I’ve been in sales and business development my entire
I never had the desire, academic chops, or patience to
become anything else. I took the LSAT
and my score was so miserable I’m embarrassed to even share it.
Truth is, I am an introverted person. I shouldn’t be attracted to the selling profession. But according to my parents and grandparents, I have a good personality – and good manners – which are helpful in selling.
There were other factors that led me into the sales
profession. I had bad grades, I was the class clown, I have the attention span
of a gnat, I’m not unpleasant to look at, I have some hair, I’m a snappy
dresser, I like to golf, and I’m competitive.
And most importantly, without a graduate degree, professional aspirations, or entrepreneurial ambitions, selling was the best path for me to earn good money.
Here are the sales positions I’ve worked in:
Account Executive for The Ball State Daily News (newspaper advertising sales)
Account Executive for The Indianapolis Star and News (newspaper advertising sales)
Account Executive for Time Inc. (magazine advertising sales)
Account Executive for 3 radio stations (radio advertising)
Account Executive for a CBS Local TV station (TV advertising sales)
Account Executive for Ivie & Associates (selling marketing services to businesses)
VP of Accounts for Ivie & Associates (same as above)
Account Executive for an NBC Local TV station (TV advertising sales)
General Manager for Ball State Sports Properties (corporate sponsorship sales for collegiate sports)
So, I’ve been around the block, and learned a few things over the years. Not to brag – but everywhere I’ve sold I’ve been successful. In some cases, I’ve been the top seller among many, and even won some awards.
In the coming weeks, I will share what I believe to be the 10 most important ingredients in becoming a successful salesperson.
Sell Something You Love or Believe In
In college, needing to make beer money, my interest in
advertising and newspapers led me to a student job selling ads for our school
newspaper – The Ball State Daily News. And it may have been the
worst way to start my sales career.
Why? Because newspapers (this was the late 1990’s) were still the dominant advertising media for local business. Before Google, Craigslist, Facebook, Snap Chat, and other digital media companies devastated print advertising.
It was so easy.
Selling ads in a college newspaper – to a business in a college town – wasn’t rocket science. We had a monopoly on the campus audience. And I exploited our dominance.
The key here, I also loved the product
The key here, I also loved the product. I devoured newspapers
every morning since I was a kid eating bowls of Captain Crunch cereal. There were no smart phones, laptops, or tablets.
Secretly, I wanted to be a journalist. But there were
too many smart people vying for those positions, and I knew a job as a reporter
didn’t pay much.
So, I sold ads, and discovered it was the highest paying
student job on campus. I not only loved the money, I loved that I was
supporting journalism, and I was also supporting students learning how to be
This made selling more of a mission, and it didn’t feel like
a job, it felt like service.
It’s About Service
First, I was serving advertisers by introducing them to new customers. Second, I was serving our journalists because the advertising revenue paid for their expenses. And third, I was serving our readers by funding the gathering of the news they wanted to read.
Contrast this with selling something I wasn’t interested in, like pharmaceuticals, or industrial widgets, or medical devices – selling something I didn’t have a passion for would have made it more difficult to overcome my shyness and call on strangers.
In order to be successful in sales, you have to call on strangers
In order to be successful in sales, you have to call on strangers. Strangers who don’t necessarily want to talk to you.
And you may have to repeatedly call until these strangers are convinced you won’t go away. And if they agree to talk to you, finally recognizing your dogged persistence, they’ll often discover you have a solution to their pain and buy something.
This is so much easier to do when you believe in what you
are selling. Not just a fake belief, but
a true interest and passion for the product or service you represent.
I have always had a passion for journalism, advertising, and
marketing, so I have stayed where my passion was fueling my sales efforts.
In my next post on becoming an effective seller, I’ll dive into “Embracing The Art of The Hustle”.
When I was 26, I took out a mortgage on a house in Fishers, Indiana, a booming suburb 10 miles north of Indianapolis. It was 2004, and the housing bubble was taking shape – anybody with a pulse could get approved for a mortgage. Even me!
I had zero money. I was in debt up to my eyeballs. I just started a job paying 100% commission and wasn’t earning much money. I was renting an affordable apartment in a nice area close to work.
But I was convinced by friends, family, and the media that I was wasting money on rent, and despite my lack of financial and career stability, I should buy a house in a tree-less suburb further away from work.
I bought into the mortgage myth.
That house became a financial horror leading me into over $250,000 in debt. I re-financed several times to pay off credit cards and took out a home equity loan to make improvements.
This was the peak of my financial stupidity and when I decided enough was enough, and began educating myself about personal finance.
I got lucky and sold that house, climbed out of debt and rented for a few years to shore up my finances.
But not long after, I was tempted by the mortgage myth again, and bought another house. Again, I bought into the wisdom that I was wasting money on rent.
Luckily it was right after the housing crash of 2008, and I took advantage low pricing and financing incentives to help turn the market around.
I was in much better financial shape, and I spent about $60,000 fixing the place up over the next few years.
I loved that house, The only reason I sold was for a job opportunity I took in Dallas.
But I’ll tell you what, I really struggled with that decision. I was emotionally attached to that house, and almost turned down a great career opportunity because of it.
I’m glad I did sell. Because I’m wealthier as a result of renting ever since.
I should have never bought the first house in the suburbs. My second house was an OK purchase, but it was a terrible investment. I spent $60,000 fixing it up, paid about 6 year’s worth of mortgage payments (mostly interest) and sold it for about $20,000 more than I paid for it.
My point is, I probably should have rented all along, I would be wealthier now as a result, and that most of the time buying a house will not make you rich, in fact– it can keep you from getting rich.
The Instruments of Financial Slavery
There are 3 types of debt leading most people into financial
Credit Card debt
They are collectively backed by trillions of dollars in
marketing, public relations, lobbying, and misinformation designed to lure you
into slave-inducing levels of each. Especially mortgage debt.
I have made mistakes in all three categories, and I’m here
to tell you if you want to be rich someday you need to think of these three
categories differently than most people.
You may need to doubt people you trust, like your parents, or close friends, even your financial adviser – especially if they believe financing a home is better than renting a home.
You should only listen to people who are wealthy, because wealthy people don’t spend all of their money on mortgage interest.
In fact, personal residences are never the investments that make people millionaires. Why?
Why your Primary Residence Is not a
Wealth Building Tool
Because, your house is not an investment. Let me say that again, your house, or residence, or crib, is NOT an investment.
It is an expense, or in business terms, it’s overhead. And buying too much house and paying a bank interest over 30 years is a terrible waste of your precious after-tax earnings.
In business there is something called a balance sheet, and it’s two simple columns with assets on one side, and liabilities on the other.
Credit Card Debt
Liabilities are loans and debt you’re legally committed to paying – like a mortgage, or car loan, or credit card debt. Your mortgage is a liability.
Even worse, it’s a liability anchoring you to a location
that may not be optimal for your career.
Think about that.
An investment by definition is an asset, something that pays
you income in the form of dividends or capital gains.
A house only costs money and never pays you income, even after you pay off the mortgage, you’re still paying taxes, maintenance and insurance.
Unless you rent it, then it becomes an asset because it begins earning income. But it’s tough to earn money on a rental property when you have a big mortgage.
On the contrary, an investment in a real estate stock or a real estate investment trust (REIT) is an asset.
They pay dividends from income producing properties, and there will likely be capital gains, and you are a passive owner/investor of those properties – meaning you don’t have to mow the lawn. And you take on zero debt!
Compared to renting, the higher costs of home ownership diverts cash flow away from investments in ASSETS (like your 401k) to these types of repairs and maintenance.
The interest you pay alone is staggering.
A 30-year loan on a $300,000 house – with a 20% down payment
(total amount financed = $240,000) – means you won’t pay the bank $240,000 over
30 years, no, you’ll be paying the bank more like $600,000 in combined interest
and principle over those 30 years.
What is your return on this investment? Maybe the value of your home will double over the course of those 30 years. But after you factor in the ongoing maintenance, insurance and tax expenses, odds are you’ll rarely recoup your investment after paying that much interest.
The only return, and I don’t want to belittle the importance
of it, may be emotional. The security and comfort of having your own place.
If you admit that’s the reason you want to spend all of your money on
maintenance, interest, insurance and taxes, I’ll buy that.
The #1 Instrument of Financial
Housing is typically the #1 expense for most people and the #1 leading cause of financial slavery. And it’s why many people toil in uninspiring careers, and spend years of their lives stuck in rush hour traffic commuting to work.
But wait, Shane, you’re wrong, my house is an investment because it increases in value and I get a tax deduction on my mortgage interest.
True, if you live in a vibrant city with economic growth your house will probably grow in value – and be easy to sell (at 7% commission to your real estate agent).
But you’re probably paying a premium to live somewhere like this, which means more of your take home pay will be tied up in after-tax housing expense keeping you from investing in actual assets.
Now, the mortgage interest deduction. Possibly the
most misunderstood piece of misinformation and #1 reason people justify buying
a house vs. renting.
Yes, you can deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage
from your income taxes. Yes, it reduces your taxable income. But think of
it this way:
The interest you pay and then deduct from your income taxes is not a dollar for dollar deduction, you’ll get back about 28 cents on the dollar depending on your tax bracket. So, if you paid $10,000 in mortgage interest, and you grossed $100,000 in earnings, your taxable earnings are reduced to $90,000, but the IRS will NOT return $10,000 – no – it will return just 28% (depends on your tax bracket) of the $10,000 you paid in interest, or about $2,800. You still spent $8,200 in interest payments returning you nothing.
Would you go borrow $8,200 so you can have the bank give you $2,800? That’s essentially what’s happening in this example.
For Most People, The #1 Tax Break
If you want to build wealth, instead of plowing all of your
money into a liability, start maxing out the #1 tax break available to most
Americans – your 401k – which reduces your taxable income while allowing you to
buy actual assets.
Let’s compare investing in a 401k to the benefits of the mortgage interest deduction. If you invest the same $10,000 in your 401k your taxable income goes down by the same amount, and you keep the full $10,000 in assets earning interest and dividends (tax free) until you retire.
If the cost of your house keeps you from maxing out your 401k each year, then you are squandering one of the most productive ways to build assets and acquire wealth.
Now, let’s compare the balance sheets of two types of
families: The Renters and the Mortgages:
The Renter Family
The Renter family earns a household income of $250,000 per
year. Mr. Renter is 46, has 3 kids and a dog, works in corporate sales,
travels frequently, and has moved 3 times in his career leading to higher pay
and new opportunities.
He and Mrs. Renter “rent” a beautifully updated furnished 4-bedroom house in a residential suburb of Indianapolis. They pay $3500 per month which includes all costs except the power, gas, water and cable bill.
They have zero worry about lawn care, the roof, the HVAC system, the foundation, and they don’t pay taxes, just a small amount of renter’s insurance.
They have a 1-year lease, which they will probably renew. Mr. Renter’s job is going so well they feel like Indianapolis may be the place where they will eventually purchase a home.
Mr. Renter’s experience moving through three different
divisions of his company has led to an executive leadership position with
higher pay and stock options.
In the meantime, The Renters are able to max out their
401k’s each year ($48,000) and continue to build up savings for a future down
Here is their balance sheet:
Combined 401k = $675,000
Auto Loan #1 = $6,000
Combined IRA’s = $225,000
Student Loans = $25,000
Cash Savings = $150,000
TOTAL NET WORTH (Assets
minus Liabilities) = $1 Million +
The Mortgage Family
The Mortgage family also earns $250,000 per year in annual
household income. Mr. Mortgage also works in corporate sales, has kids, a
dog and has remained in the same job at the same company for 10 years
Mr. Mortgage has been offered job opportunities with more pay and career advancement but has turned them down because he doesn’t want to move.
