Careers & Entreprenuerism

3D Printers, What Will it Mean to Business and Your Investments?

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Taking a reflective walk down memory lane about 3D printers, I find that it’s a short walk from my dentist to my laptop.  Several years, ago I had a cap glued onto a molar. It was created from several pictures relayed to a 3D laser that cast a duplicate of the missing top of my tooth from a raw piece of ceramic. This year I had it done again. With increasing frequency I’ve read articles about 3D printers and the amazing things they can do.

What really caught my eye lately is what Jay Leno is up to. No, not the fact that he was retiring from the Tonight Show, but what he was doing with car parts. This is boring to most people but not to me since I’m a car guy. Jay has several pieces of equipment, including a 3D part printer, a 3D scanner, and various computers, so that he can create parts right in his garage from raw blocks of material. I stumbled across the Popular Mechanics article. If you don’t know already, Jay has an amazing collection of cars; some are very rare, such as several steam-powered machines. Finding parts can be hard and it can take forever and cost a lot; even if you find them, they don’t always arrive in great condition. Jay solved this problem by being able to create them from scratch.

A few months ago the Wall Street Journal had an article about printers that could print candy, and Hershey’s was looking into them. I tweeted that the day will arrive in many of our lifetimes when we own food replicators in our home, much as we have Keurig coffee machines today. Previously they were science fantasy first seen on Star Trek’s Next Generation series in 1987 (Klingon using one in the picture).

Last month I walked into my local computer store, MicroCenter, and they had three 3D printers buzzing away creating trinkets and toys from blocks of plastic. For about $1,000 you can buy one and take it home.  You can design something on your computer, such as your invention for a better mouse-trap, or a gift for your children, and before you know it you are watching it being created in front of your eyes. It is quite interesting to view the machine work through the clear plastic printer case.

In the coming years, 3D printers could be as huge and common as personal computers, cell phones, home printers and microwave ovens are today. What this will mean to manufacturing, to the company you work for, and to your investment portfolio, no one knows. But I predict that it will be huge–big in terms of profits, shifting wealth, unemployment, individual investment growth (and losses), and entrepreneurship. Hold on to your rocket Boy Elroy; we will be in for quite a ride when this technology hits main stream. If you are interested to know more, check out the video at Motley Fool titled “The End of ‘Made-in-China’ Era. It is a little bit of hype but well done. Caution–be careful if you are thinking of investing in this industry; picking winners and losers is difficult, just as it was when the dot.com world was white-hot.

Have a Great Idea for New Product? Check Out Quirky.com

quirkyWhile watching the Tonight Show the other evening, Jay Leno had a guest on from Quirky.com, a new really cool social invention website to help bring ideas for inventions to fruition. They highlighted some great products that people recently invented.

There are all sorts of ways to make additional money, and this one really caught my attention. You may dream about getting out of debt, buying a new car, affording a different lifestyle or giving to charity. Ultimately you might like to be self- employed, or financially independent. One of the things people dream about the most is starting a new business with that new great idea they have.

Have you ever had a great idea for a better mouse trap, only to later see someone actually create it and make money selling it? My wife and I think of good, bad and strange ideas all of the time. I think most people do. However the difficulty is being able to take it from the idea stage all the way through to the end, where you have a successful profitable business. Therefore most ideas that you or I have never go anywhere, since it is too hard, or you lack the motivation or resources.

The reason you don’t develop your ideas is that you probably lack the money to develop it, investigate patents, then produce the item, and lastly sell it. Most people run out of money in the early stages of start-up, and they don’t know how to go about raising capital.  If all things go well, then there are the challenges of marketing, websites, accounting, staffing, administration, payroll, facilities and on and on. This can all be very stressful, and relationships and marriage can be strained.

