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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Announcing the World's First Bed and Breakfast Aimed at Stamp Collectors!

As many of my readers are now aware, my partner Steph and I recently moved from Toronto to historic Saint John, New Brunswick as we had a dream of operating a Bed and Breakfast, in conjunction with my stamp business. We bought a lovely 140 year old house located in the west side of the city, which used to be a Bed and Breakfast. We decided that it would be a fabulous idea to operate it as a Bed and Breakfast with a twist: it will be the first Bed and Breakfast that I know of, which is aimed at providing a quiet and cozy, stamp filled getaway for those of you philatelists looking to immerse yourself in your stamps, while having all your needs catered to.

We offer two guest bedrooms, each with their own self-contained bathroom, so that you can be assured of complete privacy in your room. Our room rates range from a low $95 per night for our Rose Gold Room, to $105 per night for our large Grandma Green Room. You can bring your stamps with you and sit in our comfy office, at a large table, with excellent lighting, and access to all the equipment you could want or need to aid you in your study: watermark trays and fluid; a signoscope; micrometers, ultra-violet lamps, instanta gauges, colour keys and so on. You will have access to our bar and coffee and tea station at all times, so that you can sip a cup of tea, coffee or a glass of spirits while you work. We provide a tasty range of fresh baked goods throughout the day as well, so you never have to go hungry while you are here. We will also provide you with most any philatelic literature that you request to have available during your stay.

If you do not wish to bring stamps with you during your stay, then you can always browse our extensive, specialized stock of Canada and British West Africa material from the comfort of our office. Our Nigeria stock is one of the most extensive in the world, and contains many rare items.

During your stay you will have access to me and we can discuss any philatelic topic that you wish to discuss. Our basic package for $100 includes all the accouterments described, plus a 10% discount on any of our stock items, plus a scrumptious breakfast. We can recommend a variety of restaurants for lunch and dinner. For those wanting the ultimate, pampered experience, we offer an unlisted deluxe package, which includes lunch and a gourmet dinner with your choice of drinks for each day of your stay.

We are situated on a large corner property, with a large yard, where you can relax with a book and a drink, while you are not working on your stamps. New Brunswick, and Saint John itself offer a wide range of physical attractions that you can visit during the day, that are all within driving distance. Some of the attractions that are well worth the day trip to visit are pictured below:

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Here we have Hopewell Rocks Park where there are some of the highest and most rapidly rising tides in the world. It is located just 2 hours away from Saint John to the east of the city. When the tide is out, you can venture well past the rocks, and when it is fully in, the water level will be well above the heads of the people that you see on the beach in the above picture.

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Then there is the Hartland Bridge, which is the oldest and longest covered bridge in the world at 1282 feet long. It is also located 2 hours away from Saint John, but to the north.

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For those who like to golf, there is the Royal Oaks Golf Club in Moncton, which is an hour and a half to the north-east of the City.

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About 10 minutes away from us, by car, there is a large covered market in downtown Saint John, where there is a large selection of organic produce and artisan goods.

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Carlton Martello Tower, is located about 400 metres away from our property, and offers a beautiful view of the city. It dates from the War of 1812, and was built as a fortification to defend the city against outside hostilities.

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The main street downtown offers a lovely array of shops and restaurants that lead down to a picturesque waterfront.

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The reversing falls, located in the city, are a series of rapids where the Saint John River empties into the Bay of Fundy. The tides of the bay force the water to flow in the opposite direction to the current when the tide is high, which is a unique phenomenon, and well worth a look.

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These three pictures all show the Irving Nature Park, which is the second largest park in the province. It is located approximately 10 km from our property, and is easily accessible by car in about 5 minutes.

We believe that New Brunswick is one of Canada's best kept secrets, and we are confident that once you experience it for yourself, you will agree. The temperatures here during the summer months are always between about 20 and 25 degrees Celsius, which is ideal.

If you want to check out our website, and learn more, you can get there by clicking the following link:

Of course, if you don't collect stamps, we offer regular bed and breakfast packages as well.

We are accepting our first bookings in mid-May 2017.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

March 2017 Ends With Sales of Over $6,600 And Total Revenue of Over $8,100! We Did The Impossible!

