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How Did I Get Here?

Do you ever stop mid task and ask yourself how you got to where you are in that moment? I have had that happen to me a few times over the last few months. Since moving out of my home office in 2011 I feel like I have been chasing after too many things. When I worked from home and was only responsible for my own wellbeing I could do whatever work I felt was right in the moment. As long as it resulted in getting paid for my time, I was ok with it. Now having tried to scale a couple of things with a roller coaster ride of limited success, I have been finding it hard to focus lately.

Lately I have felt like my own worst enemy. I have taken focus off of a few long-term projects that have not been producing as much fruit as they once were but still allowing myself to be distracted by some of the aspects of those projects. In my mid twenties, I was good at limiting distractions. I had laser focus, but it had to be that way. I was so busy with the company I was running at that time that I had to pull late nights and work 7-days-a-week to keep up. Somehow I was fine with that. Busy is easy because you can see what needs to be done. When you are busy, the work comes at you and you can take it on full force. The real struggle is when you are caught in between busy and slow. That middle ground can be dangerous and it has been eating away at me like a cancer for the last year.

I have some great clients. We have been blessed with clients that have fun products and they trust us to do the work they hired us to do. At the same time we have had a few stinkers that have made it hard for us to do our work. It is all part of being in business. Over the last year specifically, we have had steady work from regular clients and a small amount of growth, but nothing that has stretched us too thin. Being in this place is what allows my mind enough energy to dream but does not leave me with enough time to execute on any of those dreams. I have always been a dreamer and often find myself laying in bed at midnight considering a new idea. Late night thought sessions as I lay in bed is what led me to at one point having owned more than 350 domain names. I have my own representative at GoDaddy who calls me from the office of the CEO. That might be some marketing ploy to make me feel important but I do know that I own way too many domain names. Every domain name was purchased because of some idea I was mulling over in my head. Most of those domain names never made it past a GoDaddy Parked page and expire a year later.

When I was 18 and almost out of high school, I was utilizing everything I had some knowledge in to make money. Besides working in retail management at the local mall, I was building computers for people, setting up small office networks, and trying to start an online business selling cell phones and accessories. I was going in too many directions. I found myself prioritizing what I enjoyed doing the most. The retail job was a constant paycheck. Building computers was fun, but being available for any and all questions that my customers had was not. I enjoyed setting up small office networks but when AOL didn’t load fast enough, I got a call. It was an early lesson in doing too many things at once. Now almost 20 years later, I am having the same problem. 

As I have written about before, I started building websites to give myself more freedom. The business I was running prior to that was taking too much time and was not going to scale unless I could clone myself. I started a photography business to fund my desire to buy new camera lenses but that quickly turned into a business more profitable than my website design business was at the time. During my later twenties, having both businesses was nice. I was single for a few of those years with plenty of time to work when needed. After marrying, my wife worked on some weekends so shooting weddings on weekends was not a big deal. After we started having kids, I wanted more weekends available, which meant shooting less weddings. Having moved out of my home office, one of my goals was to grow my website design company as well. I have had some measurable success there but I have allowed myself to be distracted a lot along the way which has stifled growth of Hill Media Group.

Running your own business is very emotional. Some people refer to their business as one of their kids because it is that close to them. I have always been able to work for myself and stay motivated. Motivation has never been the problem. The problem has been allowing myself to get stuck because of decisions I have made or allowed myself to be distracted by. Let’s take a quick inventory of what I currently do or offer as a service. Some of these services are related and this definitely is not an exhaustive list. What follows is a list of services that I offer and deliver on at least once each week in one form or another. This list also includes jobs performed to maintain our own projects and websites at Hill Media Group.

  • Website Design
  • Custom Development/Programming
  • Website Hosting
  • Email (Google Apps for Work)
  • Google Adwords (Paid Search Marketing)
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  • Social Media Management
  • Social Media Marketing (Paid Social)
  • Website Technical Support
  • Project Management
  • Data Management
  • Commercial Photography
  • Wedding Photography
  • Photo Editing
  • Video Production
  • Wedding Video Production
  • Video Editing
  • Product Testing
  • Product Reviews
  • Editorial Writing

I will have to come back to this list. I know there is more. This list does not include tasks required to run a business, nurture new and potential clients, manage employees, and whatever else I can’t seem to think of at this hour. Some of the above listed jobs I share responsibility with employees and occasionally outsource from time to time, but for the most part, I have my hand in all of those things. I recognize that I am not a top level professional in all of those areas but I am a professional in each of them to the extent that I believe I could focus on any one of them specifically and make a good living. The problem is allowing myself to do that.

It’s hard to avoid doing everything that I have a professional understanding of because there are so many people out there offering substandard service in just one area. In online marketing, there are a lot of scam artists out there who might as well be selling snake oil. Companies take advantage of naive business owners who simply want a professional to handle their online marketing for them. When you know that you can offer a better service and more value, it’s hard to just not do it.

This leads me back to the question, “How Did I Get Here?”

Just about all of these services I offer came from me needing them as a service from myself. I taught myself how to build Google Adwords Campaigns that perform using my own money attempting to market my own businesses. Though this article is all over the place, I developed my writing style from years of writing. My formal education stops just above high school level. I taught myself how to film product reviews by making videos and striving to improve along the way. Where I have led myself astray is that I turn that knowledge into a service and make it available to others.

When you turn something into a service you are stating that it is available for anybody. When I offered my website design skills for sale, I had to build websites for anybody who wanted one. When I started filming projects for clients I needed more gear, so I started offering those services to anyone. Hill Media Group has become this agency that has the knowledge and tools to be a full service agency handling everything from website design to film production but we don’t do end up doing enough of most of those services to justify the costs associated with them. What I mean is that we have everything we need because we have invested in the tools we need to produce quality work. The problem is that some of those tools end up collecting dust because we are not focusing on that specific area of business enough. People have short films in festivals and own less equipment than we have. 