The Mortgages love where they live, they’ve invested a lot of time and money in their home, and the kids are happy at school.
They have a 4-bedroom home in the same neighborhood as the Renter family. But after 10 years of ownership, while they have spent a considerable sum on new gutters, windows and an HVAC system, their home lacks the updated amenities the neighboring homes have.
Their mortgage payment is only $2,500 per month, but after taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance, their average monthly housing expense is closer to $4,500.
They took out a $500,000 mortgage, put down 20%, and after 10 years of mortgage payments (over $300,000 in after-tax cash payments) they’ve only paid the principle down to $300,000.
But the real estate market is hot right now, so they would have no problem selling today for more than they paid for it. Even without the updates.
In fact, they are considering a $100,000 home equity loan so
they can update the kitchen and bathrooms. This would bring their mortgage debt
back up to $400,000 – about where they started 10 years ago.
Because of the additional burden of home expense, the Mortgage family has about $1000 less per month than the Renter family to invest, and thus are not able to maximize investment opportunities like their 401k.
Here is their balance sheet:
Combined 401k = $400,000
Auto Loan #1 = $6,000
Combined IRA’s = $100,000
Mortgage #1 = $300,000
Cash Savings = $50,000
Mortgage #2 = $100,000
House = $600,000
Student Loans = $25,000
TOTAL NET WORTH (Assets
minus Liabilities) = $619,000
In another 10 years, who do you think will be wealthier? The family who invested most of their cash into a house, or the family who invested most of their cash into appreciating assets?
Some will say the Mortgage family wins because they will have a paid off house by the time they retire. I say SO WHAT.
The Renter family, with their lack of liabilities and positive cash flow will have the ability to buy a home for cash and avoid the hundreds of thousands in interest the Mortgage family paid.
I’m not saying don’t buy a house. What I am saying is
that renting is OK, it’s cheaper, it’s a perfectly sound option for remaining
fluid in your life and career.
And if you truly want to build wealth you won’t buy into the myth of home ownership and 30-year mortgages, you’ll invest as much of your cash into financial instruments that appreciate, like assets.
It’s not, you can develop this skill quite easily. Anyone
can get better at selling by changing how they look at the concept of selling.
You may never achieve rainmaker status, the highest level of
selling, but you can develop sales skills that will help you immensely in life,
and in business, and in finding a mate. And I hope my story helps
The greatest benefit to having the ability to sell is it
distinguishes you from the majority of the workforce.
It’s an extra arrow in your quiver of arrows making you a
more marketable employee. And if you ever dream of owning your own business,
selling others on your idea will be helpful.
I find many people are afraid of selling for or one or more
of the following reasons:
Their personal appearance is less than flattering; overweight, bad teeth, out of shape, bald or balding etc.
Introverted personality, shyness
Lack of knowledge and/or respect about the importance of the sales process in any business
Feel their advanced degree and education (doctors and lawyers for example) make them exempt from selling
Here’s some truth. If you send two women, one stunningly
beautiful and the other of average beauty (both with equal selling skills) to
sell the same product to a man, the beautiful woman will win that sales contest
100% of the time.
Here’s more truth, good looking men can more easily sell to
women than other women.
Beautiful people have advantages over everyone else in this
world. But looks are a very small part of effective selling. Looks
may get you in the door faster, but skill is what closes a sale. Skills
that you can develop.
Why? Because ultimately – decision makers value solutions to their problems. And if you can get their attention, listen, uncover their pain, and provide a solution, it won’t matter what you look like.
How an Introvert Can Sell
I personally struggle with being an introvert. I’d rather
stay in the comfort of my own home or enjoy the solitude of a golf course than
do any anything social.
But social shyness and business shyness are two very
It’s OK to be socially shy, but when it comes to business,
it’s about your survival.
And if eating and supporting a family isn’t motivation
enough to break out of your shell – then nobody can help you.
You have to help yourself in this instance. The
motivation to survive – and thrive – should trump all shyness in the business
How do you do it? By assuming a different identity for
your social life and business life.
Being shy and awkward at home like Clark Kent is fine, but
when you dress for work you must turn into Superman – or Wonder Woman – a
fearless version of yourself ready to do battle in a fierce capitalistic world
I find that many professionals like lawyers, doctors, and
accountants dismiss the idea they need to sell. Why else did they spend
all those years in school studying?
But the most successful and wealthy professionals develop a
healthy respect for the selling process.
They must win clients before they can attain partnership
status or build their own practice. And they do thy by skillfully selling.
Why Selling is HARD
There are three foundational marketing principles underlying
any successful business:
Continued customer acquisition
Conversion and Sales Optimization
Customer Retention and Referrals
The most important, difficult and expensive of the three is
Because … until someone, somehow, in some way – convinces
a business, government, non-profit organization or person to part with their
money – absolutely nothing would transpire in the world of business.
And because the selling process takes time, and customers
are finicky, there’s endless competition, habits and trends change, leadership
changes, governments and laws change.
It takes patience to develop a relationship, to win trust,
and deliver a solution. It takes persistence, drive, skill and psychology.
The Indians tried to create rain through rituals and
prayer. Man tried to create rain through science. In the business world,
rain is made through methodical and strategic sales and marketing efforts.
And for those who can consistently sell at the highest
levels, they are the true rainmakers.
The Rainmakers and The Fulfillers
Very generally, there are two kinds of people in this world,
rainmakers and fulfillers. Those who can sell, and those who can’t – or
don’t want to, for a variety of reasons, I call them the fulfillers.
The vast majority of our planet is on the fulfillment side.
They are the specialists, or subject matter experts, or number crunchers, and
managers. Their jobs are to fulfill and manage the obligations of the
Fulfillment of a sale is vitally important because it’s what
retains and grows clients. But the selling part is much more
In his book Million Dollar Consulting, author Alan Weiss
calls fulfillers – “delivery people”, and makes this point: “If anyone
tries to tell you … that delivery is the key to client success, I’d remind them
that delivery people are more common than garden weeds, and rainmakers are
rarer than Sasquatch.”
The process by which you are compelled to buy a McDonald’s
cheeseburger and Coke has evolved from a sophisticated team of sales, marketing
and merchandise folks – fulfillers trying to drive traffic into McDonald’s
The delivery of the meal is also fulfilled by the
franchisor, who pays handsomely for the brand and system that delivers a Coke
and cheeseburger to her customers.
The one who developed the idea, licensed it, financed it,
and sold it to the masses was Ray Kroc, the rainmaker in this scenario.
The car salesperson – or realtor – who start with nothing –
and go on to build successful careers must develop rainmaking skills to
The finance person at the dealership, or the title agent at
the title company, are the fulfillers of their sales. The realtor and car
salesperson generated the rain.
While working at a Division One collegiate athletics program
I witnessed true rainmaking from their athletics director – Beth. You’d
think an A.D. would be consumed with wins and losses, not so much. Her
mission was fundraising.
Her focus was on raising money (making rain) to fund scholarships and build state-of-the-art athletics facilities designed to attract recruits and coaching talent. Which in the long term will lead to more wins for the program.
In my next series of posts, I am going to focus on the sales profession and what I believe to be the 10 most important ingredients into becoming an effective salesperson.
Did you know you can use your credit card for two months and not pay a single dime in interest?
I call it Credit Card Arbitrage.
Here’s how it works
When you receive a credit card bill, there are three options for you to pay: the minimum payment, the statement balance, or the full balance.
If my statement balance is low, or at zero, I can then charge whatever I want and not pay until the next billing cycle — meaning I have a 58 day float.
Here is my recent Citi Double Cash Card statement. The due date is on the 17th of the month, and they close my billing on the 21st of each month.
So whatever I charge on the 21st (or after) won’t be due for 58 days.
And If I pay the statement balance, I won’t be charged any interest.
My goal is to always avoid interest. And if I pay my statement balance in full, even if I owe more than the statement balance, I won’t be charged any interest.
So as of May 21st, (my statement closing date) I have until June 17th (my next due date) to use this card and despite how much I spend, only $135 will be due on June 17th.
And that is the key. The statement balance is all the credit card companies require you to pay to avoid interest and fees.
Let’s say I go crazy and buy a jet ski (or something impulsive) and spend $10,000 one day between 5/21 and 6/17.
On my due date of June 17th my account balance will be $10,135. My minimum payment will be something like $50, and my statement balance will still be $135.
And as long as I pay my statement balance, I won’t owe interest on the $10k.
In fact, I won’t have to pay that $10k until July 17th — a full 30 days later! But then I must pay in full or will incur interest on the entire sum.
So, what happened here is I was able to use $10,000 of the credit card float for my own benefit, interest free, from May 21st — July 17th.
That’s 58 days, or 2 months of an interest free cash flow.
It Pays to Have Multiple Cards
Over time, as I’ve tried to run my personal finances more like a successful business, I have found value in expanding my access to credit.
I have credit cards from all of the major banks, and some smaller banks and credit unions. All told, I have over $200,000 in accessible credit.
Every successful business from a donut shop to a Fortune 500 multinational corporation has access to credit, and uses it to their advantage.
Also, having a larger pool of credit helps with my credit score because one of the high impact factors is total credit usage. The more credit I have, the less I actually use as a percentage of my total available credit.
And all of my credit earns rewards, my favorite is cash-back. Below is a snapshot of how I track my credit card usage.
I used to spend a lot of time figuring out which cards to use based on their rewards potential. Now I rotate cards who have a low or zero statement balance. Meaning I’m perpetually using a two month float.
Is it Worth the Time and Effort?
Yes, because it maximizes my cash flow by allowing me to use the credit card’s money for the next 2 months — interest free.
As I’ve climbed out of debt and optimized my finances, I take pleasure in finding new ways to improve my cash flow.
Do the credit card companies mind? No, they make money on our transaction fees and hope in the long term we become interest paying financial slaves.
The main benefit of Credit Card Arbitrage is it helps me take advantage of lump sum or cash discounts.
For example, if I pay my entire car insurance bill with a (zero statement balance) credit card, I’ve given myself two more months to generate the cash flow needed to pay off this bill. Instead of an alternative like tapping into my savings.
This only works for me because I have consistently positive cash flow, and I’m only using it to stabilize any irregular spending.
More than anything, I do this because it gives me more time. And time equals options. And options give me choices.
More time for me to make money, invest in educational opportunities, more time to figure things out in general.
It comforts me to know what I’m buying today won’t be due for another two months. I can always pay off my balance now instead of waiting — which is usually the case because I hate debt.
In closing, I should point out this really isn’t arbitrage because I’m not buying and selling anything, I’m just taking advantage of a loophole in how credit card companies ask to be paid back.
But the name just sounds so cool — so I ‘m sticking with it.
I’ve shown you how to take control of your personal cashflow by utilizing credit.
And how to spot trends in your spending and reduce unnecessary expenses by using Mint.com (and my variable/fixed expense spreadsheet).
And how to optimize your paycheck for taxes and retirement, while making sure expenses are in line with your take home pay (also with the help of my spreadsheets if you find them helpful).
Now we’ll transition into managing your entire
financial world with more vision and clarity than you’ll find from any other
Taking Advantage of Cash Discounts
Smart business owners never shy away from opportunities to reduce costs (or reap rewards) by expediting their bill payments — or by paying their entire balance up front (lump-sum). Why? Because it’s free money.
It’s known as a cash discount, or sales discount. And vendors offer it because the quicker they can get paid — in full — the more quickly they can improve their own cashflow situation.
When I worked for an advertising agency, we
managed large volumes of circular printing for grocery clients. Our
print vendors were saddled with huge fixed expenses like paper, ink, and
And most printers would offer discounts of 3-5%
on their invoices if we paid within 10 days of receipt. A few
percent may not seem like a lot, but it adds up, especially when the invoices
were for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One of the many benefits of using credit cards is they empowered me to make large lump sum payments — without directly impacting my checking balance.