What if you could craft an idea and leave a lot of that stuff to someone else. What if you can do it all online for $10 per idea, and when the product is sold, you are sent the royalty checks?  That is exactly what the new social website Quirky.com is designed to do, and doing it quite well. You can easily submit your ideas, by answering a series of questions and uploading drawings or other things that explain your product. Within 30 days your idea will be either taken to product development (every Friday new ones are chosen), or archived for future consideration. You can also decide to remove it from Quirky.com and develop it on your own or re-post it for consideration again.

Since Quirky is another online community, you can see and vote on other people’s ideas. It is really cool to see all of the new ones that people submit. I noticed a great idea about an electric paper towel dispenser. I voted for it and commented about it in their online community. You can also see products that have been developed and how much revenue has been generated.

Check out Quirky.com for useful gift ideas to buy, to upload your invention, to vote on things.  Quirky has marketing arrangements with many major chains including Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and HSN Home Shopping Network and sell their products on Quirky too. The only downsides to consider is the loss of control of the Intellectual Property and your royalties would probably be less than the eventual profits if an idea became a big hit. Those are the risks, however most ideas never are pursued or invested in, and your forget about them later. For a minimal cost, you can float your idea out there, and perhaps Quirky will run with it to make it a success, and help you in the process.

Work Tax Deductions, Job Search Deductions and Job Search Help

You are eligible get a tax deduction for some unreimbursed expenses from work, and for those that had expenses looking for work or relocating. While on the latter subject, first I wanted to provide some ideas for those looking for work.

If you are unemployed or underemployed and are looking for work, there is help for you and your job search, and help through tax deductions for some of the expense of looking.

Today many churches and housing agencies have job search workshops and some have even hired experts to counsel people about all of the myriad of issues you need to know if you are looking for work. Vineyard Columbus (OH) has done just that. Some government agencies and social groups also provide the same. There are groups for executives, non executives and those over age 50 providing skills, support and encouragement that you may need for what often is a long-term process. Scioto Ridge is an excellent group in Columbus that helps many people.

Meeting one-on-one with experts and attending workshops is extremely important to getting hired. You will learn how to write a good resume, network, use LinkedIn and other social media, and interview well. Do not assume you know how to do all of these things, especially if you have been out of work for a while; do not go at this lonely and aggravating process alone. Some banks are even hiring firms to consult out of work people struggling to make mortgage payments, such as 5/3 Bank headquartered in Cincinnati Ohio hiring Next Job Inc.

Now that it is tax time, be acutely aware of the tax deductions that you might be eligible for. The list includes: courses to improve you skills and employment agency fees (see IRS Pub 970), mileage and parking for interviews, preparing and mailing resumes, and relocation expenses (see IRS Pub 521).

Do you incur expenses for your job from time to time, but don’t ask to get reimbursed? Perhaps you picked up some inexpensive office supplies, or donated to a project out of your pocket.  Often teachers buy their own class room supplies. If you are not reimbursed by your employer for these expenses, they could qualify for a miscellaneous deduction, as long as they were  required to do your job as an employee and were “ordinary and necessary” to your business or trade.

How to Deal With Perceived Employment Age Discrimination

Is your age in the 50′s or 60′s, and you are looking for a new full-time or part-time job? Do you think you are unlikely to get hired because you are too old? Do you feel age discrimination is really big, and is a barrier when you go to an interview? Job applicants must learn how to deal with this before the interview, or their chances of getting hired will be very low. Bill Canonico, an employment specialist at CanoniCo and at Vineyard Columbus, recently shared with me some excellent advice he gives many people that are in their upper 40′s and older.

Many people come to him terrified that they won’t get hired, because they believe their age is a barrier.  They are convinced that hiring managers will always pick a younger person with less experience. Some older job applicants have a chip on their shoulder, thinking the younger person can be paid less, learn faster, work with more energy, and is more tech-savvy.

This negative attitude is displayed to the interviewer, but the interviewee doesn’t have any idea they are doing it. This alone may be the unintended barrier to getting hired.

Older workers have decades of experience dealing with many situations in life and the work environment. Often they are calmer in dealing with difficulty, and are more appreciative of the new job they get. Older workers are much more common today, and some employers recognize and appreciate the skills, experiences and maturity they bring to the workplace.  Often they aren’t as distracted, like younger workers, by their smart phones and Internet and worrying about the politics and stress of moving up – but are just happy to do a good job.