All of the services that my company offers are services that I enjoy spending time working on. There are so many cool things out there and so few hours to get to spend doing them. What I truly enjoy is learning something and deploying it. It really doesn’t matter if I am doing it for myself or for someone else. I just enjoy the journey. But I do understand that specializing in a smaller subset of things leads to being better at them. This goes not only for me, but for those who work for me. Most people get bogged down when they are jumping between multiple unrelated tasks. It’s impossible to get into a grove when you don’t know where you will be next.

I have already started making changes to limit what types of work we do and will offer. I removed a once very profitable offering from one of our websites because it has been more of a distraction over the past several months. I plan to make more changes this year as I attempt to discover what areas I would like to specialize in and cull the rest from our offered services. About a year ago I started selling off some of my equipment I use for video production projects and simply rent the gear when I need it. I am already doing the same with my photography equipment. I simply don’t do enough volume to justify having all of the equipment I have. I love having the latest and greatest equipment, but I can no longer justify owning all of it.

I am thankful for this clarity I have been praying I would receive for over a year now. Sometimes you end up down a rabbit hole and are not quite sure just how you got there. Working for yourself or being an entrepreneur is a constant lesson in understanding your strengths and recognizing your limits. I am looking forward to further clarity as I continue to remove things from my work life that have stretched me too thin. I love my business, but I love my family more. Anything that takes away from that is theft in my opinion. Allowing myself to go in too many different directions has robbed my family of my focus and attention. Narrowing my scope will be better for everybody involved. When I stopped building computers for people I referred them to another local business. I look forward to doing that with some of the services I have provided in the past. Sometimes you have to cut the fat, which leads me to a blog post I really need to write about being more healthy.

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How Wives Can Help Their Husbands Parent Together

Parenting Together

It’s been a slow go, but I am trying to chip away at the questions that were given to a few of us to answer during a men’s panel that I was on. I thought I would handle the topic of parenting together next.

Here is the question: How can a wife help her husband feel that they are parenting together?

This question can mean something different depending on your household dynamic. I will do my best to be as general as I can and get specific when need be. In my home, my wife runs the day-to-day of the household. I work during the week and she is at home running the house. My wife spends a lot more time in the home than I do and a lot more time with our kids than I do as well. It is the current state of our household. I work outside of the home, she takes care of the family and our home. I help as much as possible around the house, but sometimes I feel like it is her house that I am living in. I know this is not true, but sometimes it can feel like it. I am trying to work to change the amount of time I spend at work. Right now, I work a typical 8-5 day. Now that we live closer to my office, I often come home for lunch. I used to photograph a lot of weddings on weekends but have cut back a lot so I can be home on as many weekends as possible.

My goal is to be able to reduce the amount of time I spend working during the hours my children are awake. I love my business, but I am missing valuable time I could be spending with my children. My kids are young and want to spend time with me. When they get older, they will have friends and other activities which will leave me plenty of time to work more if I want to. So let’s get back on topic.

Most men work and are not around the home as much as their wives are. This is the case in my household. Some households have a working husband and wife, but often the wife still runs more of the home than the husband does. My wife spends all day with our children. I see my kids for about an hour in the morning and for a few hours in the evening before bed. I get the weekends with them as well, but weekends are a different dynamic than the work/school week. I feel like more parenting happens during the week and the weekends are more fun and activities. During the week, my wife does most of the parenting on her own. When I get home, I help with dinner, play with the kids for a while and help put them to bed. Part of my evening routine with my wife these days involves relaxing. By the end of the day, we are both tired and just want to chill.

In business, there have been situations where I become part of a project that was already in motion. Though I feel I have a handle on the project and understand where it needs to go, taking action without knowing every nuance could lead to a blow up down the road. This often happens at home with the kids. I find myself in situations with my kids and parent the way I feel is right in the moment, but sometimes my method ends up clashing with something my wife has already tried or set in motion. I get frustrated because I was not informed. It’s hard to stay on the same page when the majority of my time is spent at work and my wife’s time with the kids.

There have been other instances where I have attempted to parent a certain way and then my wife contradicts my method by directing the children in another way without taking me aside and asking me about it first. This happens to all of us. I do it to her as well. Many times we are reacting to a situation. Something happens and we swiftly deal with it. I feel that sometimes we respond maybe a bit too swiftly.

It really comes down to communication. My wife and I do a pretty good job of recapping our days to each other. By the end of the day when I come home, my kids are usually tired. They only have a few hours left before bed so they have had a full day. I often get to deal with the meltdowns that happen during those hours. When I get home from work, my kids are hangry (hungry + angry). Not really. I just wanted an excuse to say that work in this blog. My kids are pretty great and only occasionally have meltdowns the moment I walk through the door.

Parenting on the same page takes communication. Without communication, you are walking into a war zone. The home can be a war zone sometimes. If I was not communicated to, there is unknown intel that I need to navigate the landscape that is our home. My daughter may have had a rough day that involved missing some of her nap and getting disciplined recently for hitting her brother. She could still be upset when I come in the door and try to love on her.

On occasion, my wife will text message me to let me know what is going on. Sometimes it’s during a phone call on my way home. It helps me understand what is going on and what to expect. Knowing what to expect helps me prepare myself and I am able to be what I need to be for each of my children when I walk through the door. Most of our parenting related frustrations with each other has to do with discipline. My wife and I both have our good days and bad days when dealing with disciplining our children. It’s not a simple job and we both kind of hate having to do it.