For example, my car insurance; most auto insurers incentivize customers to pay their policies up-front (or biannually) by offering discounts on their rates.
Why? Because the sooner they get your
money, the sooner they can invest and earn interest.
And it can add up in your personal cash flow as well. I save hundreds of dollars per year simply because I pre-pay all of my car insurance.
In personal finance, cash discounts can be found in a variety of places:
Savings from never paying ATM or bank fees
Earning interest on your checking and savings accounts
Savings from avoiding interest payments on debt
Maximizing rewards from credit cards
Discounts earned by paying some expenses up-front, like insurance, or the interest you would save by paying off your car loan or mortgage
In 2018 my net earnings and savings were over $5,000 from these forms of cash discounts. Most of it from credit card rewards.
On the flip side, during my twenties (when I was grossly negligent with my personal finances) I estimate I wasted over $100,000 in cash discount opportunities.
I was never able to take advantage of cash
discounts until I mastered the use of credit, and until I developed a more intuitive
budgeting system allowing me to visualize the future.
How to See into the Future
Have you ever used one of those calendars, the
ones that allow you to see three months at a time?
That’s the idea behind my Quarterly Cash Flow Planning spreadsheet.
When I was in debt, and stuck with traditional
budgeting tools, nothing provided me with the vision I needed to manage my
irregular income and plan for future expenses.
I wasn’t able to grasp the bigger picture of how money was flowing in and out of my accounts because traditional budgeting only focused on a given month.
I wanted to see in the future.
And not even Mint.com had an answer for me. So, I made up my own spreadsheet allowing me to plot all of my income and expenses over a longer time horizon.
It gave me the ability to adjust how and when I
paid bills so I could take advantage of cash discount opportunities, and always
be sure I was maximizing savings.
For example, I’m going on vacation in May and can see and prepare for that expense in March.
Or, my car insurance payment is due in August and by June I’m figuring out a way to pay it off in one lump sum and maximize my discount.
How It Works
In the chart below is a typical month with two
pay periods, one at the beginning of the month, and one in the middle of the
month. And I align payments to vendors based on my paydays, not
based on their due dates.
For example, my mortgage is always paid at the
beginning of the month. My credit cards
are always paid in the middle of the month.
Those are my two largest expenses, so I make sure they don’t both fall
in one pay period.
The categories highlighted in yellow are those I have to pay in cash. Some vendors don’t accept credit card payments without assessing some type of fee. So rather than incur a fee (which is opposite of good cash flow management) I pay those vendors in cash.
The categories in white I pay with
credit. As you can see, as we move down the chart, the credit card
categories don’t impact my checking balance, only the cash categories do.
The credit card category is simply the previous months credit card spending. And this is the point; I use the credit card companies’ cash to run my personal financial business and pay them back at the end of the month.
And this gives me more buying power, allows me
to earn interest on my idle stash of cash, earn rewards and/or points, and
greatly simplify my life.
I can also take advantage of cash discounts and gain visual insight into how and when I need to pay off those larger bills.
POSITIVE CASH FLOW
Positive Cash flow (in business terms) is the net amount of money being transferred in and out of a business. A company’s ability to create value for shareholders is determined by its ability to generate positive cash flows, meaning after they pay all of their bills each month, they have money left over to save or reinvest. Your ability to build savings and wealth is determined by the same principle.
Now, you can actually see this occurring in your own personal finances.
And over time, if you see gradual surge in your checking account balance, then you are achieving positive cash flow.
If you encounter negative numbers (like above) you’ll have time to figure out how to get back into positive territory.
For example, if I have a large unexpected expense — like a car repair — and I wasn’t planning on it — I can reduce my spending in other categories. This spreadsheet affords me the opportunity to move things around.
If things really go off the rails, meaning I need a cash infusion, I’ll know exactly when it’s needed before I’m overdrawn.
In my next post, I’ll focus on how to maximize credit cards rewards by utilizing something I call: Credit Card Floating.
Here’s a fact: Paychecks are confusing, and often depressing.
Why? Because our government lops off a huge chunk of every paycheck we receive — as much as 40% — or more.
There’s federal income tax, state income tax, social security tax, Medicare tax, county taxes, and sometimes even commuter taxes. And don’t forget medical insurance and retirement savings.
In my last two posts (see links below) I highlighted the benefits of using credit cards and having a better understanding of your spending habits.
Now I’ll show you how to bring home as much of your hard-earned pay as possible, how to think about your 401k differently, and how to make sure your fixed expenses (in relation to your take-home pay) are reasonable.
Simple advice on Taxes
The biggest tax we all pay regardless of who’s President is federal tax. And when I was deeply in debt, one thing I always looked forward to each Spring was my federal tax return. Sometimes it would be thousands of dollars.
What I didn’t know is it’s better to NOT get a tax return, and in some cases, its better to PAY a (little) money back to the government each year.
Why? Because the government doesn’t pay us interest on the money they withhold. Those extra dollars over the course of a year — sometimes thousands of dollars — could have been invested, saved or used to pay off debt.
It’s up to you and me to make sure we take home as much of our pay as possible. Because if we leave it up to the Federal Government, they’ll take as much interest free money they can get their hands on.
So, where do we start? Well, we start by adjusting the exemptions on our W-4. Your human resource department can readily provide this document and change it for you at any time. And it will determine how much they deduct (from each paycheck) in federal and state taxes.
Ideally, this is done correctly when you start any new job.
Above is an actual paystub from when I lived in Boise, Idaho. And this represents an optimal number of exemptions for me at the time, allowing me to take home the maximum amount of money without overdoing it. I was single, had no dependents, was renting an apartment, and was paid bi-weekly. So, I claimed two exemptions for both federal and state taxes.
Everyone’s situation is different, and the amount of exemptions will vary depending on if you’re married, have kids, and how often you get paid.
The Only (Legal) Way to Reduce Your Taxable Income AND Save Money
There is only one legal way to reduce the amount of federal and state tax you pay, without reducing your income, and that is by contributing as much of your paycheck as possible to your 401k retirement savings plan.
This is the most powerful tax benefit in the entire universe of personal finance. Why? Because the government allows you to automatically deduct up to $19,000 (in 2019) — prior to being taxed — to be invested in a retirement savings program (like a 401k).
But most people under-save and fail to take advantage of this tax break because it reduces their take home pay.
I get that, and many respected personal financial advisors will suggest a pause on retirement savings until all debt is paid off.
I don’t disagree. But the reality is, over the course of a year, the reduction in take home pay is very minimal. You’ll barely notice it.
Option 1: Don’t Contribute
Let’s say you make $100,000 per year and for the simplicity’s sake your tax rate is 25%.
So, under this scenario you take home $75,000, pay $25,000 in taxes — and save nothing in your retirement account. And after taxes you bring home (or net) $6,250 per month.
Option 2: Contributing
Now, let’s say you contributed just 10% of your gross pay ($10,000) to your 401k program.
This reduces your taxable income by $10,000 — from $100,000 to $90,000, and at a tax rate of 25% — instead of paying $25,000 in taxes — you instead pay $22,500 in taxes ($2,500 less).
You might assume your take-home pay will drop by $10,000 — but it doesn’t — you bring home $7500 less per year, not $10,000 less. Your annual take-home goes from $75,000 to $67,500.
Your take home pay does go down from $6,250 per month to $5,625 per month. Granted, that’s $625 out of your pocket each month. But the government isn’t getting the difference! You are! Whenever you can save $10,000 by only investing $7,500 — you should do it. Let’s review the benefits of setting aside just 10% of your pay in this scenario:
Paid $2,500 less in taxes
Saved $10,000 in your retirement account
A gross benefit of $12,500 by contributing 10% to your 401k
Health Savings Accounts have the same impact, they are shielded from taxes until you retire, so it’s a smart cashflow move to reduce your taxable income by as much as you possibly can.
Fixed Expenses in Relation to your Take-Home Pay
What drove me into $250,000 in debt was the accumulation of too many fixed expenses in relation to what I was earning. Problem was, I had no way to visualize my expenses in relation to my take home pay.
I wanted a better way to see how my paycheck was allocated starting with my 401k, HSA, taxes, fixed expenses and then my variable expenses.
This would help me understand where everything was going, and what levels were ideal in each category in relation to my take-home pay.
Mint was great, it helped me realize what I was spending — but didn’t give me the vision I needed. So, I created my own Paycheck Alignment Spreadsheet.
As you can see at the top I was grossing (on average) $6,000 a month through my commissionable sales job. I was making plenty of money especially for a single guy living in Indiana, but I was blowing through it just as fast as I was making it.
How a Moron Spent Money
My fixed expenses were over $3,000 — practically consuming my entire take-home pay.
By the time, I paid off my regular bills I was out of money. But I kept on spending! Food, booze, gambling, golf, clothes etc. I kind of knew this — but not to the full extent — not until I plotted it on this chart, and it helped me wise up quickly.
I became determined to get out of debt and move into a cashflow positive situation. So I sold my house and moved into a rented condo, paid off my car, paid off my credit card debt, stopped going out to the bars, and consolidated my personal financial lifestyle to maximize my cashflow and savings.
My fixed overhead went from over half my pay to less than half my pay. And that really was the secret sauce because everything else I could adjust on the fly.
And in just a few years I was able to pay off over $250,000 in debt.
As you can see below, my income in commission sales grew substantially as I found more success at work.
Once I began the mission of changing my personal financial life, my success (and focus) at work sharpened
Earning more income was critical to my success of getting out of debt — but, without better vision into how much I should be spending in all of the major categories, I wouldn’t have dug out of my situation so quickly.
In my next post, I’ll introduce you to my Quarterly Cashflow Management spreadsheet that helps me optimize my entire system.
Do you know — I mean — really know how you spend your income from month to month?
How much you spend on gas, insurance, coffee, restaurants, groceries, clothes, tolls, taxis, movies, Netflix, booze, Spotify, golf, private tuition, and yoga?
I’ll bet you don’t.
You may think you do, but you really don’t know.
I didn’t either, not until I started using the online financial website Mint.com.
In my last post I explained how you can achieve more control over your finances by utilizing the many benefits of credit cards.
The next step in optimizing your cashflow is about understanding and then eliminating unnecessary overhead and expense, and this can’t be done until you have accurate data on how you spend your money.
Business owners employ bookkeepers and accountants to help analyze their expenditures. And a business — for example — may realize they are spending too much on paper and office supplies. Which may lead to finding a new vendor or creating incentives to reduce paper use.
Or, they discover outsourcing janitorial services would be more efficient and less expensive than having a full-time janitor on their payroll.
Without the data there is no ability to spot trends, and therefore nothing would have changed.
Most of us are on our own, and without knowing the reality of our spending, we can’t build a workable plan to maximize our savings.
When I was deeply in debt, not only did I lack control over my personal finances, I lacked vision into how I spent my money.
For example, each month I’d guess $500 as my monthly spend for automotive expenses, but I didn’t really know.
Nor did I have the time (and desire) to analyze my receipts and credit card statements.
I wasn’t able to fully understand the scope of my spending habits until I started using the online personal finance platform, Mint.com.
For those of you who don’t know, Mint has over 20 million users and is operated by INTUIT, a finance focused software company who also owns Turbo Tax and QuickBooks.
For me, using Mint was a game changer.
In a nutshell, it does all the work of collecting and analyzing data from all my accounts: Credit Cards, banks, utilities, insurance, loans, investments, etc.
All I had to do was provide login information and passwords and they securely did the rest, for free.
After just a few months on Mint I quickly noticed a difference in what I thought I spent — and what I actually spent.