Shockingly, even though 15% of all working age people are unemployed, many employers have difficulty finding two things: a good work ethic and appropriate skills.

Work Ethic: Showing up to work on-time, working hard, good attendance and attitude, and high level of work quality are actually rare in the workplace, employers tell us.

Skills:  Employers are having difficulty finding potential employees with the needed skills they desperately want. Read this recent article in the Wall Street Journal for some interesting facts.

Bill tells me there are three types of employers: The first group doesn’t care about age, but about work ethic, skills, experience and the ability to listen and learn. The second group may care some, and will be on the lookout for vitality, good attitude, and a younger mindset. The last group does care about age, and they are going to discriminate – and there really isn’t much you can do about it. Bill says that you have a 2/3 chance of age not really coming into play, if you approach it with the right attitude…

Attitude: The older job searcher needs to convey the attitudes and ethics mentioned above. They might want to talk with a specialist like Bill about how to conduct an interview, dress, hair style and a few other cues, to make sure they convey the right image the employer is looking for.

Resume: Bill reviews resumes every day and all day. Most of the resumes he sees are not well put together and, because of that, most people never even get to interview for the job they want. Hiring managers and recruiters go through hundreds of resumes for each open position. The first thing they do is to look for a reason to not consider you. They are trying to quickly take a stack of several hundred resumes, and reduce it to about 10.

If the resume’s form isn’t simple and easy to read, which means they have to work to figure out your skills and experiences, or are distracted by being over-designed, you are out. Next, they are scanning it to see if your skills and experience match what they are looking for. If they can’t find what they are looking for easily, it is eliminated, because they don’t have the time to try to figure it out. Next, if they come across miss-spelled words or poor grammar, then into the garbage it goes.

Now that the list is down to a smaller number, they are looking for problems, such as employment gaps (not as big a deal given the long recession), reasons for leaving, or too many positions in short period. If your resume doesn’t deal with that professionally, then more than likely you are out of the running. If you made it this far, they are now trying to find the best skills and experience. The hiring manager will pay special attention to things that you did ‘above-and-beyond’: awards, and special projects and training: things that sets you apart. A professional like Bill can help you present the best you, even if you have a few blemishes.

Do We Appreciate Businesses Enough?

The presidential campaign had me wondering which presidential candidate would have been the most pro-business. Investors in business might not think Obama is great for business, when you consider the 313 point drop in the DOW yesterday. Let me say at the outset that I am not taking political sides in this article.

During the presidential campaigns business got a bad rap. In a society that has been relying more on entitlements, the wealthy (including many who are business owners) have sometimes been maligned. The anti-business rhetoric came from both sides as our economy suffered in part from Wall Street abuses. Some of the criticism was right on, but only a very small minority are to be blamed for the recession. Governor Romney was raked across the coals for what he did while at Bain Capital, but much of that criticism was not founded in facts. This and more has contributed to an anti-business sentiment at times, and this is wrong and bad. Business, especially big business and “big oil,” is often the scapegoat for whatever ails societies when we are look for something to blame. It is a natural human reaction to want to blame someone when something bad happens.

Businesses though, should be lifted up and esteemed by all of our institutions of government, religion, education, entertainment and society at large, because they have formed part of the backbone of most cultures for thousands of years. Businesses supply goods that people need worldwide. Businesses employ people, providing good jobs that people feel good about doing, and they provide funds so that people can care for themselves, for others and for their families. Businesses help fund health care and retirement plans. They provide resources to finance other businesses, and funds for people to buy and build homes. Businesses are creative outlets for people to do things they are passionate about have talent in. Businesses are communities of collaborative people, friends that become families. Modern culture couldn’t exist without businesses. They help people build wealth that can be used to help people in need and to help preserve culture.