Big Picture Parenting

Most married couples are on the same page when it comes to the bigger picture. They know how they want to raise their kids and what they want their kids to experience. Some couples may have a few differences in the big picture area, but it’s easier to work on those differences because they are part of the bigger picture. There is a lot of time between thinking about those things and having to act on them. Bigger Picture items could include what kind of school we will send our children to and whether or not we will allow our kids to drink soda. These are not typically “in the moment” decisions we have to make.

In The Moment Parenting

Most parenting decisions are made in the moment. They are responses to situations that transpired. This is where differences start to become clear between a husband and wife. Decisions made in the moment lack communication. We feel that we need to act right away, so we make a decision. This decision may be a new one, which was not discussed prior to acting on it.

Because we feel that we need to shut down the situation in the moment, it often ends up being a sole parent decision. Usually, that has to do with discipline. My wife and I have most of our issues there. We often see pretty eye to eye, but we have our moments.

There are other decisions that we make in parenting that end up being in the moment when they could have waited until later. Not everything has to be handled in the moment. I recognize that sometimes it is just easier for my wife to make a decision on something at that moment. At work, I make decisions all day. If I had to stop and check with someone else before making my decisions, it would drive me crazy. I do understand that it is often easier just to say yes, or no, or sign up for something at that moment because it seems right. It might also seem like a small thing that doesn’t matter to you, so you deal with it in the moment.

All of these “moments” throughout the day are often something the other spouse misses out on. Those moments add up and can make a person feel like they are not really doing any parenting. I have moments of my own like that, but I realize that my wife and I have our jobs and we are the CEO’s of our individual jobs.

CEO, CFO, and CPO’s

As mentioned before, my wife pretty much runs the home. She is the CEO of the house. That doesn’t mean she can do whatever she wants. I am the CFO of our home, because I handle the majority of the finances. My wife and I are both CPO (Chief Parenting Officers). It’s a joint position run as a team. She brings her years of Early Childhood Development training and being a Nanny for many years to the table. At the time of writing this, she also has almost six years in the trenches with our children. I am a very observant person who also reads a lot, so I have some of my own tactics and methods that I have developed. I also try to stay very in tune with my children emotionally. I am better at this with my boys than I am with my little girl.

As a team, we are continuously learning what we do well and what we do not. To the best of our ability, we try to do this together. This means that one person is not doing everything while the other watches sports. My wife spends most of the time with our children, but I make sure that I get opportunities to be with all three of my children alone as well. When I am home, I am with my family. I don’t watch sports or other tv shows while my kids are awake. My wife and I do watch shows we like after our kids are in bed. I will watch shows with my kids sometimes. Shows of their choosing (Power Rangers). I make an effort to be involved.

Proactive Parenting

It really does come down to communication. Actions speak louder than words. If you come home from work and don’t contribute, you are not going to feel like you are an equal parent. We are a parent to a child or children. We are a spouse to another adult. It takes intent and you have to prioritize your family over other things to be as involved as your spouse is.

With better communication, you can parent proactively. Talk about your kids together. Tell your spouse about the cool things your kid is doing and the things he or she may be struggling with. Don’t let these things come up and blindside your spouse.

As you can see, it takes effort from both sides. Don’t attack your spouse because you feel that she isn’t including you in parenting decisions. Turn off the football game and talk to her about it. Don’t attack your spouse because he isn’t as involved of a parent as you. If you don’t share much with him, how can he feel as invested as you are?

It’s all about the children. I deeply care about my work, but it will not get in the way of me being an involved parent. Right now it is very popular to work your tail off to achieve in your career. Everybody wants success, and they want it yesterday. The concept of work-life balance is all the buzz right now because people find themselves working most of their waking hours and realize their family is left off in the distance. It’s sad. You can start a hundred companies in a lifetime, but you can only start one family. Sure it is common for people to start second, and even a third family after failing the first few times, but is that healthy? I think not. Give all you have to your family. You can find a way to work and find success. We live in an extremely pliable world these days.

Do you have some tips on how to better include your spouse in the parenting role? If so, share them in the comments below.

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In Search of Success & Freedom

I have written on the topic of personal freedom many times. Since my early 20’s, my ultimate goal has been to work toward achieving freedom from the regular things that end up tying us down. I have had success and failure along the way through my efforts to achieve personal freedom and have learned a lot along the way. We moved across town this weekend and through that process, I spent a lot of time in the car with my father-in-law. We discussed work and life, which ultimately led to a discussion of basic life securities.

My father-in-law is a hard worker. He recently retired from many years of service to the same company. Though he is not old, or quite at retirement age to draw from social security, it was time for him to move on. Being that he and I are from exact opposite ends of the workforce spectrum, we occasionally discuss the topic of work and all that comes with it. Though he does not have any direct experience as a business owner, he recognizes the role differences between his jobs and my job.

Over the years, I have received job offers, usually from clients I have worked with. There have been a few years where business was slow and I actually looked around at what was available. I have never entertained anything to this point, but sometimes the concept most people refer to as “job security” is fun to fantasize about.

During our discussion, he brought up a few of my complaints I have had over the years such as rising healthcare costs for my family, taxes, and the challenges the self-employed have purchasing a home since the housing market crash. That led to discussing the various job offers I have received over the years. To most, the solution to my “first-world-business-owner-problems” would be to get a job where I had health benefits and a w2. I understand that perspective. Beyond that, most people would assume that a business owner can’t just turn off the work mindset at the end of the day. Society typically portrays business owners one of two ways:

  1. The Tyrant: This is the business owner who sits in his office all day counting money as his employees slave away for low pay.
  2. The Founder: This business owner works near 24/7 giving themselves little sleep and even less time to their family.