For example, I always assumed my monthly auto-related expenses were around $500 per month. But in reality, they were more like $800 a month. How could this be? I didn’t even have a car payment!
Well, my “paid-off” car is older — meaning it requires more maintenance, and I was forgetting car insurance because I paid it in a lump some instead of monthly. So without insurance or maintenance my spending was around $500.
The advantage of knowing my actual spending helped me plan better. There was nothing glaringly wrong with $800 a month — it’s high — but then again, I drive a lot of miles, and pay higher insurance rates because I’ve had a few accidents — and I live in a big city. So, I’m ok with it for now.
Greater visibility into my spending habits shed light on other areas where I could improve. Like dry-cleaning.
I was spending over $300 a month keeping my work clothes cleaned and pressed. I decided it was too much, so I invested in a different wardrobe — non-iron clothes that can easily be laundered at home, and this dramatically reduced my monthly dry-cleaning bill. Check out Bluffworks for great business attire that is completely wrinkle free.
My motivation for reducing my dry-cleaning bill was brought on (in part) by the realization my auto expenses were $300 higher than I thought.
Once you know what you actually spend you can begin budgeting for greater optimization, reducing unnecessary overhead, and saving more money.
Variable vs. Fixed Expenses
What’s important to consider about our expenses is that most of them are variable —meaning they can fluctuate from month to month.
I spend way too much on wine each month … but … if and when I need to cut back — I can.
But at least I didn’t sign a loan document requiring I buy wine each month.
I spend about $100 a month at Starbucks — because I am addicted to their green iced tea. I’ve come to peace with my addiction, but if I have to, I can stop.
The opposite of variable expenses are fixed expenses, and these are the ones that can lead you into financial slavery.
In the business world the biggest fixed expense is often payroll, and when companies are forced to reduce overhead they usually start by laying people off.
For us — fixed expenses are usually the stuff we can’t afford now — so we borrow money from a bank to buy it, like a mortgage, furniture, cars, credit card debt, and student loans.
What dug me into $250,000 of debt was a combination of poor cashflow management aided by too much fixed overhead.
I got out of debt quickly once I reduced my fixed expenses to about 1/2 of my take home pay. For example, I paid off my car, I sold my house and moved into a more affordable one. And I got rid of all my revolving credit card debt.
Below is my Cashflow Budgeting Optimizer. I’ve reduced the number of categories for budgeting purposes to 11. There really is no need to have any additional categories, but do whatever works for you.
Please note where the savings category ranks on this list, very high. Without optimizing every other category I wasn’t able to optimize the most important category, which is my savings.
And I note which expenses are fixed, which are variable, and which expenses I have to pay for in cash vs. credit card. The more I can pay on credit cards (without incurring fees or debt) the more control I exert over how and when I pay these expenses.
No business thrives without simple data, and regardless of how much money you earn, you’ll never realize your true cashflow potential unless you have the same data about your spending habits.
In my next post, I’ll share with you how to maximize your paycheck from a tax and retirement planning standpoint. And how to easily identify if you’re over-spending in any particular major category.
What if I told you there was better way to manage your personal financial life?
A way to help prepare for the future, save more money, avoid bank fees … and rather than pay interest … actually earn interest and rewards?
If that’s appealing to you, then you should consider running your personal finances more like a successful business, and instead of old-school budgeting, start managing and optimizing your cashflow.
What is Cashflow?
Well, in business terms, it’s the net amount of money being transferred in and out of a business. A company’s ability to create value for shareholders is determined by its ability to generate positive cash flows, meaning after they pay all of their bills each month, they have money left over to save or reinvest. Your ability to build savings and wealth is determined by the same principle.
Business owners “manage” their cash to optimize profit. And that requires looking beyond a given month and planning by quarter, and for a fiscal year. And they exert much more control over how (and when) they pay their bills, all while earning interest on their undeployed cash.
Fees (of any kind) are avoided at all costs, because fees reduce profit. And smart business owners always maximize opportunities for rewards or discounts, for example, a discount for paying invoices early.
Just like any successful commercial enterprise, most of us earn income on a fairly regular basis — some monthly, some bi-weekly. The keys to maximizing your personal cashflow are:
Simplify your finances by reducing the number of merchants (utilities, landlord, banks etc.) you pay each month
Stop paying bank fees and interest.
Take more control over when and how you pay your bills.
Recognize — then reduce — unnecessary overhead and expenses through better tracking and awareness.
Maximize credit card rewards and your ability to earn interest on your cash.
How I Became A King of Cashflow
This all started for me when I was 32 years old. I was deeply in debt, to the tune of about $250,000, and was inspired to climb out this debt after reading Dave Ramsey’s book wonderful book; The Total Money Makeover.
But I was lousy at budgeting, and this was before a lot of banking could be done on the internet. And to me, balancing a checkbook was pointless because the process didn’t account for my ATM withdrawals or credit card spending.
My process was more about “feel.”
When I felt like I had money in the bank (like on payday) I would write checks for bills and pull cash out of the ATM. Friends would tease me about withdrawing only $40 at a time, they would say “why don’t you just pull $100 out and visit the cash machine less?”
Well, there are few things worse than being in a car full of friends, with a line of cars waiting (impatiently) behind you, and getting denied at an ATM machine. So, I would take out smaller amounts.
I was constantly under stress because I never had a complete picture of where I stood financially. My “feel” system contributed to my growing debt and resulted in hundreds of dollars worth of bank fees each year.
Income Needs to Be Managed for Optimization
I didn’t have an income problem; I had a cash management problem. I made enough money — but I lacked the vision, time and tools to get the most out of my income.
So, I began keeping a financial journal in a spiral bound notebook, the kind you use in high school or college, and started tracking all my expenses. A few times a week I would try to sort out my financial life.
As you can see, I had dozens of expenses and I was writing a lot of checks. When checks cleared, I would highlight them.
This worked better for me than just balancing a checkbook because it gave me greater vision into my entire financial universe, but it was still complicated and time consuming.
Another wrinkle, I was in sales and worked on commission, and my pay was irregular. I’d receive a meager draw check in the first week of each month, and a larger commission check in the 3rd week of the month. The draw checks were a consistent amount, but the commission checks could swing by thousands of dollars from month to month.
So, I needed to find a way to exert more control over who I paid and when. The banks who held my mortgage and car loan didn’t care when I got paid, they only cared about their due date. So, I had to figure out a way to stabilize my irregular income while paying the same bills each month.
The more I thought about it, the idea of writing dozens of checks each month really bothered me. It was time consuming, and I had very little control over my outflow of cash.
I realized every time I wrote a check I would temporarily lose control of my money.My checks would be in limbo for 3 – 5 business days, and since I was writing dozens of checks each month, a lot of my money was in limbo.
This lack of control added stress and I was never at ease until every check cleared. Even to this day I avoid writing checks at all costs. It’s slow, inefficient, and boring. There are dozens of electronic ways to pay people and merchants. Use them. Checks are for our beloved grandparents.
It became clear to me it was more efficient to write one or two checks — to a credit card company— rather than dozens of checks to a variety of merchants.
This was a key revelation, because it gave me greater control over the flow of money going out of my checking account.
The simplicity of paying fewer merchants alone is life changing. While businesses have accountants and bookkeepers, most of us are on our own, so reducing complexity pays huge dividends.
The less activity and more stability I created in my checking account, the more quickly I eliminated all fees.
My checking account activity today is no more than 6 or 7 electronic transactions covering all of my personal financial obligations every month. I rarely, if ever use cash, because 99% of businesses accept credit cards. Contrast that to the 30+ transactions that used to flow in and out of my checking account.
And my bank (Charles Schwab) pays me interest (not much) AND they refund all ATM fees. If you pay any fee whatsoever to keep a checking account and use an ATM, you need to find a new bank or credit union. Because if you’re willing to bank electronically, meaning you don’t need to visit a branch, there are tons of great options out there.
Ask yourself, do you really need to go inside a bank branch to do your banking anymore? You have a phone, a computer, and if you need cash, you can go to any ATM. In a future post I’ll share some banking partners who won’t charge you fees and allow you to earn interest on your checking account.
Keep Your Paws Off My Money
Another thing I eliminated was allowing anybody access to my checking account. Utilities, car payments, mortgage payments — they all encourage you to sign up for automatic billing. Sure, it’s convenient — for them — but never do it. I permit some merchants to auto-bill my credit cards, but only if there are no fees. AT&T, HULU, my gas utility, and my high speed internet carrier all bill me on a credit card and do so without a fee.
Never, ever, let someone else decide when they can take money out of your checking account. This is the antithesis of good cashflow management. No business allows this.
Why? Because one day, somebody might take your money when you need it for a more important purpose, like a medical emergency. Or even worse, the money goes out of your account when you don’t have it, and then you get charged a bunch of fees. Only you decide when bills get paid, and if money is tight, who gets paid — and when.
Today, of course, most payments can be made online without the use of checks, and debit cards are much better than checks. But credit cards, if paid off each month, are the keys to optimizing cashflow.
Why Credit Cards are the Key to Cashflow Optimization
The biggest advantage of using credit cards is control. I was able to focus all of my checking account transactions (cash outflow) to a few days per month and eliminate 80% of my transactions.
And, even more helpful, I was able to change the due dates of my credit card to correspond to when I was getting my larger commission check each month.
The more monthly expenses I could direct through credit cards meant the fewer bills I would have to pay and fewer due dates to remember.
I have 12 credit cards, half of them are due early in the month, the other half in the middle of the month. So, all of my credit card due dates are aligned with my paychecks.
While I have 12 credit cards, I only use one at a time based on the type of rewards being offered.
Below you can see how my cashflow (through the increased use of a credit card) evolved into paying bills when I got paid. In the meantime, my cash started to earn interest as it sat idly in my checking account.
Unmatched Fraud Protection
Another advantage of using credit cards — fraud protection. If someone steals your debit card (or checkbook) precious cash will vacate your account until the bank decides to reimburse you. If the same happens with your credit card, your precious cash stays untouched AND credit card companies (who have fraud down to a science) will credit your account within days.
How to Avoid Unplanned and Unauthorized Charges
Another advantage of credit cards — managing subscriptions and automatic renewals. Ever get dinged for a subscription you forgot about? Sometimes I’ll sign up for 1 month of HBO or Showtime and catch up on some shows. Then I forget, and then ding me for $10.99 or whatever. And over time these types of subscriptions pile up.
A lot of merchants today sell subscriptions — from Apple Music to Hulu to Bumble to the New York Times. It usually starts with a free trial, and before you realize it the trial is over, and like merchant ninjas, they silently begin charging you for the subscription.
They call this continuity and it’s a great business model because most of us don’t immediately cancel — even if we’re unhappy with the service.
Some companies make it very difficult to cancel (DirecTV, any cable company). Even worse, some companies require you to talk to an actual person before you’re allowed to cancel.
There is one simple and foolproof way of getting rid of unwanted and forgotten subscriptions. Never use anything but a credit card for any type of continuity or subscription service. And when you want to cancel, if it’s the least bit difficult to do, go online and report your credit card lost.
Job done, cancelled, no more unplanned charges. And your credit card company will send you a new card, with a new account number within days.
If you cut off their source of payment, they can’t keep billing you, and you won’t owe any money. And it won’t impact your credit score one bit.
Actually, DirectTV will keep billing you because they make you sign a contract, but with most others, especially e-commerce type businesses, this works without consequence.
Maximizing Interest and Rewards
Another advantage of credit cards — points and rewards. Let me just say that by using credit cards I’m able to accumulate a few thousand dollars in rewards each year. Chasing points and rewards fascinates a lot of people. To me it’s not worth the time. I’ll share some ideas and tricks on how I was able to maximize rewards and interest earned in a later post.