Culture is that wonderful and colorful thing that makes up our great societies that we are blessed to enjoy. Businesses are part of the entire culture that includes art, entertainment, sports, ethnicities and more. Businesses are good–something to be celebrated, lifted up, supported, funded, taught, enjoyed and encouraged. Business is good, and I appreciate what they do!

Starting, owning and running businesses takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears–requiring people to risk security, wealth, homes and lifestyles. It is hard work to keep employees and customers happy while battling ever-present competition. Global competition is fierce, requiring more new levels of expertise than ever before. Technology, benefits, taxes, accounting and cash flow management are extremely complex, making it difficult to relax for even a moment. We all depend on businesses, and more then ever they need our political, economic, emotional, spiritual and financial support, and much less criticism that is sometimes heaped their way. For in business growth, much of our economic ills can be relieved.

 

How to Help Others Financially

Most financial articles are self-help so I thought it might be good idea to discuss how to help others. I suspect most people can’t fix their own finances without some kind of help from someone else. Yes, ultimately it is still up to each individual person to apply financial wisdom, but they need your help.

  • Encouragement is one of the best gifts you can give to someone. Encourage means to give courage. Tackling financial problems isn’t easy, and people feel defeated. You can help them by telling them they are smart, intelligent and creative people- because they are, everyone is, in their unique way. You can encourage them by telling them how you struggled or avoided it, and how you clawed your way out. Tell them they can do it, and to keep trying. Few people totally succeed with their first few efforts and encouragement really helps.
  • Financial study is key. Tell them how particular authors, blogs, or financial personalities helped you. Great writers and speakers like Mary Hunt and Dave Ramsey too where nearly, or were bankrupt, and they learned from others how to dig their way out. Point people you know towards these writers.
  • Taking classes is essential too. We lead two Financial Peace University (FPU) classes each year, because they work. They work because Dave Ramsey’s video lessons teach everything people need to learn to get their house in order. In addition, they have small group breakout discussions so that people can get extra help and accountability. Go to www.daveramsey.com to search by zip code for classes nearby- they are offered all over town, and start soon. If someone lives hundreds of miles away from civilization, they can pay a little more and get the do-it-at-home course.
  • Sponsor someone to take the class, but don’t pay the entire amount. Most people need to have some skin, or investment in the game. If people don’t invest a few dollars into it, then they will not be committed to the class. Some people don’t like help, but come up with a creative way to pay some of the cost (usually around $100), or babysit their kids while they are in class.
  • Help them budget. If you know someone who is having a tough time, tell them you will sit down with them and show them how to manage their income and expenses so that there is money left over at the end of the month. Research says 70% of people live paycheck-to-paycheck, but most people don’t know how manage their monthly finances or balance their checkbook. Use simple paper and pencil forms, or great software like www.ynab.com, on their PC or mobile device.
  • Lead a FPU class, if you have already taken the class. Leading FPU is easy, they provide all of the ‘how-to’s’. Lead a class in your neighborhood, apartment complex, church, work lunch break, or local community center.
  • Be a good example, by being wise with savings and investments, and spending. Have a good attitude and tell people who helped you. You can have a lot of nice things, but don’t flaunt your wealth. People around me have been lifelong examples for me of managing money wisely.
  • Be generous. Give to organizations helping others with their finances, jobs and other essential lifestyles skills. Help others with basic needs if they are going without food, or utilities. However try to offer it with humility, along with offers to help them budget and take financial classes if appropriate. If people are making bad decisions, and you don’t provide wisdom along with cash, at least at times you might be hurting them more than helping them.
  • If you are in the position to start a business, consider doing so. Nothing helps people financially more than a good job with benefits.
  • If you are a leader in business, get behind offering financial education classes to your employees. Several studies have shown that they help people with their finances, and help them be better employees.
  • Lastly, teach your children how to manage finances at home, and lead financial classes for youth at church. Some financial institutions have sponsored financial classes in schools.

Helping others will be good for them and you. It is satisfying, and character building to do the hard work to help others carry their burdens.