Through the many conversations I have had with people, most see business owners as one or the other. Media and the startup business community considers long hours as a requirement for being successful. There are popular online personalities such as Gary Vaynerchuk and Casey Neistat who broadcast a perceived lifestyle of working 14+ hour days. Whether that is the case or not, that simply is not healthy and should not be honored as a lifestyle to follow in the footsteps of.

If you are going to own or start a business, the mindset is that you are going to have to work extremely hard up front, in order to have success later. This makes sense as it’s the only way most people can wrap their head around rising to success. Before I talk about success to much more, I want to be clear that success means something different to everybody. My definition of success is different than yours, and that is ok. Besides being a business owner, I am a husband and father to three children. I see my wife and children as my most cherished worldly possessions, so that is the lens in which I focus my life through.

I want to be able to exist with the basic comforts we expect to have here in the United States. I need a home in a safe neighborhood with walls that has heating and air conditioning. I need a reliable vehicle and food to eat. I need clothing that is in decent condition and a few dollars left over to buy the occasional piece of technology. What I do not need is excess. I did excess for a couple of years in my early 20’s and it did not lead to happiness or contentment. At age 24, I was making more money than I have ever made to date with my retail business, but I was spending all of it. I was also working long hours. I have discussed this before in other posts.

My definition of success has changed over the years. It used to be all about money. I was a kid and had no real concept of what contentment was. My current definition of success is to be able to provide a decent life for my wife and children. Not a life where they get whatever they want, but a life where I can provide basic comforts and securities, without going overboard. I have been blessed with the ability to do that so far.

My definition of total personal freedom will also change, but right now the definition and goal is to one day be able to self-sustain financially. That means that the work I have done so far is producing enough income to cover our life expenses for a while without having to do more work. Some call this retirement, but I don’t really like the definition most people give retirement. Most people see retirement as the end of the line where they do not have to work or use their brain for much anymore. I plan to follow in my Grandmother’s footsteps and use my brain to the best of its ability until I take my final breath. Of course, I could work extra hard now in order to obtain self-sustainability much earlier, but at what cost?

It is important to have a clearly defined understanding of what being successful means to you. If you do not have that understanding, you will never reach a level of success you can feel comfortable with. I know plenty of people who make more money than I do and even more who have a dual income household. I know people who work twice as many hours as I do, and I know people who barely work what would be considered part-time, yet still make more money than I do. None of that affects how I feel about what I have or haven’t achieved yet in life.

It is easy to think that if I just worked two more hours each day, I could take an extra vacation or afford to have a bigger house, but what would that do to my freedom? I am not the best at it, but I try to weigh each decision I make that requires my time against what it would cost my family. That puts things into perspective quickly. I see time away from my family as a deficit regardless of what the result of that time produces.

Getting a job with a company would not necessarily make me feel any more secure or provide me with any additional freedoms. Having paid vacation might make it easier to take one vacation, but if you set it up right, owning your own business gives you the flexibility to take multiple vacations and occasionally work from them if need be. It’s getting harder to do that now that I have kids in school, but we still try. The photo above was taken a few years ago when we went to Del Mar on vacation. I worked while our kids napped and we spent the rest of the time at the beach (Look how chubby Cohen was!!).

For me, reaching total freedom does not mean never having to work again. That would actually be torture. My brain does not operate that way as I am always trying to solve problems and come up with solutions. Beyond that, I never tire of learning about new things. Whether I am working for myself, someone else, or in partnership with someone else, all must align with my defined goals of freedom and success. Anything short of that would lead to confusion and frustration.

The reality of it is that there is no true freedom from everything. We will always have obligations and requirements. People will always expect something from us. However, if you have a personalized definition of what freedom is to you and what being successful is, you will more easily be able to obtain it. As a side effect, you will also prevent the endless chase that comes from nothing ever being enough.

What would your definition of a successful person be? Are you working toward reaching that level of success? What do you consider “true freedom” to be? Are you working toward reaching that level of freedom?

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The Sliver Lining

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when things are not going the way you would like them to. Problem areas are always more visible than what is actually working. We get more attached to the problems because they are at odds with what we intended. When we intend for something to go a certain way and the result is less than desirable, it doesn’t feel good. When we make plans and set out on a path, we are emotionally invested in that plan. Anything we spend time thinking about and make the effort to execute on is tied to emotions.

At the beginning of a year, it is easy to say that we are going to make this year different. Perhaps the previous year was ok, but we did not achieve what we had desired. Now that it is a new year, decide this year will be different. Just by doing that, we minimize what actually did go well that year before. It is very easy to focus on what didn’t get done, or what went wrong than it is to focus on what was great.

The last few years I have felt that I could be doing more. There are many areas of my life where I know I am doing more than average, but I also know that I being lazy in some of those areas. Here are a couple of examples.

I have not been consistent with my fitness for years now. I have made several excuses that mostly revolve around getting older and not feeling that great. I have had a few minor health issues that I have let affect me more than they should have. I have more responsibility than before, which requires more work, both at home and at the office. At the end of the day, I go to the couch and spend the last hour or two relaxing by spending time on my phone or watching tv with my wife. I often don’t end up going to bed early enough to get up and go to the gym before my family wakes up.

To start of 2016 with a bang, we received a 30-day notice to vacate the home we are renting. This came out of nowhere as we take excellent care of the property and have never been late on rent. A few days before Christmas we received a rental increase notice that was to begin on the first of the year. I contested the notice because 30-days notice must be given to increase rent. They then quickly responded with a 30-day notice to vacate. The 30-day notice to vacate is also unlawful because we have lived in the home over a year, which entitles us to a 60-day notice.