Points and rewards are just an additional benefit of using credit cards to maximize your cashflow. And the generosity of today’s rewards may not last forever. As a practice, regardless of rewards or incentives, I no longer use any credit cards charging annual fees. I just won’t pay fees regardless of the benefits.
Stepping Into the Light
So, after a few years of optimizing my system I vastly improved my cashflow, I stopped paying fees (and interest) of any kind, I was able to pay off $75,000 in debt (everything but my mortgage), and I was able to build up a sizable emergency fund.
Many of you reading this may feel taking the time to eliminate minor fees isn’t worth it. But it is, I can’t stress this enough.
Fees and interest are silent killers, like termites eating away and eroding your home’s foundation, quietly munching away years of personal profit.
Your personal banking and transaction fees may only add up to few hundred bucks a year, but find me a successful business owner who willingly pays bank fees.
And when it comes to paying interest, the only acceptable form is mortgage interest, because it’s tax deductible. And this lone tax deduction is not a reason to buy a bigger house and take out a bigger loan.
In my next post I’ll introduce you some of the tools I use that helped me reduce my overhead and uncover unnecessary spending.
I grew up in the small factory town of Marion, IN., about an hour north of Indianapolis. Like most kids I worked for neighbors pulling weeds, mowing lawns, and washing cars.
Eventually, my parents grew weary of my irregular employment (or lack of) and got me a job as a busboy at their favorite restaurant, The Icehouse.
The Icehouse was the most popular restaurant in town, and its motto was: Food, Fun, and Firewater (firewater is alcohol).
Part of the appeal was its owner, Steve, who drove a Crimson-red Jeep Cherokee Limited with gold spoke wheels, and a vanity license plate bearing his nickname: The Iceman.
And at every lunch and dinner service, 7 days a week, The Iceman would greet every single customer, ensuring their meals were satisfactory, and refilling their drinks as needed.
He would stroll through the restaurant humming the phrase, “Only in America” a nod to the fact anyone, even a factory worker like him, could achieve their dream in America.
The Icehouse was a precursor to what we know today as Applebee’s, or Chili’s, or Friday’s. Normal dishes were bedazzled with tastier ingredients and catchy entree names, and there were fun appetizers like jalapeño poppers and mozzarella sticks. And the atmosphere was warm and inviting with nostalgic signs and TV’s everywhere.
Everybody wanted to eat at the The Icehouse. Politicians, judges, business owners, bankers, lawyers, doctors, visiting celebrities, dignitaries, shady characters, gamblers, athletes, coaches, drunks, shift workers, the elderly, prom dates, and people having affairs.
My Aunt Melanie met her second husband, Gary, at The Icehouse. He was a traveling salesman.
I didn’t really enjoy busing tables or washing dishes or cleaning ashtrays. And I wasn’t making much money, I actually made more money washing cars for my parents’ friends.
But it was a cool place to be, and the Iceman was a charismatic leader who inspired me to work hard and hustle. And I enjoyed the cast of characters I worked with, the waitresses, cooks, bartenders — all of us commiserating over cigarettes in the break room.
Every Friday night, around 10pm when dinner service ended, a DJ would start the weekend with a cheesy 80’s dance tune, and then The Icehouse would morph into the hottest dance club in town. And I would go home.
I tried working at a few other restaurants in college, but I never experienced the same pride or camaraderie I felt at The Icehouse. The other restaurants were more like manual labor, and drudgery, led by disgruntled people. There was no “cool” factor.
So, I decided then I would never work in a job that didn’t interest me. I would never sell anonymous industrial widgets, or become some boring lawyer, or grind away at a repetitive factory job. No offense to anyone in these jobs, they just weren’t for me.
By college I developed an interest in journalism, and I started looking into writing for my college newspaper, TheBall State Daily News. If I had a knack for anything academic, it was reading and writing. I don’t claim to be some great writer, but I can spell and put a few sentences together. Things like grammar and English always came easier to me than math and science.
And I loved newspapers. To me they were institutions of truth and service to their communities. As a kid I would start each day with a bowl of sugary cereal and a crisp copy of the Chronicle Tribune, a beacon of local news, information, and entertainment for our sleepy town.
Landing a job for the school newspaper was not easy. Ball State had a robust journalism program and competition was fierce for student jobs. Truth was, I never summoned up enough courage to apply. While I was convincing myself I would never get hired — at the same moment — I found out they were also hiring students to sell advertising in the paper.
I stumbled upon the highest paying student job on campus, paying 100% commission to sell ad space to local businesses.
To me, selling ads in the lone school paper seemed easy. And that may be the secret to sales success — sell for a monopoly.
Ball State is based in Muncie, IN., and it is by far the largest economic force in an economically depressed region of the state. And if you ran a business in Muncie, it was smart to advertise in the only school newspaper. This was back in the early ’90’s before internet and social media. Everybody read the campus newspaper.
Selling advertising was fun, it was mindless, and certainly more lucrative than being a journalist. I reasoned, if I don’t write for a newspaper, I can still support journalism by selling ads — which pays for the journalism. But even more pressing was graduation; the business side of newspapers was a more lucrative and stable career path.
This is the moment in my life when I sold out, where I chose the commercial path in life, opting for what paid more money and offered the most security instead of pursuing a passion. I wasn’t a financial slave yet, because I wasn’t in debt. But I was a financial coward.
More than anything, I was compelled by security. Something I lacked psychologically throughout my childhood, because my parents lived beyond their means. I was a sophomore, and it was about this time my parents got divorced, largely due to their financial problems.
Rather than pursuing my interest, I became programmed to pursue money. The possibility of being poor terrified me.
My parents instilled this terror in me when I was young, because they were also terrified of being poor. And the root of their terror was not in actually being poor, but what their friends would think of them if they were poor. Which is dumb, because their lawyer and doctor friends wouldn’t be “friends” with a poor version of my parents.
I remember between the ages of 10 and 15, I was a horrible student. To say I goofed off in high school would be an understatement. I spent most of my time inventing new ways to cheat. Once, when my elderly Spanish teacher left the classroom for a moment, I strode up to her grade-book and changed my test score from 68 to 88. It didn’t work.
And when I brought home successively bad report cards, my dad would take me for long scenic rides through the poorest neighborhoods in town, reminding me where I was heading.
Selling ads for my college newspaper led to a sales job at the largest newspaper in Indiana, The Indianapolis Star.
Being the new guy, I was assigned the worst territory full of industrial warehousing and strip bars. But I hustled and developed a lot of new accounts. Most of the salespeople I worked with sat at their desks and waited for the phone to ring.
Newspapers had virtual monopolies on local news at this time, they were at their peak of influence, and staggeringly profitable. The Star alone took in over $150M in annual revenues in the early ’90’s. More than all of the local radio and TV Stations combined.
I kept on hustling, earning two Salesperson of the Year awards, and eventually graduated to more lucrative territories. By my mid-twenties I was earning more money than most of my friends, Problem was, I had no clue what to do with it. And this is where my dismal personal financial skills started putting me on a path towards financial slavery.
With more success and security at work, I started buying things I couldn’t afford, and adopting habits — like gambling — pushing me beyond my financial means. I would justify this behavior by reassuring myself I’ll keep making more and more money.
I was rebelling, in a way, for choosing a career that wasn’t all that fulfilling. If I didn’t have the courage to become a journalist, at least I can spend some money and have fun!
And from there I never looked back. My career path became a continual pursuit of security and money in the evolving landscape of advertising and media. When newspapers began to show signs of strain in the early 2000’s, I transitioned to selling radio, and then to local TV.
Over the next 5 years, I would make every mistake possible in personal finance. I borrowed money from banks, credit unions, friends and family. I used credit cards like they were free money, leased cars I couldn’t afford, and spent excessively on food and booze.
I never saved money, never budgeted, cashed out my 401k, bought a house when I was cash poor, and paid massive amounts of interest and bank fees. Oh, and I gambled, a lot.
By age 32, I was a quarter million dollars in debt with no savings to show for it.
I had become a full-on financial slave. Owing money … paying interest … and continually living beyond my means. Oh, and I had a career in Advertising Sales that I didn’t really like. Which meant I was a financial coward, too. But now I was trapped.
So, on a cold snowy Christmas morning in 2005, driving to Detroit to see family, I listened to an audio book by Dave Ramsey called The Total Money Makeover, and it would change my life forever.
I’ve got some bad news. Most of you won’t get rich while you’re young. And, even worse, many of you will submit to financial slavery for the better part of your lives.
Let me define wealthy as having a net worth (assets minus debts) of at least $1 million. And a quarter of it ($250,000) in non-retirement investments — meaning you can spend it however you want with zero penalty or restriction. Meaning it’s liquid.
And I define young as by the time you are 45 years old. Sure, $1 million isn’t what it used to be, especially if you live in a large coastal city, but for many of us, having that type of net worth by the age of 45 would be a terrific accomplishment.
The Federal Reserve reported the average net worth for families in the US between the ages of 35 and 44 in 2016 was $288,700. And, the average net worth for families under the age of 35 was $76,200 in 2016.
And you may wonder, what is the point of this wealth? Well, It’s freedom. It’s freedom from, well, everything you don’t like to do, like a job that makes you miserable. It’s the freedom to work not for the money, but for the work itself, for the people you interact with, for the purpose it brings into your life.
Wealth is discretionary time; money is simply the means to obtain wealth.
Alan Weiss, Million Dollar Consulting (5th Edition)
If you can save a pile of cash, you are also free from unexpected financial surprises in life, like a job loss, or medical emergency.
And most importantly, having this kind of cash empowers you to make investments in things like real estate, stocks, or even your own business – the path to true wealth.
Having $750,000 in retirement savings (401k, IRA etc.) by age 45 pretty much assures you a comfortable life in retirement. By the time you’re 67, when you can maximize your social security benefits, the powerful tsunami of dividends, capital gains and compound interest, combined with even modest stock market performance, could double or even triple this balance in those 20+ years.
And this type of wealth is attainable to the vast majority of us who make even a modest living – but piss it away on stuff we don’t need or enjoy.
The opposite of this freedom is what most of us submit to, and that is financial slavery, which is living beyond our means, owing money, and paying interest. Like rats in a rat race, or hamsters on a wheel.
Why You Won’t Get Rich While You’re Young
Because most of us won’t participate in any of the following:
Start or build a successful business
Inherit a successful business
Inherit a fortune
Win the lottery
Or marry someone rich
If you think about it, those are really the primary pathways to wealth.
Most of us will work for someone else to earn a paycheck. According to the 2016 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs by the U.S. Census, there were about 5.6 million businesses employing about 151 million Americans (2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics).
The vast majority of us (for a variety of reasons) work for other people, which is perfectly fine, working for other people has its benefits.
It’s less stressful and it’s less risky. You don’t have to deal with the #1 worry for most business owners, how to stay in business. You get to clock in, work hard, clock out, and take home a paycheck.
But to get rich while you’re young (and working for someone else) means you’ll need to earn an equity stake in that business (stock, or stock options) and have the value of your shares rise in value.
The ONLY other way to get rich while you’re young (and working for someone else) is to live below your means, and regularly save a large chunk of your take home pay. Which is extremely hard for the majority of us to do, especially me.
Why? Because it’s so DAMN BORING, that’s why. We want to live life while we’re young, eat great food, experience travel, wear cool clothes, live in a nice place, have the latest iPhone, and drive a sweet ride.
We also want our friends, family, and even strangers to know we are succeeding in life. Social peer pressure is the primary contributor to financial slavery. I’m won’t cite boring research to back this up, it’s just human nature. We are competitive creatures and have a desire to keep up with the lifestyles of those closest to us, and even strangers like our neighbors, even if it requires going into debt.