After last week's post, the sales continued virtually unabated until March 29, when they slowed down to $20-$50 a day. I spent most of last week completing a file that I was working on for a local accounting firm here in Saint John, which I was able to bill at the end of the week, bringing the total revenue for the month to an unbelievable $8,100 - almost three months of revenue only a year earlier.

What does this mean for Steph and I? Well several things:

  • It means that as of today, we have enough cash coming in from various sources that we can fund our mortgage and pay off all our credit card balances this month if all we sell in April is $800. So far as of today, we have sold close to $700. So it seems fairly certain that we will cover all our bills. Normally we enter a month with a significant amount of credit card debt. The expenses normally get paid with the cards, which then get paid the following month. This is the first month where we can cover our balances plus expenses with what we have earned as of today.
  • This means that we can begin saving the funds required to pay a return to our investors this month. We are helped along by the fact that the warmer weather will mean little to no money spent on heat, which was costing us $600-$900 for each month since we arrived here.
  • We made it through the toughest period of the year: winter, without taking on additional debt, with the sales level that the business had when we arrived. After four months, we have grown the sales to a point where we were able to re-invest in more inventory, which we were not expecting to start doing until we got all our material listed. 
  • If the sales continue to exhibit this growth and stabilize out at these higher levels then soon, i.e. within the next six months, we will be able to start looking at hiring a part time or full time employee, to help free me up to post and source more material. 
  • While all of this has been going on, Steph has been working tirelessly to prepare our home to operate as a Bed and Breakfast, and this weekend, she got the website up and running and has set up the booking system. The only thing she has to figure out is how to link the online booking system with Paypal. So it would seem that we will have added a third stream of income to our sources, which lowers our risk even further.  

But why am I writing all of this to all of you folks who have been clicking on my posts? Am I merely gloating, or showing off? No. At least that is not my intent.

I started writing this blog almost two years ago because I wasn't sure if my journey would end in failure or success. But I wanted to give something back. I figured that if I did succeed, it would be easier for others to follow my path if I charted out my day to day progress, complete with a description of all my successes and setbacks.  I want others to succeed in following their dreams and reaching their potential too, and I believe that the social and economic changes in our society actually make it far more realistically attainable for most of you than you may realize. To be honest, I am still not 100% sure that it will lead to long term success. At this point I am about 90% sure.  However, what I am 100% sure of is that for at least a period of time, Steph and I have accomplished the seemingly impossible: we have fashioned a lifestyle that is self-supporting, in which neither one of us has to "go to work". We are getting very strong indications with each passing month, that we will not ultimately fail, because with each passing month, we are taking actions that serve to solidify the gains we made from earlier opportunities, while identifying new opportunities and pursuing those opportunities. 

Those of you who have read my posts from the very beginning will hopefully see the completely incremental nature of what Steph and I have done. You will recall those first posts when selling $100 a week was a major accomplishment, to eventually aiming for $100 per day. If you go back and read my earlier posts, I talk about how my blog posts, which I put hours of research into writing, were only getting 20 hits a day, and how excited I was going to be when we got 100 visits per day. You will see comments from my naysayers - those people who were quick to question the viability of my business plan and who were quick to point out that I was working for only pennies and hour, and why didn't I just stay in my job and make six figures and continue living in Toronto? Just yesterday I saw the traffic to my Canadian blog soar to over 500 visits. 500! More than 25 times as much traffic as I was getting just a year and half ago. Sure, it is not a million Youtube followers like Pewdiepie gets, or any of these other social media sensations gets. But I have to remember that I am serving an extremely small niche: I am writing detailed posts about the postage stamps of one single world country - Canada. A blog doesn't get much more focused than that. So to think that 200 people or more are visiting two to three times a day, or maybe its 500 people visiting once is pretty damm good I think. We just hit a sustainable level of revenue for the second month in a row, and we have solidified one alternative revenue source (part time accounting) while getting ready to create another source (the B&B). 