It is too easy to focus on the problems at hand and to file away the good things that happened. I often have to take a step back and look at the current situation from a different perspective. I try to think about it as if it was a year from now. I have had some hard situations in life and looking back on them from current day is a lot easier than it was going through them at the time.

It is now getting to the end of January and we have not been able to find a house similar to the size and location of the house we currently live in. We are looking at moving into a smaller home, or a rent increase of $400. There are not a lot of available rentals out there right now.

At the gym this morning, I was thinking to myself about my housing situation and I found myself being thankful. If my wife and I had done what most of our friends did right after getting married, which was buy a home. We would be paying close to double of what we are currently paying in rent for a home that we would have bought when housing prices were still quite high. We may have to move in the next few weeks into a home that is more expensive than our current situation, but that is still better than paying for a home that lost 50% or more of its value in the crash. Moving will cost us money, but we have savings that we can borrow from if we need to. It is all about the perspective you take on a situation.

There are silver linings in everything. I know that sounds cliché since the movie with a similar title came out, but it’s true. Instead of looking at the current situation and dreading all that is involved with moving, I am choosing to look at the situation as if it was six months from now. We will be in a home and settled in. We will have met a few neighbors and frequented the nearby park. I will have gotten used to driving a new way to work each day.

As far as fitness goes, I have to take the same approach. I am choosing to look at myself as if it was a year from now which includes being at my target weight, starting each day with a run and eating healthier. I am the type of person who makes a decision to do something and makes a complete 180 to get there if need be. The problem with making an abrupt 180 is that if you do it too fast, you get dizzy. If you get dizzy, you can’t focus on all that is required to sustain that kind of change in your life. Some can pull it off, but I now have the experience now that has taught me that it is hard to do with a family. You cannot disrupt everybody else’s schedule and diet just to change your own.

Though I have learned to see the silver lining in some aspects of life, I am far from being able to see it in everything. I am not the kind of person who worries about things, but I do carry some stress during situations inside of me. I need to be better at recognizing the positive aspects of a situation before even allowing the negative aspects to attach themselves.

What is your process for looking at the positive? What do you do to get yourself out of the funk so you can see clearly and focus on moving forward?

<small>Photo Credit: Eliora Henzler</small>

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Squirrel!

I am easily distracted. There have been times I self-diagnosed ADD. The problem is that we live in a world with no shortage of distractions. There is more than just something for everybody, there are dozens of somethings.

To make it worse, I love technology. You and I both know that the tech world moves fast and there are always new bright/shiny things coming out every day. Adding to that, I want to touch and play with all of the new technology. Obviously, that is not practical because things are expensive.

When I was a kid, I would make lists of stuff I was going to buy when I had money. I grew up working on motors and racing go-karts. I remember making a list of motor parts I wanted to buy so I could build my own motor. A few years ago I bought a go-kart to drive for leisure. I realize now that I was living out my childhood dream of building a fast motor for my go-kart as an adult.

The last few years I have been analyzing, maybe over-analyzing the way I focus and what I focus on. This has led me to realize just how scattered my focus can be at times, hence the ADD self-diagnosis. Maybe it’s not ADD, it’s just that I focus heavily on things that I enjoy and it makes it hard for me to focus on other things when I am locked on to those thoughts. Now I am realizing that sounds a bit selfish, but that is the battle.

Just like most of us, my phone is a distraction. I spend too much time on it looking at things. I don’t scroll Facebook, but I scroll tech headlines and the tweets of people I follow in the technology space. That can be distracting.

The reason for thinking about this or even writing about it came about because I have realized in the last few months there have been a few instances where I had a thought I was working on, got distracted just for a second, and the entire thought was gone. I couldn’t even remember the topic of thought. It’s like it didn’t exist. Sometimes the thought would resurface later, but a few times it did not. Call it getting older or something…

The more I talk with people, I realize that most of this can be written off as a side effect of the human condition. We all get distracted in different ways. It’s hard to hyper-focus on something. To be honest, I am not sure hyper-focus is a good thing.

Even as I wrote this, I lost my train of thought once, was distracted by email twice and my phone three times. The struggle is real.

What are some of the things that distract you? What do you do to curb the distraction so you can get things done?

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We’re ok, because we saved

Savings

Prior to getting married I wasn’t very good at saving money. I guess I didn’t really have a reason to save money unless there was something that I wanted which required saving for. A little over eight years ago I was engaged to be married, didn’t have hardly any money in my bank account, and nothing in my savings account. It was at that point I realized that I needed change because I might have been okay up until then existing without a backup plan, but I was not about to enter into marriage without a plan.

I ended up selling off a lot of stuff including DVDs that I never watch and my home entertainment system to get some money in our bank account. After that, I started saving whenever I could. Still wasn’t as good as some people who manage to save a large portion of their income however I was doing much better than I ever had in regards to saving.

After about eight months of marriage it was quite obvious that building a savings account was going to be one of the most important things that we did together. We ended up miscarrying our first child and were denied coverage by our health Insurance provider. That instantly put us $20,000 in debt. Thankfully, besides some savings, I was also able to empty and old 401(k) that I had never touched to pay everything off. Now our small savings account was depleted.

We continued to save when we could. We could’ve saved more but we like to travel and eat out occasionally. We were then blessed with our first born child. Being self-employed, private medical insurance is pretty expensive. Our health insurance plan had a pretty high deductible and maximum out-of-pocket responsibility. That year, we ended up emptying our savings account once again, to pay off medical bills.

When our firstborn was six months old, I decided I would be more productive if I moved my office out of our third bedroom and into an actual office. That meant taking on a bit of overhead and at the same time, I hired an employee. We still tried to save when we could and thankfully we had a few good months where we were able to save a lot.