It’s kind of like driving on the interstate and you notice another car about to pass you, your instinct is to speed up, to not be overtaken. Same goes for when you pass someone, if you pay attention, you’ll notice most of the time people speed up when you try to pass them, even if they don’t realize it. It’s just in our nature.
The key to overcoming the social and psychological contributors to financial slavery is to start feeling pain when you live beyond your means.
Not just the pain of stress – the stress of not being able to pay your debts — stress alone is not enough. You need to realize when you live beyond your means, you are limiting your own freedom. Understand that when you go into debt and pay interest, you are choosing to become a financial slave.
Accumulating debt and paying interest are the chains that bind you to jobs you don’t like. They’re a protective moat keeping you from wealth, and the constraints keeping you from pursuing a healthier and happier lifestyle.
When you work for someone else — your take home pay IS YOUR FREEDOM. Meaning your paycheck is your most significant tool for building wealth. And when you commit to financing things and paying interest you are infringing on your freedom to create wealth.
Let’s look at something as simple as a new car, because I have struggled with this instrument of financial slavery all my life.
I love cars. Can you guess how much I have spent on car payments over the past 25 years?
That’s right. Since I’ve been on this earth, I have invested $200k in car related stupidity. And I don’t even drive fancy cars. If you’ve been driving for 20+ years, it’s likely you’ve spent well into the six figures on car payments.
Would you like to know what I have to show for this investment of $200,000?
That’s what my current car, a 2010 Infiniti G37X Sedan, is worth. So, I have lost around $190,000 on my investment in cars.
If you want to create wealth (while you’re young and working for someone else) you need to start thinking about cars very differently. They are among the worst investments and biggest contributors to our financial slavery.
Because when you buy a car and you don’t have the money to do so, you are financing a car. Leasing is even worse, because you never end up owning anything — it’s perpetual renting.
Financing (or leasing) a car means you are choosing to allocate a large chunk of your paycheck to something that depreciates in value. Maybe you won’t lose money on a classic Ferrari or a ’60’s muscle car, but your new car is guaranteed to lose money, and in addition to losing money, you’ll pay interest too. Feeling any pain yet?
Start thinking about transportation as overhead. Successful businesses try to maximize the amount of cash they have in their business by keeping overhead low. A smart business owner might seek a better solution like buying a slightly used car, one that gets good gas mileage, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to maintain.
The more of your take home pay tied up into monthly finance payments — especially on stuff that depreciates (like cars) — the less you can save and invest.
The more and more stuff you finance means the less and less freedom you have. And it’s not just your freedom to create wealth, it’s the freedom from having to do things you don’t like to do.
Big Hat, No Cattle
Are you trapped in your life and career? Ensconced in a cocoon of comfort and measuring up with your neighbors and friends in all the major consumer categories? You have the big house in the trendy suburb, a new hybrid sedan and SUV, designer clothes, hip furniture, private schools for the kids, plenty of vacations, and you go out to dinner a few times a week at the popular new organic restaurant.
You can buy (finance) just about anything you need because you have a great credit score. But, by the time you get your paycheck, it’s pretty much spent. There are several credit cards, private school tuition, and car payments due. Also, the mortgage, utilities, country club memberships, hot yoga, cable TV, Netflix, Apple Music and many others. Leaving zero room to make a deposit into your freedom account – or create wealth.
In Texas they call this “Big Hat, No Cattle.”
Your entire ecosystem of overhead is dependent on a single source of income, your paycheck from one employer. Maybe two paychecks if you’re married. That begs another question, are you and your spouse both working, and paying for someone to watch your children, just so you can maintain this lifestyle?
Does your job make you happy? Or is it more about the pursuit of money? Is your favorite night Thursday, because the next day is Friday? And your least favorite day Sunday, because the next day is Monday?
Do you dread waking up on another cold, dark, snowy, winter Monday, to join the rest of the zombies on a rush hour commute to a job you don’t enjoy, all to support a lifestyle that really doesn’t make you happy?
Does the career you chose in college, the path that paid the most money, create the kind of stress triggering you to smoke, drink excessively, or abuse drugs? Do the politics of this job lead you to behave in unethical ways? Are the 60-hour work weeks steering you to eat poorly, gain weight, and avoid exercise?
These constraints on our freedom are the most common, and subtle, but just as destructive because they turn our purpose of life into a pursuit of money, for stuff we buy, trying to impress our friends. And we end up fat, out of shape, and unhappy. With garages and basements full of crap.
Think back to when you were a kid and worked summer jobs. This is possibly the last time you were truly free. Before you took on the college loan, before you were introduced to credit cards, and before you were exposed to the powerful social and marketing forces that drive our consumption.
This was the last time many of us truly lived below our means because our parents paid for our overhead. It should have been an incredible opportunity to save money because every cent earned wasn’t earmarked for some type of bill.
Many first-generation wealthy people today, meaning they didn’t inherit any money, built the foundation of this wealth on money they saved from summer jobs as kids.
Not me, I didn’t save a penny.
Why I’m not Rich, and Still A Financial Slave
I had a terrific role model when I was growing up in my Aunt Ven and Uncle Bob. They lived in the small town of Huntington, Indiana. They never had children, and both had successful careers.
In the 1970’s my Aunt became a Vice President for her local bank. No small feat in those days. She was an incredibly smart and driven person, and I believe a pioneer for women in the work place. She broke free from the rat race at the age of 46 and fully retired from the bank. Age 46, can you imagine? As I write this today, I am 45 years old and nowhere close to retiring. I’m betting this goes for the vast majority of us.
My Uncle Bob started out as a tailor, and then bought a title insurance company that my father runs to this day. He worked until his early 60’s but not because he needed the money, he worked because he enjoyed his job and the daily interaction with people.
Oddly, as a banker, my aunt never let my uncle borrow money for his business. Not for anything. She would insist they use cash to buy things. Now isn’t that strange? A person who made money for her bank by making loans to businesses wouldn’t allow her own husband to borrow money.
It turns out that my Aunt Ven was very opposed to borrowing money, for anything.
And that’s how they lived their lives. In a sea of people borrowing money to build houses and buy cars. They always paid cash. And they always saved a portion of their income.
Because their paychecks were not tied up in monthly payments for home, cars and credit cards, they were able to save a lot of money and take advantage of investment opportunities throughout their lives.
They mostly invested in startup banks, stocks and real estate. Because of these investments they were able to retire early and live off of dividends and rental income.
They never made huge paychecks. Their creation of wealth stemmed primarily from appreciation of investments. Investments made early in life because they had the cash to do it.
When I was young, I always looked forward to visiting their lake cottage in northern Indiana. I will never forget when Aunt Vennie discovered her neighbors were selling the vacant lot in between their two cottages. She wrote a check on the spot for $60,000.
Now who can come up with $60,000 in one afternoon without having to borrow it? People who live below their means, that’s who. By the way, that property today is worth 20x the amount she paid.
Aunt Ven and Uncle Bob gave me valuable advice while I was young. But I never followed it.
My parents were quite the opposite.
Although I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood, or nicer parents who did their very best, they were terrible with their money. I don’t blame them one bit, like so many of us they wanted to have fun while they were young. And they had a bunch of wealthy friends: Doctors, Lawyers, business owners, so they were compelled to keep up appearances.
My parents financed just about everything. Cars, houses, vacations, home remodeling, carpet, a pool, a deck, household appliances, cabinets, bikes, clothes, TV’s, furniture, exercise equipment, landscaping, garden tools.
At first, my mother stayed home to raise me and my sister, and Dad’s income was our only source of revenue. Eventually, as we grew older, the need for money was so persistent Mom began selling real estate.
Still, all of their take home pay was tied up into payments of some sort. And as kids, my sister and I benefited socially. I remember how proud I was when my Dad brought home a new 1992 convertible Corvette. It was White, with a navy-blue cloth top with matching leather interior. It was beautiful, and my friends were in awe of it. The new Corvette was a symbol that we were doing alright.
But living paycheck to paycheck is stressful, and I could feel the stress on my parents as a kid. One day we’d be on top of the world with a new car. The next day we’d be stressing out over lunch money.
I believe this stress played a big role in their eventual divorce. I’m certain it’s why my father had to file for bankruptcy soon after.
I don’t blame them, because I acted the same way when I earned my own money. I had every opportunity to learn from good examples like Aunt Ven and Uncle Bob – who by the way paid for my college, and my sister’s college. And have funded my niece and nephew’s college funds.
I just never associated enough pain with living beyond my means, I never considered, until now, what kind of freedom I was sacrificing. If I knew what I know now, and started when I was 25, I could have easily attained the wealth and freedom I described earlier by age 45.
Consider this, if you work for someone else, eventually, you will become too old in the eyes of any employer.
Recently, on a local personal finance radio show, the hosts pondered the following scenario: A 58-year-old woman worked her entire career for a local family owned company. She accumulated over $600K in retirement savings. She owned her house, and she had some decent cash savings, around $20K.
The owners of the company – who valued her contribution and employment – were now old and wanted to retire from the business, leaving their 30 something year old daughter to take over.
Naturally, the daughter wanted to change things. Right or wrong, changes were coming, youth was moving in, and it worried the dickens out of this poor woman and other veteran employees.
While this woman had done a good job of saving money, and living below her means, she still would benefit greatly by keeping this job, and her nice salary, until her mid-60’s.
The radio hosts pondered several scenarios for her, she could stay and run the risk of getting laid off by the younger generation. She could retire, and look for other employment, or she could go back to school and seek other skills.
These are the type of frightening scenarios you need to be prepared for as you age. Because when you devote your life to working for someone else, and you don’t live below your means and save a pile of money, someday your skills and contributions won’t be valued by a new generation of employers.
The tools of financial slavery are debt and interest, brought on my living beyond your means, and if you think about how these forces restrict your freedom and dictate your life, it shouldn’t be hard to start feeling their true pain. So, get busy saving and investing, or even better, get busy creating your own business.
What’s true about the evolution of marketing tactics, just like in publicly traded stocks, is their value (or impact) changes over time.
Just 50 years ago the most valuable companies were department stores like Sears, industrial businesses like US Steel, and low-tech pioneers like Polaroid and Kodak.
In the marketing world, the daily newspaper used to be the dominant source of information, and the most popular solution for advertisers.
Today the most valuable companies are in technology, they make software like Oracle and Salesforce, or run digital platforms like Amazon and Uber — connecting people with information, products, and services.
In the marketing world, the value (and popularity) of digital and social marketing has exploded, while the value of print marketing has plummeted.
But there is one marketing tactic that is seemingly timeless, because its value has never diminished, and today may be at its pinnacle — and that is — sports sponsorship.
Why? Because there has never been more demand for content — and there have never been more ways to consume content.
What I mean by content is the entertainment you watch, and listen to, or read in various kinds of media like TV shows, movies, sporting events, concerts, viral videos, music from the radio or from streaming services like Spotify, articles from websites, blogs, apps, and other news providers.
All of it consumed on a growing number of devices and platform like our smart phones, TV’s, desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and even watches.
Therefore, the amount of money invested in content has never been greater, Netflix alone spent over $6 billion on entertainment for their subscribers in 2017.
ESPN, a part of Disney, spent about $6 billion on just the rights to air live sporting events — the most valuable of all content.
The Value of Live
Live sports are the most valuable of all content because it’s rare now for people to share the same entertainment experience at the same time.
Most of us are plugged into our personal (on-demand) feed of entertainment, delivered by our favorite device.
Intelligent marketers covet reaching folks sharing experiences at the same time because it’s a more efficient and effective way of engaging customers.
Think about the Super Bowl in 2018, advertisers paid over $5 million PER thirty-second commercial (in part) because over 100 million people were tuned in at the same time.
Live sports, especially Football, Basketball and Baseball, translate well to every media — they are safe for anyone to watch —and they elicit an emotional connection unlike any other type of content.