If Steph and I had stayed in our jobs, we would be trading the potential to achieve this independence in for the feeling of security. Notice that I said the "feeling of security", rather than actual security. I say that because when you commit the remainder of your adult life to a specific career, while you may be one of the lucky few to have a skill that is not likely to become obsolete, and thus enjoy relative job security, this security comes with a lot of other hidden risks and costs:

  • The desire for upward mobility in a career ties you down to a geographic location for an extended period of time and in the major urban centres, an inordinately high proportion of what you earn just gets pissed away every month on your cost of living. If you try to get around this by working in a smaller city, your employer will usually just pay you less, so either way you wind up living from paycheck to paycheck. The fact that everyone around you is doing the same thing normalizes it and gives you the false sense that you will be fine since everybody else has the same lifestyle, and they seem to be doing OK. Indeed, as long as you stay on the treadmill that this lifestyle represents everything is fine. But what if you discover one day that you have to step off the treadmill? Then what? How can this happen? What if you get sick for an extended period? What if your partner wakes up one day and decides to divorce you and take half of what is yours, so that you lose your motivation because you chose your career to make money to meet their needs primarily?
  • When you work at a job, the whole concept of saving for retirement comes into play because you can't simply decide as an employee to work for life. Most organizations have mandatory retirement, so that even if you are the most valuable member of the team, and the best employee that the organization has ever had, you will ultimately get the boot. This is a huge concern for most people because few know what to do with themselves in retirement, thinking of it as one very long vacation, which is fine if you manage to save enough and earn enough on your investments to fund that retirement. 
  • The sad reality is that most Canadians are not "richer than they think" and will not have saved enough to have the retirement that the banks love to portray in their commercials. It's not that they don't have a lot of money - they do. But the cost of the lifestyle that the retirement commercials portray is astronomical. Remember your last vacation where you went away for a week and dropped $5,000? Well, imagine that for 30 years! How many people do you know that have enough money to sustain that life for 25-30 years? People are living into their 90's now. So if they retire at 65, guess what? That's at least 25 years. What makes this even sadder is that by staying in the comfortable role they have carved out for themselves, most employees have allowed their skill sets to atrophy, and have not developed new skills that will allow them to develop their own sources of income. Indeed, many will simply not have the confidence or the knowledge of where to start. 
So perhaps the greatest thing Steph and I have gained in exchange for losing the six figure income yuppie lifestyle that we had in Toronto is the freedom of knowing that we can very likely survive on our own without a job and we can continue to grow our income potential, eventually winding up with more income than we had before. 

That was why I started this blog. I had a hunch that it was possible to create this freedom just as so much of the success literature out there says. But the problem that I saw with the success literature that I have read is that it does not do a good job of showing people how simple the rules of long-term success are, and how long it can take to achieve your goals. Hence, a lot of people give up way too easily because the prevailing success culture leads you to believe that success is just a matter of:

  • Knowing the right people.
  • Being in the right place at the right time.
  • Riding the next big technological wave and being the "first" to ride it. 
  • Having a one-in-a-million talent that no one else has.
Don't get me wrong: these things are all helpful and you will be able to reach far greater heights than you otherwise would if they are true. But our winner-takes-all celebrity worship culture places far too much importance on the above things. Indeed, it is my belief that they give too many people a built in excuse not to try. Too many people can look at the above list, see that none of the above apply to them and then resign themselves to the life they have. 

In contrast, I believe success is a long, incremental process. For me, it goes back much longer than the 2 years I have been writing this blog. Indeed, if I think hard, I realize that it goes back over 40 years:

  • For 40 years I have been studying, playing with and enjoying stamps. For most of that time, I was just pursuing a hobby with a passion. But what I was also doing was building a vast store of knowledge quietly as the years went on. This would place me in a perfect position to become a recognized expert all these years later, by enabling me to publish articles, that while not perfect, are better than a lot of philatelists would write. What's more, my experience with the subject matter enables me to write far more detailed posts faster, and more frequently than other philatelists. So even if a competitor decided to go head to head with me and start a rival blog, I am already 175 posts and two years ahead of them. The only way they would ever catch up is if I stop writing every week, which I won't dare do. 
  • When I started working in public accounting over 20 years ago, I developed a very strong work ethic, doing whatever I could to help the clients, whether or not it got me a raise. I worked hard whether or not it got me promoted. My ex-wife never understood why I did this, resenting the fact that I was spending less time with her than working hard for "nothing". Of course it was not for nothing at all. Because of my work ethic, several of my clients and former employers stepped forward and helped me finance the business. That would likely never have happened if I had not tried to go above and beyond the call of duty on a regular basis. I also would not have been able to handle the 70+ hour weeks that I am currently working now. 
  • I spent almost a year working a program called LMI Canada. LMI was all about teaching you how to succeed: how to identify your strengths and weaknesses; how to be scrupulously honest with yourself; how to set goals and hold yourself accountable to them and so on. I didn't know it at the time, but much of what I learned there has been critical to my success in establishing this business. 
My point in telling you this is that if you look at your life objectively, you will be able to identify areas where you have been developing skills, and passions that can, with the right amount of effort, be converted into opportunities that you can pursue. What it really takes is the realization that it is a long process, and then to be able to identify the steps in that process and have the courage ad determination to follow them.  