Our second child was born in February so we met our max out our out-of-pocket responsibility with our insurance the calendar year before he was born and during the first two months leading up to his birth. Our oldest had fallen and broken his leg two weeks before his brother was born which resulted in me being off work for a couple of months to help my wife with our newborn son. My oldest son was in a body cast from his waist down which made him very difficult to pick up and move around. Thankfully our savings and the success of one of my businesses was experiencing carried us through this time.

Later that year our oldest ended up in the hospital again with an infection. Thankfully it was during the same calendar year that we had already maxed out our out-of-pocket responsibility, so we just had to pay our co-pays on everything, and I missed a few weeks of work. At this point, we were able to pay off everything immediately without carrying any additional debt.

The next year was kind of up-and-down. My business was busy some months and very slow others. I had hired a couple of employees here and there which did not pan out like I had hoped so overhead was higher than usual. My oldest son also started preschool that year. We had decided to try the preschool at our church, which was not exactly cheap. Our savings allowed us to send him there without worrying about sacrificing by sending him to a cheaper school where we didn’t know anybody.

Then our daughter was born, so we maxed our out-of-pocket again. Let me remind you of the $10,000 maximum. Yes, it still hurts to think about it. In hindsight, we could have delivered our children in Costa Rica for a fraction of that. Our savings account came to the rescue again. This time, I put the payment on a credit card with points for Amazon.com and immediately paid off the credit card.

We had outgrown our home and it was time to find a new home to rent. We had been renting, which also allowed us to save more money because we did not have to spend it on repairs and other costs associated with home ownership. Still, we could have been saving more, but we enjoyed several vacations and still enjoyed going out to eat often. The increase in living expenses took some time to adjust to. During the week we were planning to move, my wife came down with a pretty bad infection that had her in the hospital for over a week. Thankfully our family stepped up and helped us move, and the savings account once again helped us avoid debt.

In 2015, we had saved more money than I have ever had been able to keep for more than a week. We had used credit for a few things, but with zero interest. I had saved money only to empty it out for bills so many times that I was doing whatever I could to avoid having to touch our savings. I had a few investment accounts that were not doing much that I was occasionally contributing to. The months of May/June have become expensive months for us because there are multiple things that come due. We now have two children in school as well. This June, we had school tuition, car insurance, renters insurance, business liability insurance and workman’s compensation insurance all due at the same time. In the past, I would pay several of these monthly because I didn’t want to touch that savings account. This time, we decided it would be best to pay everything in full so we would have less monthly expense to worry about. This proved to be a good decision leading into the holidays.

One of my employees was to have his first child with his wife and I wanted to be able to give him some time off for that. Because of savings, I was able to do that. A couple of days before Christmas, our landlord informed us of a rent rate increase followed by a notice to vacate the property (a story for another day). Our savings will once again play a role in keeping us comfortable.

I understand that was a very long prelude into a post on the importance of savings but as you can see, it is important. Most people do not think about savings and live outside of their means. They put expenses on credit cards and spend money that they should be saving. We will all encounter unexpected expenses and it is our responsibility to pay for them. Nobody owes us anything.

I could have purchased a home with cash had it not been for the cost of health insurance and what we have had to pay in premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses but it is my responsibility to pay it. Taking a cheaper route was not an option when it came to the health of my children.

One fear most self-employed people have is disability. We do not have the same disability options as those who are w2 employees. Since I do not pay into disability, I would not have it for long if something were to happen to me. This is another important reason for savings. Making sure you have at least 3-6 months of money saved so you could afford to live should you need time to recuperate from something is extremely important. There is a much higher chance that I would get hurt and have to take time off from work than be taken out completely (life insurance).

Saving money can be hard

I began saving money by taking money from my account immediately after placing it there. Before I could even come up with a purpose for that money, I had put some in savings. For me, it had to be automatic, so I set it as an automatic transfer from my bank account. I even transferred it out of the bank account I had a debit card and checks for because I knew it needed to be a couple of days away from my main account.

Saving is a sacrifice

Saving money means not spending it on something. This can be hard because there is no shortage of things to want. As a photographer and someone who loves tech, every day is a new challenge for me. Just today, a new handheld rig for my camera came out and I just know how awesome it would be to shoot video with that rig. Do I need this new $2200 rig? No I do not. That has been my problem over the years that has kept me from saving more than I already have.

Saving means showing restraint. It means saying no sometimes. I have found that putting a few days between me and available money is enough time to keep me from spending it on something that I think I need right now. I make impulse buys quite often if the money is there, so I have to remove the money and put it somewhere else.

You have to be vigilant

Even if all you have to save each month is $20, that $20 should get put in savings and forgotten about. Having my money in a savings account at another bank made it easy for me to forget about it. When I looked at my checking balance I saw what I had to live on. If it was enough for some fun, we would have fun. We are still battling with being consistent. Some years the first half of the year has looked much better than the second half. Being self-employed, I don’t receive a paycheck every two weeks. Some weeks I get paid, others I don’t.

You have to want it bad enough

My motivation was my wife. I didn’t want her to suffer the hardships I had put myself through by spending all of my available funds with a week or two left in the month. My wife and I both were not very responsible with our money before marriage. Our rude awakening was our first encounter with medical expenses. Sometimes you need a good kick in the pants to get on track.

You have to automate it

As I mentioned before, if you are bad at saving money, you have to automate it. I think that automating the process is good for anybody, even if they are good at saving. Though I don’t have a regular paycheck, I have some recurring income that comes in each month. That is my baseline savings. Once that hits the account, a chunk of it is transferred away. Later that month, once I have enough money in the account to cover the next months expenses, the rest is put in savings.