Sports work well in TV, Radio, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and are ideal for streaming. Also, they provide compelling content and analysis for printed publications like magazines, newspapers, and programs.
This means flexibility in creating effective and affordable campaigns for sponsors.
Sports are also safe — meaning when a business invests in sports sponsorship, they don’t have to worry about being associated with anything obscene or politically offensive — a growing concern especially in the digital marketing space.
A Shortcut to Making Your Business Unique and Compelling
One of the biggest challenges facing business owners today is figuring out how to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
How can your law firm, furniture store, HVAC company, or auto dealership stand out from your competition?
Most businesses say the same things in their advertising: How long they’ve been in business, how well they serve their clients, and that they’re locally owned and operated.
Rarely are these features unique, and rarely are they compelling enough (on their own) to attract customers.
Sponsoring a pro or college sports team is a shortcut to the hard work it takes to develop a unique selling point.
You gain access to a team’s most valuable asset — their intellectual property. This means you can proclaim your business an official partner and incorporate their logos into your own advertising.
This creates instant credibility and a connection to their fan base, the community, alumni, university leadership, faculty and students.
Nobody understands this better than the beverage industry.
Pepsi may not taste like Coke, and Miller may not taste like Coors, but they are similar.
That’s why these savvy marketers engage with college programs and professional franchises in just about every city — because it makes them stand out AND it instantly connects them with a large pool of customers.
How to Market Your Business to Other Businesses
If you’re a business selling products or services to other businesses (a B2B), sponsorship is an especially good idea.
B2B’s have a smaller target audience — other businesses. And there are fewer ways for them to advertise — which is why they often employ salespeople.
Ads in business journals and trade publications can only be as effective as the message or offer in the ad.
So, if you’re an official partner of a respected athletic program, and cleverly weave this into your marketing, suddenly you have a more compelling message.
Ice Miller is a law firm based in Indianapolis, IN. And they work with many colleges in the state of Indiana.
The ad below ran in a local business journal — but I modified it slightly — I inserted the logos of four prominent universities above their headline “build partnerships.”
Which version of this ad do you believe would have more impact? The one with or without the implied partnership and logos?
If you sell services or products to a college or university, you’d be wise to invest in an athletic sponsorship.
Why? Guess who attends games and pays close attention to their athletic programs?
University leadership, administration, trustees, influential alumni, and decision makers within each school or department. Also, students, their parents, visiting teams, visiting administrators, fans who are business decision makers, and the community.
If you want to do business with the college or university, you’d be wise to invest in an athletic sponsorship.
Why? A sponsorship with a college athletic program is the single most impactful and efficient way of engaging these decision makers. Period.
Furthermore, you can invest in hospitality opportunities where can meet and interact with these leaders and decision makers.
Universities also have ENORMOUS economic impact on their communities.
If you operate a business in a college town, you’d be wise to invest in some kind of sponsorship — or risk having a direct competitor gain this advantage — and risk losing out on a large source of existing and potential clients.
How to Get a Return on your Sponsorship Investment
All it takes is a little effort, and some common sense.
If you buy a sign and put your logo on it — and that’s all you do — it will be tough to measure the response.
I’m not saying it won’t work, people will see your logo. Some will buy your product or service just because of that sign — but it’s still tough to measure.
Now, what if you add a clever little offer just below your logo?
What if a customer could download a coupon or some helpful research from your website? Now we have something more measurable!
Here are some other ideas (and there are many more) you can use to help develop a sponsorship likely to generate a measurable return on your investment:
Create a branded product, for example, Toyota has an Indianapolis Colts branded truck. Ford has a Texas Edition truck.
You can brand anything with an athletic team. A furniture dealer could develop a branded recliner with logos and beverage holders. Fans love to buy stuff with their team’s logo on them.
Have a coach or current or former player endorse your product or service. Before Peyton Manning ever threw a touchdown pass, Indianapolis auto dealer Bill Estes signed him to an endorsement contract, and reaped the rewards of that partnership as Manning’s career took off.
Not everyone can afford a celebrity spokesperson, but you can probably afford a former or current player or coach, and this instantly distinguishes you from all your competitors.
Offer a discount on your product or service with a win — or a loss — or some specific score. The more you gamble the more interesting this becomes to fans. In many cities where Papa John’s operates, when the local colleges or pro team wins, fans win 50% off their next pizza!
Put your name on it! Let’s say you own a lawn services company — name the football field — call it LAWN PRIDE FIELD!
If you own a professional services firm and want to entertain clients and rub elbows with business leaders — put your name on the suite level or premium seats, or even create a special section for VIP’s.
Share Content — as I explained earlier, sports content is valuable, so become a sponsor of replays, or the play of the game, or a special video feature. Then SHARE IT on your own social media feeds.
Watch your audience organically grow by being the source of great content from a respected athletic program or franchise.
One of the Best Ideas Ever
Many years ago, an NFL executive named Jim Steeg was inspired by a Wilson tennis racket. He noticed a giant “W” on the strings signifying the Wilson brand.
Steeg took that idea and emblazoned the NFL shield on the nets behind the goal posts at the 2003 Super Bowl and in Pro Bowls from 2002 to 2004. A few years later Allstate picked up the idea and now sponsors over 100 colleges and football events each year.
This an example of an awesome idea we know is influential but may be difficult to measure.
How to Recruit the Best Talent
Historically low unemployment is a great thing for our country, but the number one complaint I hear from business owners is finding and keeping good people to work for them.
This is not just a white collar problem; it spans the entire spectrum of employment. From local retailers and restaurants, to shift workers and truck drivers, all the way up to professional service firms.
And the greatest untapped resource of talent is at colleges across our country. From students who need part-time work to fund their college education, or find work because college is not working out, or the future salespeople, doctors, lawyers, bankers and accountants.
An intelligent and efficient way of introducing your company to these potential recruits is by engaging with them through their collegiate athletic teams.
Sure, there will always be career fairs and on-campus interviews. And just like a needle in a haystack — you won’t be memorable — especially to the graduates who truly do have choices. But what if these recruits knew about your company BEFORE they met you? And they thought of you in a different way, as someone who supports their beloved basketball or football team and might be cool to work for?
Chances are, most of these student have never heard about your insurance firm, or bank, or software company, or whatever … unless you’re with a big national brand with lots of name recognition.
Something as simple a sign in an arena will put you on the radar of more potential qualified candidates than just about any other form of recruitment marketing. And it will be less expensive.
This is pro-active recruitment marketing. It’s about the long game. Because by the time you’re forced to spend money to fill your talent pipeline, it’s already too late.
A sports sponsorship won’t flood your HR department with a pile of resumes. But in the long term, it will align your business with something near and dear to the hearts of thousands of future adults who will need jobs.
I believe the core principles of value investing in the stock market also apply to the world of advertising. Whether you’re buying stocks, or advertising, the goal is the same: create a profitable return on your investment.And in each activity, there’s a speculative factor with no guarantee for success. Anyone can buy stocks, or bonds, or advertising; it is the intelligent buyers who find value where nobody else is looking.
In 1949, legendary investor, Benjamin Graham, published one of the most popular books ever written about investing in the stock market, The Intelligent Investor – The Definitive Book on Value Investing.You may know one of his most loyal followers – Warren Buffett.
Graham’s searched for gaps in the intrinsic value of businesses and the prices of those businesses, then took advantage of those gaps by purchasing stocks or bonds in these companies at a discount.These deviations in value often occurred because the prevailing herd on Wall Street (and the media) didn’t favor a specific industry or category of business.When these enterprises were out of favor, or boring – yet still profitable and dependable businesses – their stock could often be bought below the fundamental value of the business. In plain terms, the companies were undervalued by Wall Street.
For example, remember the dot-com bubble in the late 1990’s?This is when the herd on Wall Street speculated excessively on dot-com businesses while profitable but untrendy businesses saw their values stagnate and stock prices sink.
Become an Intelligent Advertiser
I find most business owners today are quick to dismiss traditional or offline media as a viable option to market their business.When I refer to offline or traditional media, I’m talking about everything but the internet.Generally speaking – print (Direct Mail, Newspapers, Magazines) and broadcast (Radio and Television).
How can I blame them? For years they were restricted to boring newspaper ads, dreary direct mail, and seemingly ancient radio and television.A lot of business owners think traditional media tactics are too expensive, wasteful, and difficult to execute profitably.
Many businesses are handing over their marketing duties to younger adults who have very little exposure or interest in traditional media.Or, they hire digitally-focused advertising agencies with zero experience – or interest – in anything offline or traditional.
The marketing universe is consumed by propaganda in trade publications, newspapers, white papers, research studies, books, commentary and interviews with industry leaders – all focused entirely on social and digital media trends.
Good news, this creates opportunity for the intelligent advertiser.Offline media is very much out of favor.Not because they don’t work, but because they had their bubble, and it burst many years ago.While digital and social media attract the spotlight, I urge you to consider the significant underlying value in traditional media.
If we were to compare advertising tactics to the stock market – you might classify offline media as an old blue-chip stock cranking out reliable profits and dividends for its investors.Kind of like IBM, or Chevron.Far from sexy, but profitable, and a classic value investment because the price of traditional media has never been lower.
There have never been more ways to spend money on advertising than there are today.And many “experts” give digital and social media far more credit than they deserve for their true influence on consumer behaviors.Many digital solutions are wonderful, but just as many are faddish, unproven, wasteful, and fueled by hype.
In case you hadn’t noticed, every major digital or social media company – from Facebook to Google to Amazon to Apple – all invest a considerable sum into traditional media.
So much marketing advice these days comes from people who are rebelling against traditional media. They have a vigor and desire to disrupt (and I applaud and support their efforts), but this clouds their judgment when they won’t consider all the available options. Professional marketers and service providers who ignore how to execute successful marketing in traditional media are basically shunning the lowest-hanging fruit of potential success.
The Bottom Line
I’m not saying you shouldn’t invest in digital marketing or online infrastructure.The point is: don’t get caught up in the hype, and don’t dilute your already small advertising budget (in comparison your national competitors) with a bunch of unproven digital and social media tactics – unless those tactics truly are the right solution.In the pursuit of value, Intelligent investors and advertisers don’t have a bias toward any advertising tactic, the only metric that matters is return on investment.
Shane Nichols is the General Manager of Ball State Sports Properties for Learfield Communications and the author of The Intelligent Advertiser, The Definitive Guide to Finding Value in Local Broadcast Media.
If your goal is to show a positive return on your invested marketing dollars, there are three key components of your marketing strategy that must work in harmony: The math, or the media buy – the merchandising, or how you maximize transactions – and the messaging, or your creative.
I believe the most important element is the messaging — what are you saying in your paid media to get a response from prospective customers? Anybody can buy media, the intelligent advertiser takes the time to develop a unique selling point, which may ultimately influence the media they use. And with the growing number of advertising options, this is now more important than ever.
Here is a very common scenario, you spend a lot of time and effort on where to invest your marketing budget, spend even more time negotiating rates, and now it’s time to submit your ad. Problem is — you’re busy running the business — so you decide to repeat last year’s ad.
This is probably the most common mistake in all of advertising, a failure to take the time and effort to develop a unique selling point or actionable offer that will resonate with your target audience. Because once you have the foundation of a truly unique selling point, it can be used forever.
If your ad wastes precious airtime or space on any of the following features, then you probably won’t get a measurable response to your ad:
How long you’ve been in business
Having a family-owned business
Being locally owned and operated
Notice that your national competitors can’t use any of these features in their advertising, and it doesn’t seem to hurt them one bit!
Try spending one day paying attention to as much TV, radio and print advertising as you can stomach, and you’ll be stunned at how many businesses claim one or all three of these clichéd features.
