? Shrimp Boil? Human Sized Banana Split? Art painted by guests? Signature Conkle-lotta Cocktails? Wii Dance Contest? Bonfire? Hot Dog Roasting and Smores? Inflatable Games?
Yes, our reception will clearly be unconventional as well.
But it’s our reception.
We’re not living our lives the way we’re “supposed to.”
It’s a time for us to celebrate and we want to express that in a way that makes us feel comfortable.

So live your unconventional life.
Do what makes you happy.
Do what makes you come alive.
Because what the world is begging for is more folks who have come alive.

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5 Real Reasons to Consume Less

Reuse-Reduce-RecycleLet’s start out by pointing out that folks today are more aware of recycling goods and taking care of the planet more than ever . And the symbol, accompanied by the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is important.
Most folks think about the word “Recycle” but the first is actually “Reduce”.
If you are able to Reduce, then there is no need to Reuse or Recycle.

I’m not necessarily advocating that you own less. For me it’s relieving to keep my items limited. But I am proposing that you keep an open mind as to what owning less can actually do for you, both physically and spiritually.

Without further delay, let’s get down to it, the 5 reasons why I prefer to consume less.

1. Consuming less saves you money.
I know, it seems obvious. If you buy less, you keep more. But think about it. If you have credit card debt or other short term debt and are complaining about money being tight, take a quick inventory of what’s around you. What have you not used in the last few months? The last year? Years? A test that I like to do when I’m in the organizing mood – if I haven’t used it in the last year it often gets the boot (sold or given away).
Think about this a step further. Every item that you purchase needs some sort of maintenance. Larger purchases can break down. They need protection in the form of insurance. They beg to be stored.
Are you ready to shell out all of those costs?
A lot of folks aren’t.
In real estate, I’ve unfortunately seen a number of foreclosures happen. It’s amazing to me to see how much “stuff” is left behind. What this says to me is “These items have no value to me. They don’t mean enough for me to figure out how to take them with me.”

2. When you Consume Less, you Have Less.  And therefore more.
Again, obvious.
But read deeper.
What will you have less of? Less things. Less distractions. Less clutter.
What will this give you more of? More time. More money. More peace.
I can’t speak for all when I say that having less is somehow less stressful.
But I can speak for myself.
It relieves me to have less to take care of.
It relieves me to know that I won’t get buried when I open a closet.
It relieves me to know that if I need something that I’ll be able to find it without digging deep.
It relieves me to have space and room.
It relieves me to be able to focus on experiences and relationships rather than things.

3. Consuming less gives you more flexibility when making choices.
Do you want to travel? Move homes? Lower your costs?
Just because you consume a lot doesn’t mean you can’t do these things. But if you consume less you’re more flexible and it’s easier to do all of them.
Lowering your costs is obvious (see #1 above).
But travel is a big one. I can tell you personally that many people I know say “man, how did you travel to New Zealand for 18 months or Guatemala for 6 weeks?
A large part of my honest answer would be “Consuming Less.”
Most folks take a typical 2 week vacation.
Why?
1. It’s what their employer gives them, which I understand.
2. But it’s also because they have to pay for expenses both at home and on the road for those 2 weeks.
For a vacation you save up a huge chunk of money to spend for that time period while at the same time having your ‘bills’ back home.
When you have the flexibility to travel long term, you actually only have one set of expenses for the most part.
Your travel expenses ARE your living expenses.

4. Consuming less can create more time for you.
Everything we buy takes a real measurable amount of time to purchase.
This means that every item that you choose not to purchase is that much more additional time for you on a personal level.
Use it for business, personal life, whatever.

5. If you own less then you have less to take care of.
If you have less to take care of, then you have less to maintain.
To me this is huge!
I don’t own a boat, 2nd car, motorcycle, multiple gadgets, tools, etc.
This means I don’t have to fix/repair a boat, 2nd car, motorcycle, multiple gadgets, tools, etc.
This saves me time. This saves me money (again #1 above).

To me owning less is an upward spiral.
I get to save money.
I get to save time, which saves me money.
I get to have more choices, which can lead to more money and time saving.
They are all beautifully interwoven and each item accelerates the others in that upward spiral.
Each upward spiral releases earthly anchors and allows me to grow.

 

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10 Rules for Success in Business

10 rules for success in business [This 10 rules for success in business list is based on a real estate investing business, but can be applied to any business model successfully]

1. Positive attitude is a MUST.  I could dwell on all the deals that didn’t work out and all the challenges of being self-employed.  But instead I focus on opportunity and possibility.  there has been a lot of doom and gloom recently.  But this is still the land of opportunity.  You know who realizes that more than anyone?  Immigrants.

2. FOCUS!  Even more than hard work.  I’m kind of lazy.  I spend many days at the park, at cafes, at movies, etc. But I have put systems into place to generate potential deals on a regular basis.  And when there is a deal, I’m like a shark, like a bulldog.  I bite and I don’t let go without a fight.  If there is a way to make it work, I make it work!

3. Don’t deal with flakes.  Associate (in business) only with people who are successful or have the right attitudes to become successful.  Also be aware of those who over promise but under deliver.  Talk is cheap.  But I guess that’s a form of flakiness too.

4. Use multiple strategies for getting deals.

5. Use massive and consistent effort.  Don’t expect meek and weak efforts, or occasional efforts, to yield any impressive results on a regular basis.

6. Become and expert in your market, and learn to adapt to changing markets and different market and property types.

7. Is greed good?  Depends.  Be SMART GREEDY, not dumb greedy.  Smart greedy = trying to maximize your profit on each deal through negotiation (most profitable activity known to mankind), deal structuring, cost controls, etc.   Stupid greedy = taking foolish risks; cutting corners that shouldn’t be cut; destroying relationships for short term gain; etc.

8. If any ONE deal, agent, client, investor, etc. can make you or break you, you’ve put yourself in an overly vulnerable position.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

9. Business, like life, is filled with ups and downs.  Try not to let either affect you too much.  That said, do re-evaluate and readjust as needed if you aren’t getting the results you desire.  First, review 1 through 8, and ask which one of these you could be doing better.

10. Always aim higher!  Demand and expect more from yourself than anyone else would.

I saw this 10 rules for success in business list on a Facebook post a few years ago.  I printed it out and it’s been on my office wall ever since.  If you’re the author, please let me know so that I can credit you ;)

Have any success tips to add?  Would love to hear them.

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