We used to handle vacations by just paying for them out of savings, or if I had extra money in checking however, that has changed too. We now have automated savings set up for a variety of things. I started this just shy of a year ago for a few items and setup a few more late last year. We have separate savings accounts for the following items and each savings account gets something each week. You can set automatic transfers for any dollar amount, even $1.00.

  • Basic Savings Account (Our main savings account)
  • Insurance Costs (Health, car, home, business, etc.)
  • Children’s School Tuition
  • Charity (Used to help people in need)
  • Adoption (We are planning to adopt and have a savings account for adoption expenses)
  • Children’s savings accounts (Somewhere to put their birthday money and save for their future. Once for each kid.)
  • Travel Fund
  • Racing Fund (For Quarter Midget racing expenses)

My prayer is that we will be protected from having to clear out savings accounts for unplanned expenses. We don’t have a lot of money saved, but we could weather a small storm or two. Since using a bunch of our savings to pay for items in full, we have been able to save even more. Instead of paying for school tuition out of our main savings account, we set up a separate savings account for that. I took the projected amount we would need for tuition that would be due in June of 2016 and divided that by 52. That amount is taken out each week and put into savings. As of writing this, that account is already more than half way to paying tuition in full. No surprises.

We often allow things to surprise us even if we knew they were coming. Last year I knew that our kids school tuition was coming up, so it was a bit of a surprise when I realized how much it would be with two kids now in school. Our goal this year is to automate even more savings until we are to the point where even future big expenses such as cars are saved for.

In Closing

What are some of your savings goals? Have you been able to save? If so, what method worked for you? Saving money is an ongoing exercise in restraint. It’s like dieting, you have to put off what you want now for a later payoff. Our goals are to be able to pay for our next vehicles in cash, save at least 50% to put down on a house (this goal may change to save to buy a home with cash), continue to pay our children’s school tuition, and be able to take a vacation each year.

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My Kids Are My Startup

Just about every casual conversation I have with someone, the topic of work-life balance comes up. I have always felt this was kind of a weird way to refer to your life as a whole because to me work has always been a big part of my life. There have been chapters of my life where work consumed all of my time and there have also been a few times in my life where I didn’t have much work so I had a lot of time to spend with friends, read and sleep. Now that I have a wife and three children, my priorities have changed. I believe that instead of discussing the topic of work-life balance, we all should be talking about a priority balance.

Priorities have changed for me since I was fresh out of high school. Through my twenties, I would work long hours and sleep little. I wanted as much time as possible to try and build something. I have worked for myself since I was twenty years old. My entrepreneurial roots go all the way back to my childhood. In high school, I prioritized work over education. In my early twenties, I worked a lot. I had little time left over for friends and a relationship. I tried to have both, but long hours at work always won. At age 25, I knew that this was not a sustainable way to live. During my twenty-fourth year, I had left a relationship and lost touch with several friends. If I was ever going to get married and have kids, I could not live like this. I also watched married friends of mine get divorced over things like money and working too many hours. I did not want that to happen to me.

I decided to make changes. I wanted to create freedom in my life to do things like see the world and hopefully find someone to love. I sold off the remains of the business I spent my early twenties building and started building websites. I had a laptop and could work from anywhere. During the next few years, I did just that. If I woke up and wanted to work from the beach, I did. It was nice, but I soon realized I had swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. I was making a living, but I was not being as effective and productive as I could have been.

I am coming up on my eighth year of marriage and my oldest child will turn six this year. My experiences so far have taught me that you can not get time back. Once you spend time, it is gone. Having realized this early on it helped shape what I would do with my time. Setting priorities is important. I have wanted nothing more since I was a teen to start a company and make it something awesome. I have started a few companies over the years, some successful, others not. None of them grew to the potential I knew they had and I am fine with that.

A life is much more important than a company or a career. You and I both have an average lifespan to make a career happen or to build a business. However, once you introduce a new life into this world, priorities should change. That life needs to be nurtured and shaped, very much like a business does, and time is limited.

My Kids Are My Startup

I have never considered any of my businesses a startup business. The story, however, is similar, I built something from nothing and am trying to grow it. Call me old fashioned. I consider myself a small business owner. Kids, however, are startups. They come into this world ready to be programmed and shaped into something amazing. If they are guided by a good CEO (parent), they will flourish and add value to this world. They may even get acquired by someone (a spouse), and build their own little startups (Grandkids!).

The problem is that there are some crap CEOs out there who are more interested in themselves than their fledgling startups. Let’s ditch the metaphors. There are some crap parents out there who are more interested in themselves than their children. Can you have an amazing career and raise a family? Yes! Can you run a successful startup company and still be around during the hours your children are awake? YES! It’s not hard, it’s prioritization.

At one point, I was running three companies at once. I had a successful photography business, website design business, and a technology review/news website. Each of these companies brought in enough revenue to support a small family. After my wife and I had our first child, I made sure I was working a regular work day of 8 hours or less. Sure there have been a few days here and there where I have worked closer to 12 hours in a day, but they are few and far between. I used to shoot several weddings each month on the weekends but have since scaled back the amount of weddings I book each year to make sure it does not cut into my family time.

The one thing I want to succeed above all else is my family. I love business and could not imagine doing anything else, but my family trumps business. You can close a business and start a new one, but you can’t close a family. You should never close a family. When a business closes, there is limited damage that can easily be fixed. Someone loses a job, they go get a new one. When you break up a family, the damage lasts forever. We are talking about a family breakup due to a husband or wife that overworks and does not prioritize correctly. I recognize that there are valid reasons for divorce. I am not here to discuss those.

