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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Our Bed and Breakfast Takes Off! Stamp Sales a Bit Quieter in June and A New Direction

After two extremely busy months, things began to slow down to the level they were at a few months ago. Stamp sales just passed $2,800 with 10 days to go this month. So it hasn't been a bad month by any means, but it hasn't been quite as busy. In actual fact, part of the reason why the total sales for June has been lower is that we didn't have any large want lists this month, whereas we did have some very large orders in April and May. In terms of day to day sales, repeat business and new customer growth, the business continues to move in the right direction. An added positive is that after just 3 weeks of being open to guests, our Bed and Breakfast has had 10 bookings. The guests so far have all been delighted with their stays and have left glowing feedback. This has been Steph's baby from the beginning and she has worked very hard to make it a success. I am very proud of what she has managed to accomplish in such a short time. So between her business and the stamp business, I think we should have no problem generating $5,000 this month - still a very respectable month. 

But despite all this, I have been struggling with my own inability to see reality objectively. As someone on the Autistic Spectrum I am prone to getting into very rigid patterns of thinking. For the business, this rigidity has manifested itself in the belief that I have to get all my inventory listed for sale within a 2 year window. This has caused me to work 16 hour days without breaks for months and to feel guilty inside for taking any amount of time off. It has also caused me to neglect aspects of my relationship with Steph as well as aspects of the business that did not have to do with getting stuff listed. My greatest strength is also my greatest weakness. I am blessed on the one hand to have the ability to work like this, with this much unwavering focus. But on the other hand, I have always been very bad at gauging when I am getting tired, when my productivity is falling off, and when I am not seeing the results of my work objectively. One of the tell-tale signs that I have learned to watch for is when I start to feel down or like the business is not a success, despite so many objective signs that it is doing quite well. This is usually an indication that I am pushing it too hard, and my usual response is to push myself even harder.

But this week, I decided that I needed to take a step back for the good of myself and the good of my relationship with Steph. I decided that it was time to come up with a schedule that I could follow that contained scheduled rest breaks and time with Steph. So what I am trying for now, just to see how it works is to divide my day into 7 2 hour time slots and to devote each one to a different task. My first block is to start at 9am and my last one ends at 2am. I have scheduled 1 hour breaks from 1-2pm, 6-7pm, and 9-10 pm so that I ensure that I eat regularly and that Steph and I have plenty of time together to stay connected. It is still a very demanding schedule, but I think it is doable, as I can function quite well on 6 hours of sleep. 

To determine how to fill the blocks I made a list of all the things that need to get done each week for the business:

1. Filling orders.
2. Complying with E-bay changes.
3. Customer want lists and procuring material for customers.
4. Developing my stand-alone website.
5. Developing additional marketing materials.
6. Accounting and bookkeping.
7. Writing and maintaining the blogs, including indexing old posts and updating old posts.
8. Listing (lotting) material in the store.

The last item was problematic, as I have been dealing with listing all the material for each area to the exclusion of all others. This was causing me to feel like I am never going to get through it all, and I don't believe that my customers have been getting a wide enough range of material this way. I had invested a considerable amount of time last month getting it all organized so that I could work on any area in small chunks. So what I decided to do was make a list of all the boxes in my inventory and to schedule some time spent working on each box. There were too many to get through them all in one week. However, I found that if I adopt a 2 week lotting cycle that I can get through a little bit of every box in 2 weeks. So this is what I have come up with. 

I tried it out yesterday and today and I am very excited about it. I feel a much greater sense of control and I can see my accomplishment more clearly. I also find that with the breaks and change of tasks that I am working much more productively. I think with this method I am also going to see sales increase, as there will be a better range of material listed. 

This weekend we have friends coming to stay with us, which will be a nice break. However I am predicting that we will be fully booked over the next week. We can only hope!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Message to My Troll(s) - The Importance of Ignoring the Naysayers

Today's post is a bit of an unscheduled message to the person(s) who have been consistently trolling my blog ever since I published my first post in July 2015. I decided that rather than continue to respond in comments I would write it as a post in order to illustrate what is arguably the most important life lesson of them all: Ignore the naysayers who tell you that you can't do what you set out to do.