The first step in that process is to identify what it is that you are passionate about. To do that, look at where you spend your available money and time. The second step is to identify your superpower. My belief is that everybody has at least one. It could be your eye for detail; it could be your reflexes; it could be your charm; it could be your focus, and so on. Once you have identified these two things, the question becomes: "How can I use my superpower to provide value to other people, working at something I care passionately about, in a way that is consistent with my values?" To do this, look at what you spend more of your time on and ask yourself "What do I find myself constantly wishing existed that would make doing this thing so much better/easier/cheaper/faster/more enjoyable?" Write down your ideas. Then for each idea look at whether your superpower will allow you to successfully execute the idea. 

At this point you will have one or more ideas that you feel confident that you can pursue. You will not have made any lists of the obstacles you face, or the things you will need to accomplish. That is the next step. Make a list of the resources you will need to successfully achieve your goal. Don't worry if it seems impossible to secure those resources now. Just spend some time identifying what they are and write them down. Then for everything on the list, make a list of the various things you will need to do to to get to where you want to be. You will find yourself making savings goals, possibly changing jobs, and being much more discriminating about how you spend your free time. That's good. That means you are making the mental adjustments that will eventually solidify into habits. Once you have developed habits that are consistent with getting you where you want to be, then you will start to visualize yourself reaching your goals, and that becomes a very powerful source of motivation that will propel you through the uncertainty. This is important, because some of the steps in this process may take years. For example, if you determine that having a high value skill would be important, so that you can do part time work while developing your business, you may have to go to school to acquire your credentials. That may take months or years and tens of thousands in investment. To be able to make that kind of commitment and follow through on it consistently, it will be critical for you to be able to see clearly how what you are doing today contributes to what you want to be doing tomorrow. 

The entire secret, as far as I can see after this is being able to doggedly follow your plan, day after day, week after week, month after month, and finally, year after year. Of course, at the same time you have to be adaptable and know when the time has come to alter course slightly, or change it completely. Knowing that becomes much easier when you know the people you are trying to help, and what they need. For instance, I know that there are many stamp collectors who don't like to buy at auction, who only have a limited amount of money and time to spend with their stamps, who specialize and who like to collect Canada. Knowing that means that I have tailored my approach to allow them to buy only what they want, at a fair price, when they want it. I don't have to get too distracted by what I see my competitors doing, as long as my business model is working and yielding results, which it is. By not getting caught up in reacting to what my competitors are doing or not doing, I can stay focused on meeting the needs of the customer group that I am serving. The key to being able to do this successfully is to differentiate yourself so well from your competitors that you are not vulnerable because of what they do or don't do. Of course you have to have done enough market research or have had enough experience with your market to know that your business model is viable. But once you do know that it is, it is essential to stay focused on developing that model and perfecting it rather than reacting to what your competitors are doing. For one thing, what makes you think that your competitors have put more thought and insight into what they are doing than you have? That might make sense if you have never tested your business model, but not if you have and you have solid proof that it works. 

My point is that my passion lies in an area that most of you would think is so damm obscure I'll bet you would have a hard time visualizing how it could yield enough profit to make a living, and yet it does. The wonderful thing about the diversity in the world and the ease with which the internet allows you to reach people is that there is a market for nearly everything you can imagine. The only real question is whether the market is large enough and accessible enough to make a living serving. I believe that in most cases it is. If I can create a business from something as obscure as selling Canadian postage stamps, I am very confident that most of you can find a way to make a living pursuing your passions. You just have to find a way to use it to serve others.