I think that if more men/fathers of this world would prioritize their lives in favor of their families, there would be less of all things negative. If I have to hire more people to help with work so I can maintain a regular work day, I am fine with that. Yes, it will mean paying the wages of others which waters down the money I could be earning, but it is worth it. If I was working for a company, I would forego a promotion if it meant taking time away from my family.

To be honest, I could go on about this forever, so to keep this post from becoming a total rant, I will end it here.

If you are a dad or children any age, please consider how you can give them more of your time. I know you have seen the countless movies that portray a father who tries to spend more time with his already grown kids. That is not the time to make up for it. Do what you can while they are young and before the damage is done. If you are not raising them, someone else will.

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I’m taking my life back from Facebook

I made a decision that I should have made a few years ago. I deleted my Facebook profile. I have wanted to do this many times before but could never pull the trigger. I logged out of Facebook a couple of times for an extended period, but I always ended up back there. You can read about that here.

Let me start by saying that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Facebook. The fact that there is a service that lets us share our lives and stay connected easier is a pretty amazing thing. The problem is not with Facebook, it’s with much of the content within Facebook.

I can’t recall how long ago it was, but I realized that Facebook had started to become a place where people go to complain about stuff. Just about every post in my newsfeed was a complaint. I would go on Facebook to see what my friends were up to and I would end up depressed by the end of it. Either Facebook was only deciding to show me negative posts or those are the only posts that stuck out to me. Facebook has allowed people to complain about their lives rather than taking responsibility. It’s easy to post to Facebook in an attempt to get sympathy from our friends. It’s actually kind of sad and it doesn’t help anybody.

There has been a change in society during the past 5-6 years. People used to be able to share their opinion without being ran over for it. We used to be able to accept the fact that people had an opinion other than our own. That has changed. We can still share our opinion, but if it goes against anything the media is focusing on, it is best left unspoken. I realized that the bulk of the people I was connected to on Facebook cared more about trivial things than actual travesties. I tried to filter my Facebook newsfeed, but Facebook makes it a pain in the butt to customize the content that you prefer to see.

About two years ago I stopped accepting every friend request that came in. I realized that my newsfeed was so cluttered that I couldn’t see updates from people I was actually connected to. I tried creating custom newsfeeds, but that was a pain to manage. I was not going to go through 4924 friends at the time and manually clean house. To be honest, I even considered hiring someone to do it for me.

My frustration came to a boil last week when I realized I had been scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed for 30 minutes and my heart was racing because of the content I had just ingested. I felt like I had just spent the last 30 minutes reading all of the tabloid articles in the grocery store checkout. Just about every post was negative, disgusting, rude or a conflict against something I believe strongly about. During the time I had logged out of Facebook for two months, I was blogging more and able to read more books. I didn’t mindlessly go to Facebook, I intentionally picked up an actual book.

I had entertained the idea of converting my Facebook profile to a Facebook page for a while. A Facebook page is different than a profile. A Facebook page allows you to post updates just as you would a Facebook profile, but you have no newsfeed and people don’t friend your profile. It’s similar to Twitter in the way that people can decide to follow your updates by “liking” your page. Facebook used to allow you to do this conversion while keeping the history you have amassed in your timeline. That is not the case anymore and it was a bitter pill to swallow.

I have always recommended to all of my clients who want to start a Facebook page not to post unique content to Facebook that they hope to never lose. Facebook will most likely not always be the cool place to hang out. All of the content that people poured into Myspace is now worthless or gone in many cases. Depending on how you used Myspace, this may be a good thing. I have been posting to Facebook just shy of 10 years. I joined in 2006 when Facebook began allowing anybody to create an account. That is a low of content to allow to perish. Within the last 10 years, I started dating the woman I would marry. I got married and had children. Much has happened, and the majority of it was shared through Facebook.

Facebook allows you to backup your data. You can download it into this basic looking archive that you can click and scroll through (see mine here). It’s not very searchable but it’s better than nothing. I was able to backup all of my photos in case there were one or two that I had not saved somewhere else. I never take photos inside of the Facebook app so the majority of my photos were saved in Google Photos or iCloud Photos. I realized that I almost never scrolled back into history through my Facebook timeline anyway.

I needed a change. I was wasting a lot of time reading the nonsense that was being posted to Facebook in hopes of coming across something nice someone else had to say. I am afraid that I will miss things. I have been able to pray for people who are going through hard times because I read about it on Facebook. I would have never known about the situation outside of Facebook. My wife and I like to help people when we can and many times we have discovered a need through someone’s Facebook post. I will miss this, but it will make me actually reach out to people to stay connected rather than scroll Facebook in an attempt to get the highlights.

I converted my personal Facebook profile into a Facebook page. I did not want someone else to end up registering http://facebook.com/jeradhill to use it for their own purposes. I will continue to post to Facebook through this page. I converted a personal account that I had for managing Facebook pages before Facebook Business Manager was created so I could remain connected to the Ditch Auto photography group I created. I will not be adding any friends there. I am sure that this will not be a popular choice among many as the Facebook connection just became a one-way road, but I had to make the decision.

To keep connected with people who’s updates I would miss by not having a personal account, I will actually connect with them in person or follow their updates on other social networks such as Twitter or Instagram. I have had this intention many times, and I know it will be hard to do, but I am going to make an effort. Limiting the information intake will help me focus more on my family and my closer friends, who often get overlooked because they don’t post to Facebook that often.

Facebook is still an excellent tool for keeping in contact with people. As a business owner, it’s a fantastic marketing tool as well. This is why I am not leaving Facebook altogether, I am simply limiting the amount of content I consume so I can fill that extra time with what’s closest to me.

Instead, let’s follow each other on Instagram or Twitter.