Bottom line: Spending money on ad space or air time and not utilizing it with some type of offer or unique selling point renders your investment unmeasurable.
Your message should be 100% about getting a direct, immediate response from the small number of customers who are ready and able to buy at that moment. And then, getting contact information from those who will buy – but aren’t ready yet.
Branding is for manufacturers with deep pockets like General Motors and their Chevrolet brand of cars and trucks. Response driven advertising is for the local Chevy dealer who sells the cars and trucks.
For example, instead of just advertising a low monthly payment, Hare Chevrolet in Noblesville, IN features the “Sisters of Savings” who help you save money in their catchy radio commercials.
Testimonials from customers describing how you helped solve their problem or impressed them with your service are among the most effective forms of messaging.
Indianapolis hair restoration clinic, PAI Medical, developed an effective and unique campaign when they started recruiting popular local DJs to endorse their service and products.
They find DJs who have thinning hair, restore their hair, then feature the successful transformation through testimonials on radio, television, and billboards. It’s a potent combination, especially when you hear your friendly DJ describe on-air how it improved their life.
Celebrated author and master direct-response marketer Dan S. Kennedy offers great advice in his book, The Ultimate Marketing Plan. He advises taking a stack of 3×5 index cards and writing down every fact, feature, benefit, promise, offer component, and idea on each card—until you have exhausted everything you know about your business and direct competitors. Then try to prioritize these items by what is going to be most compelling to your customers—and by what makes you stand out from your competition.
This doesn’t mean you have to become an experimenter or innovator – instead, be an adapter – and implementer. Pay attention to unique approaches that are working from entrepreneurs in your industry in other markets and make them your own.
If your goal is to show a positive return on your invested marketing dollars, there are three key elements of your strategy that must work in harmony — the math, the merchandising, and the messaging.
In part one I emphasized how important it is to create a unique selling point or compelling offer so you can generate immediate response and track your advertising. In part two I’ll focus on how important it is to maximize opportunities created by your advertising — also known as merchandising.
Imagine this scenario: you operate a successful grocery store in a thriving neighborhood. Through a partnership with a local dairy farm, you have an exclusive opportunity to sell a very popular brand of organic milk for half the price of your competitors. A truly compelling and unique offer.
You capitalize on the opportunity and double your usual advertising budget for the month. You also quadruple your order with the dairy farm and create more space near the entrance of the store to display the milk.
The response is tremendous. Sales of organic milk triple, and your average sale per customer reflects this, but the increase in sales is exclusive to the milk. You also attract hundreds of new customers who are not regular shoppers, but you find a lot of them purchase only the milk. It appears your regular customers are doing their usual shopping and adding just the milk, and new customers are also cherry-picking your store for this one item.
This is an example of a failure to merchandise. The failure occurred in a few areas. Although you were smart to increase advertising and the amount of product you ordered, you failed to capitalize on the surge in store traffic.
Maximizing sales opportunities from customers ready to buy your merchandise or service is one of the least expensive tactics to grow your sales.
By displaying the milk at the front of the store, you didn’t invite customers to experience the rest of your store and other merchandising efforts. If the milk had been placed at the rear of the store— you’ll notice that all dairy products are as far from the door as possible—you would have forced customers to walk the entirety of your store and be exposed to other selling opportunities. Who knows, half of the customers might have picked up two or three other items on their way to get milk!
In addition to placing the milk in the wrong part of the store, you didn’t surround it with displays for complementary items such as eggs, cereal, and bacon, to increase your basket size or overall sale.
What if you own home service business, and whenever your coupon runs in the local newspaper you receive 10–20 calls — which is great and means you took the time to develop a compelling offer!
However, the person answering your phone is not trained or prepared to handle leads, they think their job is to just to be a receptionist. In fact they are juggling several other duties as well as answering the phone.
They have no script, no process to follow, and no customer relationship software to record the caller’s information for future marketing opportunities. Half of the time, the calls go to voicemail. This is a failure to merchandise by not creating a process to manage in-bound calls.
In another example, let’s say you operate a furniture store, and from a pure merchandising standpoint the store is physically arranged to maximize sales in every possible way. The hottest sale items are in the back of the store, there are multiple displays of entire furniture sets so customer can visualize what their new bedroom, family room or kitchen will look like.
But, compared to some of the newer national chains who sell the same type of furniture, your store is dated. The carpet is old, the lights are dim, the ceiling is low, and the parking lot has potholes. This is a failure to merchandise by keeping your infrastructure up to date.
Investments made into your physical and digital infrastructure are often expensive and difficult to commit to, but often pay dividends for many years. So the cost essentially can be spread out over 5 or 10 years depending on the type of improvement.
There are A LOT of things that need to go right before you succeed in advertising.
First, you need to buy the correct media, at the right time, and at the right level of repetition.
Then, be sure your store, website and employees are ready to maximize any response to the advertising.
And finally — you must create an appealing offer or unique selling point so people have a reason to respond.
And, the definition of success is getting a measurable return on your investment, not “getting the word out.”
The secret to getting more response is to have multiple offers that appeal to all customers in the buying process for your product or service.
In addition to focusing on those ready to buy — engage the larger pool of customers not ready to buy yet — who may buy in the future.
The illustration below is a typical buying funnel starting with Awareness, then Interest, then Desire, and finally Action.
At any given moment there are people ready to buy your product or service — people ready to take Action. Depending on your type of industry, only a small percentage of a given population will be Action buyers, the vast majority are in the other stages.
My sales coach Matt Nettleton owns a Sandler Sales Training business in downtown Indianapolis, and he is great at appealing to people in every stage of their buying process (for sales training).
Low threshold offers
Matt often advertises free books, white papers and other research as a free gift to people who are interested in learning about Sandler Sales training techniques.
These non-buyers are willing to provide their contact information in exchange for this valuable information, but they’re not ready to interact with anyone in person.
The more helpful and valuable this information is will determine how engaged the customer becomes with your business.
Do them a favor, share some secrets about your business while they do their research, and they’ll reward you later with a purchase.
Medium threshold offers
Matt also conducts free seminars encouraging potential clients to sample his services at no charge.
These events attract people further along in the buying process, beyond Interest and moving towards a Decision.
They’re willing to experience a higher level of commitment, to physically interact with someone. This type of personal interaction gives Matt a great opportunity to convert people into buyers.
High threshold offers
Matt also conducts paid seminars, like this Sandler Sales Training Boot Camp. People who sign up for this are are ready to take Action!
These customers are ready to buy and the question your ad should answer is — why should they buy from you?
The rationale you give for why they should buy now shouldn’t be: how long you’ve been in business, or that you are a family and/or locally owned business. Nobody cares.
This is about grasping the bigger picture. Anybody can attract the “now buyers.”
Intelligent advertisers recognize the greater value in the ENTIRE PIPELINE of prospects.
On September 21, 1970, the ABC television network first aired Monday Night Football in primetime, and it was an immediate hit — capturing over 30% of the entire US TV audience, and would remain a top 20 primetime program for decades. That is, until ESPN ruined it.
In 2006 when the MNF contract was up for renewal, ESPN grossly overpaid the NFL while giving up the right to feature the best games, and replaced popular veteran announcers like Al Michaels and John Madden with lesser known anchors from Sportscenter.
The Worst Games
ESPN pays almost $2 billion per year to air just one game a week — Monday Night Football. To say they overpaid is an understatement — they didn’t even get a Super Bowl as part of this package. It’s nearly twice what NBC pays to air Sunday Night Football.
When ESPN closed this billion dollar deal some of its top executives believed they were buying the schedule of the previous Monday Night Football package — which usually featured one of the top games of the week. But NBC cunningly negotiated this feature away.
Sunday Night Football became the NFL’s premier prime-time package, giving it the best games and the right to steal the best matchups from Fox and CBS. ESPN basically gets the leftovers, and it’s unfortunate because not only is it their loss, it’s ours too — because Monday nights aren’t as fun as they used to be.
How did this happen? Well, in part because the relationship between the NFL and ESPN has been rocky over the years. ESPN considers itself a journalistic enterprise and many of their journalists have been — and continue to be — critical of the NFL, particularly on the concussion issue. I champion journalistic voices not only in sports, but in government, politics and business. But in the world of sports entertainment it’s risky to criticize an organization (The NFL) who controls the most popular live content on the planet.
The options for where the NFL can sell their content is growing daily — and at the end of the day – ESPN is just another cable network — another platform in a sea of platforms eager for content. In an effort to take a positive step in building a better relationship, ESPN basically took whatever the NFL was offering while negotiating the MNF contract.
In Broadcast vs. Cable, Broadcast usually wins
NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the #1 ranked show in all of TV for nine straight years. When ABC aired Monday Night Football — even as the network struggled with ratings overall — it was a perennial Top 10 primetime program. During the 2017 regular season, ESPN’s Monday night games averaged a record-low 10.8 million viewers, according to SBD. That was down 6 percent from the previous season.
There are bigger trends at work here — all TV ratings are trending downward. People are cutting their cable cords, buying antennas, and subscribing to more streaming services. There are simply more options than ever when it comes to entertaining ourselves.
Monday Night Football also changed platforms, moving from the ABC broadcast network — available to pretty much every household in America for free with an antenna — to ESPN — a cable network requiring a subscription to access their content. This drastically reduced distribution and availability to millions of viewers — now you have to pay to watch MNF.
NBC built a franchise for Sunday Night Football out of thin air and created the #1 program in all of primetime. I attribute that partly to the undervalued power and distribution of broadcast television. Also NBC is brilliant at promotion, and production, and they understand primetime games deserve primetime talent.
A Lack of Star Power
NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle’s idea behind MNF was to promote football to the masses, and to make it even more interesting they added star power to the announcing booth. When MNF debuted in 1970 it showcased the popular personalities of Howard Cossell, Keith Jackson and Don Meredith. ESPN’s latest lineup features Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, Booger McFarland, and sideline reporter Lisa Salters. If you are a casual fan of the NFL and don’t watch Sportscenter or ESPN religiously, it’s likely you’ve never heard of these people.
Below is a list of MNF announcers over the years and pay attention to who ESPN put in the booth in their debut year — a wonderful but mild Mike Tirico alongside a very good Joe Theisman alongside Washington Post Sports Columnist Tony Kornheiser. We went from Al Michaels and Jon Madden, superstars of football broadcasting, to a Sportscenter anchor and a newspaper columnist. They are all wonderfully talented professionals, but ESPN took the fun out of Monday Night Football and turned it into a nerd fest of jock talk.
As Don Meredith famously said in the show’s heyday, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.’’
Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Fred Williamson
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Alex Karras
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Alex Karras
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Fran Tarkenton
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Fran Tarkenton
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Fran Tarkenton
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Fran Tarkenton
Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, O.J. Simpson
Frank Gifford, Don Meredith, O.J. Simpson
Frank Gifford, O.J. Simpson, Joe Namath
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf, Lynn Swann
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf, Lynn Swann
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf, Lynn Swann
Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf, Lesley Visser
Al Michaels, Dan Dierdorf, Boomer Esiason, Lesley Visser
Al Michaels, Boomer Esiason, Lesley Visser
Al Michaels, Dan Fouts, Dennis Miller, Melissa Stark, Eric Dickerson
Al Michaels, Dan Fouts, Dennis Miller, Melissa Stark, Eric Dickerson
Al Michaels, John Madden, Melissa Stark
Al Michaels, John Madden, Lisa Guerrero
Al Michaels, John Madden, Michele Tafoya
Al Michaels, John Madden, Michele Tafoya, Sam Ryan *
Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser, Joe Theismann, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser, Ron Jaworski, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser, Ron Jaworski, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Ron Jaworski, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Ron Jaworski, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Ron Jaworski **
Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters