Monday, March 28, 2011

8 fault lines on the road to entrepreneurship

All the while I wrote about small businesses for the Denver Post and ColoradoBiz, people asked me: Why don't you go into business for yourself?

My answer? I'd have to work too hard! The many entrepreneurs I wrote about were working too hard all the time. I also did not know then, but felt fairly certain, that starting a business around my own writing would be as difficult a task as I had ever set out for myself.

I'm now learning the truth about both those preconceptions as I try to make a business of, where this small-business blog and my other writing become my products, products I want to sell to advertisers.

Note well: The visible lack of advertisers on this blogsite is testimony to how difficult I'm finding converting "the dream" into profit.

But I'm not alone in this digital camp. Even big organizations like the New York Times have struggled to "monetize" their digital offerings, and today marks the newspaper's erection of a "pay wall" intended to eventually do just that.

So now might be the time to click here to see one example of a good source of information for small-business owners, the NYT's small-business blog called "You're the Boss." I've linked you to Jay Goltz's post last Wednesday, "Eight Fallacies of Entrepreneurship."

Goltz, who is identified by the Times as an owner of five businesses in Chicago, says: "I have compiled a list of frequently used phrases and comments that I often hear when people are discussing this decision [to start their own business] and that I think reflect serious misunderstandings. At best, these misunderstandings can lead to a waste of time. At worst, they can lead to very bad decisions and very big losses."

In the interests of saving both time and money for Colorado entrepreneurs, I thought I'd direct you to Goltz's well-conceived list. I'd also recommend "You're the Boss," which has a half-dozen other writers working for it each week, although I don't know how the "pay wall" will affect your access to the blog.

While you are in it, however, one way to multiply the value of reading each piece is to check out the comments of other active entrepreneurs who read them, even days after posting. The comments can be as instructive as the original prose.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

End the wars, cure cancer, create jobs

Is the nation war weary? Would the $700 billion this nation is spending on wars be better spent creating jobs for Americans at home?

There is a double-edged sword in the conundrum offered by those two questions.

I've had an epiphany! The Republicans are right! We don't need more public-sector spending to create jobs. We need the private sector to invest money in more businesses to create jobs.

Public-sector jobs are real jobs and help the economy because money in the pockets of public employees is spent just like the money in the pockets of private-sector employees.There's no discriminating between dollars spent in a free market. We are all consumers, and the American consumer has always led the nation's economy toward growth and confidence.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, on Charlie Rose last night, mentioned he would like to see the $700 billion we're spending on warfare nowadays returned to the domestic economy in order to keep from "savaging" government programs here at home.

That's fine. But Republicans are essentially right when they say government spending does not create jobs. Private businesses create jobs that public-sector jobs are intended to serve. The need to hire hundreds of lawyers to staff the Security and Exchange Commission arises from the thousands of jobs created in the financial sector by private businesses taking financial risks to boost the nation's prosperity.

Teachers are hired to serve the children of parents working in both the public and private sectors who want to provide a better life for their kids.

Health-insurance companies create jobs to serve private employers who want to provide affordable health insurance to workers whose health or illness creates jobs in the private health industry: nurses, doctors, lab technicians, record keepers and computer techs to create data bases to hold paper medical histories converted to digits. And the health-care industry needs public-sector regulators hired to oversee it.

But no one gets to create jobs if private investors don't have enough confidence in the American economy to invest in it. No one gets to return modernized, outsourced jobs to American shores unless private American money is pumped with confidence into successful, well-managed American firms.

War weary is right. We are all weary of the wars that keep claiming the lives of men and women who could contribute to a peace-time economy at home.

Contribute, for example, to the war against cancer that also keeps claiming life after life after life in this country and around the world. A drug war that seems eminently more winnable than any of the foreign wars we're waging because it actually has produced recent advances that have saved lives.

That's where the $700 billion could be put to better use for all Americans. End the wars, cure cancer and create jobs, too.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Startup ideas from two cafes

When you start a small business, your first transactions are not conducted in dollars and cents but in the idea you have for the business: You have to convince people your idea will make money.

Sometimes you even have to convince yourself. So finally, after working to hone the idea of my own business for years, I decided to take in a Denver Idea Cafe, where founder John Wren says people meet to "share startup experience & ideas, NOT advice!"

Wren has been holding these meetings for years, usually to a group of five to fifteen people gathered at 2 p.m. on Fridays at the Panera Bread shop at 13th and Grant streets, near the Capitol Building and downtown Denver. I took in the session on March 12, and then another session closer to home at the Koelbel Library on March 19.

The second group has been organized by Richard Oppenheim, a business coach, and Ken Wyble, a marketing consultant with the South Metro Chamber of Commerce. It is intended to serve a South Metro clientele of would-be entrepreneurs.

Each group specializes in "brainstorming" ideas that might help attendees get started on the business of their dreams.

As Wren says from the get go, attendees can take or leave the ideas that cross the table. That way the atmosphere remains informal and encouraging. People come to hear something helpful, not to have their business concept shot down.

Wren enforces a confidentiality rule, too, so I'll limit what I report here to what was said about my own business concept. "Have a story," one entrepreneur suggested, when I asked about raising money to finance my business.

Naturally I took to the idea. My concept for is all about telling stories: stories about other businesses through this blog; other peoples' life stories and family histories written in books or private manuscripts; stories I tell in my poems and short stories which I want to sell from my website.

I've already written two books about Denver businessmen whose stories are compelling tales of overcoming adversity. Starting my business on a shoestring is slowly becoming my own story of adversity.

At the second session, I heard suggestions for connecting with other organizations that might help me, but the best idea I came away with from there was a realization that I need to get a lot more help in the technical area of business formation. I already knew the South Metro Chamber's Small Business Development Center is the best place for me to go for that, so I've resolved to take advantage of more of its services for startups.

So the cafes are interesting and valuable if for nothing more than to keep your dream alive. The nicest idea I took from the cafes was that starting a business is a journey where it's possible to meet helpful fellow travellers. The work remains yours to do. But the best time to start is now. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

In the Chemo Room: In it to win it!

I won my appeal! Yvonne Harris, senior grievance and appeals analyst for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, put a letter in the mail on Wednesday that I didn't pick up until today, informing me:

"After careful consideration of all available information, the Level 2 appeal panel approved payment for the IMRT treatments received in May 2010 and June 2010."

That was a very understated way to tell me I did not owe my doctors and hospital $176,305 that would surely have forced me into personal bankruptcy. So it was a win, win, for all of us, including Harris and her company, and she said as much in her letter.

"I appreciate the opportunity to have assisted in your appeal process," Harris wrote, "and I am happy to confirm this favorable outcome."

It's a story of a health insurer -- a company that is often described as the big, bad wolf of the industry -- coming through for a patient who went through the motions required of him and his doctors to give the insurer its proper grounds for paying a huge claim on the patient's medical-insurance policy.

Harris said that, too: "This decision was based on your clinical circumstances in this particular situation."  That's an important sentence to the company. It provides evidence and documentation that Anthem's decision pertains only to me and no other Anthem-insured patient. It prevents a run on the bank, if you will.

The victory is exhilarating and confidence-building and those emotions alone help in my fight against the disease. The "system" worked like it is suppose to work, and the experience reinforces my commitment to do what my doctors tell me, and maybe live long enough to finish the work I want to accomplish on this earth.

Just yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that about one in 20 adult Americans are surviving a cancer diagnosis. Of that 11.7 million in 2007, 65 percent had survived for at least five years, and 40 percent for 10 years or more.

I'm still working on the five, but aiming for 10, now with some confidence my insurer will be with me all the way. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In the Chemo Room: 17 minutes to appeal $176,365 bill

I go back to the chemo room later today, but this morning I sat in on a medical panel that heard my appeal of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield's denial of $176,365 of radiation "benefits" I received last summer.

To make that clear: Anthem has initially refused to pay my doctors and my hospital $176,000 for treatments I received through May and June 2010 based on the company's medical protocols that don't consider the type of radiation therapy I received a standard treatment for metastasized colorectal cancer. 

Both my doctors, Thomas Kenney, oncologist, and Seth Reiner, radiation, were on the 17-minute teleconferenced call as the appeal hearing was conducted, and both explained why they prescribed the treatments I was given. The panel seemed to agree, but a majority vote is to decide the issue and I am to be informed in 24 hours how the vote went down.

It was all very professional, and my doctors both said they have participated in such review/appeals in the past. It is part of the "system" of health care we've got going for us here in America, and the new "affordable" health care act passed by Democrats last year probably won't change this part of the system.

The law preserved the role of private-sector health-insurance companies in the health-care industry, so health insurers, in order to preserve profit margins, will challenge doctors on protocols in order to keep from paying as much as possible on insurance policies that are racking up huge costs for care. If the company is successful, the bills fall to the patient, no matter their ability to pay, and the insurance company dodges, in my case, this one $176,000 bullet.

Anthem Blue Cross has already paid much more for my care during my near four-year battle against the disease, so I don't blame them for this attempt to save themselves some money. It's good business.

And its good business on my part and my doctors' parts to appeal initial decisions and make the insurance company pay. That's all part of the initial transaction I made with the insurer, and why I keep paying my ever-increasing premiums. The appeal process adds costs to the "system," but that's a policy the wise heads of industry and government have adopted. 

Of course, a public option to private health insurance might suggest a cure to this national chronic economic illness. But that's another story.

Monday, March 7, 2011

New job: social-media tweeter

"The secret for these companies is to have identifiable people whose job it is to tweet," Paul Carr told New York Times blogger MP Mueller in a piece posted today on "You're the Boss," the NYT blog on small business.

That's the first time I've ever heard it spelled out. New media is creating jobs in small businesses if only the small business owners recognize that new media needs full-time workers filling the jobs. What small business is going to hire someone to "tweet" all day?

Naturally, Carr, who is making the recommendation, is also a blogger and a journalist, someone getting paid for writing up suggestions, not for making payroll.

But Mueller also quotes a businessman, Gary Vaynerchuk, who sells wine and helped boost revenues of his dad's New Jersey liquor store from $4 million to $50 million through social media. Vaynerchuk told Mueller he spent 12 hours a day answering e-mail and working Facebook and Twitter since 2006 to accomplish that. I suppose his dad was working the counter all that time.

The point I'm trying to make here is that new media requires work time from those who would use it to self-market and build their businesses. True, the time can be written off to marketing and customer service, but the time has a per-hour cost that often goes overlooked by those who recommend such investment.

"You're the Boss" features Mueller and a half dozen other bloggers on small-business issues at the New York Times website. I recently discovered the blog and have found the content interesting although a bit too "ivory tower." Check it out for yourself at the same link as I've included above.