Credit or Gift Card Positives, Negatives and Innovation

The banking industry has never been known as innovators or centers of creativity, that’s why an article in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention today: Ice-Cream Bank’s Rocky Road. I’ll get to the article in a moment, but my gripe with credit cards and gift cards is that although they provide a definite convenience, their negatives outweigh their positives for many Americans.

Credit cards, and debit cards are definitely handy. No one wants to carry thousands of dollars around when making large purchases and they are necessary for making flight, hotel and car rental arrangements. They also provide reward points that can be used for gifts, cash, and travel; maybe a few percentages of the purchase.

Then there are the negatives: retailers are charged 1.5% – 3% on purchases, inflating the cost of goods we buy automatically. The credit card industry makes a lot of money on these fees. They also like it when people don’t pay-off their balance each month, because they charge up to 30% interest on unpaid balances. The credit card issuers are really nice when they offer you a card, tempting you with points, no interest for the first year, and maybe waive the annual fee. However if you run into hard times, and miss a payment, many of them increase your interest rate to their highest rate nearly 30%, making it even harder to get caught up.

Research shows that people that use plastic to buy goods instead of cash psychologically feel less pain, and spend more per purchase.

In summary, you use credit cards out of convenience, the retailers charge more for the goods to cover the cost, you spend more money, may end up paying high interest rates, and in return you get convenience and points. Now some people have awesome discipline and don’t spend more, and really profit from the points. I wouldn’t recommend this to most people, but if you are really disciplined, the points can cover your vacation costs every year, potentially saving a few thousand dollars from your budget.

Gift cards on the other hand, are a nice way to buy gifts for people. Some people buy them at grocery stores, and get reduced cost of gasoline; Kroger and Giant Eagle are common grocery and gas bundlers in our area and some people do this when making large purchases at other retailers. The negative side of gift cards is they can sometimes get lost in the mail, forgotten or lost once we receive them, or lose value if not used within a specific time.

Now back to the story about an Ice-Cream Bank. Seems there’s this boutique ice-cream parlor in Pittsburg that pays 5.5% interest per month on their cards. The interest can be redeemed for items they sell such as ice-cream and coffee. The banking regulators are in turmoil trying to shut down this parlor offering bank like products, but so far they haven’t figured out how to shut down the niche the proprietor found in banking and securities regulations.

I like innovation, and admire Ethan Clay’s (the owner), creativity and courage to come out with an interesting idea to attract and reward customers. This got me thinking, why doesn’t the credit card, banking and major retailers come up with ideas to not just add convenience and points, but to encourage saving money on purchases, maybe provide a discount on purchases if you use their card? Wouldn’t it be cool if a credit card company rewarded people who finally paid off their balance, by depositing money into a special savings account (redeemable only the future) for each month that the balance is reduced? Maybe even increase that amount for every month that this is maintained, and then repaid. They probably cook up ideas like this all the time, but they are not approved when they get to the executive team, for fear of losing revenue, since they make more money on interest and fees. But like Ethan Clay’s small Whale Bone Cafe, small companies can try new ideas. Maybe a smaller credit card issuer will read this story in today’s Wall Street Journal and provide a card that has positive innovations to help people more.

 

Revive the Economy Through Child Parent Business Startups

A couple of weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal there was a very interesting article about a father and son that started a new enterprise that so far is succeeding quite well. A 15-year old Nicky got the idea to create candy made out of healthy ingredients, and with the help of his successful father, they have created  Unreal Brands, Inc. from scratch that has already signed contracts with major retailers like Target.

In this case the father is quite wealthy, and has a lot of business know how- major advantages to new businesses that usually lack funding and business development expertise. I admire wealthy people who use their wealth to create jobs, or become more active in charitable organizations that they invest heavily in. It makes little sense to accumulate large fortunes and wait to pass that on after death, which for many will not occur for decades.

Children have a wide range of interests but in American suburbia though it seems as if much of the energy is focused on childhood sports programs and to a lessor extent the arts- but not all children and young adults are interested in music and sports. Children who have natural business acumen have fewer places to explore their interests besides lemonade stands and lawn mowing. I find articles like this really cool; parents working together with their children on a common and creative business venture. Not only is this a great relationship builder, but transfers skills from the parent in a productive learning environment.

Starting new businesses is key to reviving the economy, and this is one great way to go about it.

How to Revive the Economy, Op-ed

The opening quote in Ron Kitchen’s book Community Capitalism is “The best social program in the world is a well-paying job with health care benefits and a retirement program (Ewing Kauffman).” struck me hard in light of the constant negative or trivial din in the media.

The top story almost every night on the news since 2007, wow 5 years now, is the Great Recession. I find it sickening that few politicians and leaders in the private sector are voicing good ways to revive the economy. Have you heard many creative ideas? Have you read or even heard of any great books about this?  Where is all of the intellectual capital our country has in providing leadership?

Part of the problem is the media, they only like to report bad news, stories about celebrities, what the presidential candidate said yesterday (picking apart every sentence with a panel of experts – how boring) and sports. We’ve heard enough about the Queen’s Diamond celebration, John Travolta, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, or the sport that you follow. We know the jobs report isn’t good, ObamaCare is going to cost trillions, the world economy is stagnating and other bad economic news, in fact we are fed daily dosages of this negative news. This creates an aura of fear that will actually retard the recovery, how you might ask?, just wait…

Actually the US economy isn’t as bad as it may seem on the nightly news. A lot more people are back to work now than in the last few years. The stock market is recovering, although with bumps. Interest rates to borrow are the lowest in over 50 years. The Dollar is stronger than many foreign currencies. Fewer houses are going into foreclosure. Is there a lot of suffering out there still, yes.  Still pain, but reason for hope, not fear.

The solution isn’t political (although that would help, and I will get to that). The solution is leadership. Leadership in business, academia and the pulpit. Lastly leadership from the media. What do the leaders need to talk about? The answer is capitalism, entrepreneurship, and hard work. Taking risks on starting new businesses, learning new things, taking on new jobs to pay off debt so that you are financially free to consider starting a new business. Pushing through fear and taking risks.

Is the economy going to take time to recover, yes. But the answer isn’t tax policy (although tax incentives would help new and existing business, and a more fair and less complicated tax system would be nice). The answer isn’t more entitlement programs, although a lot of people really need them, but we have to careful putting too many people into a dependence relationship on government, since it only creates long-term adult children living in the spare bedroom. Yes health care costs and availability needs to be better, but can be fixed easily through insurance pools, greater efficiency (simplification) and limits on law suits. The answer isn’t more regulations, although it might be good to have better oversight of Wall Street to prevent the next debacle.

I am more hopeful than ever, the future landscape is bright for our country. This recession is shaking things up, and creating space and opportunity for a new wave of business start-ups. These will create many new jobs, that have the potential to lead the world to a new era of prosperity. Pain causes fear, but for some, it breaks them free from where they were headed, into new areas of personal development. In the coming decade I expect to see ground breaking innovations that will come out of this, that we can barely imagine now.

The answer to reviving the economy is focusing on job and business creation, and education. More bi-partisan politics and government spending in those areas, business and job creation through tax incentives both for businesses and venture capitalists, and the media focus more on great business and community revival like featured in “Community Capitalism.”

There are surely more ideas on how to revive our economy, what ideas do you have?

Ohio Unemployment Compensation New Guideline

The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) is notifying current and past recipients of unemployment compensation, the regular requirement to apply for 2 jobs per week is staying the same, except that recipients of unemployment compensation must keep a written record of actions taken including employer’s name and address, method of applying for work, type of work sought, dates of contact and the outcome of each contact. When they file each week for their weekly check, there will be new fields on the weekly claim form requiring entry of weekly job contact information. The Agency is informing unemployment compensation recipients that they are now conducting more frequent audits, and the written records you are required to keep may have to be submitted.

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