The naysayers in my case are those people or that one person in Toronto, who continues to troll this blog and level various attacks against my intellect, my character and my integrity. So far:

  1. This person (s) started off attacking my idea, asking through pointed questions whether it was really wise for me to leave my profession to become a stamp dealer. They tried to insinuate that I was working for peanuts when they knew damn well that I was building a business and investing in an idea. Yet they persisted in attempting to employ false and invalid comparisons asking me what I was making now compared to the salary I made as an employee. I say that these are invalid comparisons because it is a universally accepted fact that you will take a pay cut when you start ANY business, no matter how good your idea is. For one thing, your employers have the benefit of infrastructure to implement ideas quickly - teams of other employees - bank credit lines etc. You don't have that when you start. You only have yourself and consequently you will work harder than ever before. But the difference is you own EVERYTHING you produce. No else gets to take credit for your ideas or your work ever again. It will take longer to gain traction, but once your idea begins to succeed, there is nobody around, nor any office politics to derail it.
  2. As the business grew and it became apparent that they were mistaken about it not being a viable business, they changed their tack and started attacking my financial prowess by asking me how I financed the house and pointing out the fact that I was using other people's money and insinuating that I wasn't really succeeding, or being financially responsible, since I wasn't using 100% my own money. They completely ignored my posts about how I was financing more than 80% of the business with my own money - a far higher amount of "skin in the game" than most entrepreneurs have when they start their businesses. 
  3. When that argument didn't fly, they begun attacking our move to New Brunswick, insinuating that we were isolated, had moved to some kind of hick-town and that our friendships would die because we only saw people once a year, even though they have no clue about how often we see our friends and family and that plenty of people live apart from each other. 
  4. Now, most recently, after opening our Bed and Breakfast, now that it is really apparent that we are onto something really good, they are attacking my parenting by suggesting that I am a bad parent because I live 4,000 km away from my ADULT SON and throwing out the concept of isolation for good measure. In addition, they have started attacking my integrity by asking me if I ever told my employers about the fact that I have Aspergers. I interpret this as "You only succeeded because you lied about who you were to your employers by not telling them about your Aspergers when they had a right to know." Why else would they ask me that? This question completely reveals their prejudice born out of ignorance. The reality is that I did tell my partners in my last firm about it even though it was none of their damn business. Why? Because we were discussing the future of an intern who we thought might be on the spectrum and I stood up for him by telling them that I was on it too. 
They have done all of this anonymously and without making direct statements, but rather by asking questions only - rudely I might add. They lack the basic courage to address me directly with their beliefs and to take responsibility for what they say by identifying themselves. So what we have here is a mixture of:
  • Ignorance
  • Cowardice
  • Nastiness
That, ladies and gentlemen pretty much sums up most of the naysayers in your life. They do not have your best interests at heart most of the time. It is very clear to me that the people or person making these comments are not happy with their life choices. They probably hate their lives and wish they could follow their goals and dreams. But they lack the courage to do so. So instead, they spend their lives doing nothing to change their situation and instead they tear other people down. They effectively take their character deficits (ignorance and cowardice) and transmogrify them into a virtue (responsibility) and use that as a club to strike out at those who dare to leave the pointless Rat Race behind them. 

If my posts don't convince you of how pointless the Rat Race is, then frankly nothing will. The thing to understand about the naysayers in your life is that they vastly outnumber the people who are positive - by 50:1, or even more. It is very easy to get distracted by the cacophony of their negativity, since it is so prevalent around you. But it is essential if you are going to succeed as an entrepreneur to surround yourself with positive people who believe in you and offer CONSTRUCTIVE comments and ignore those who don't. This doesn't mean that the positive people will always think that every idea you have is good - they may not agree with everything you do. But the difference is that they have a general belief in your ability to succeed as YOU DEFINE SUCCESS. They don't define it for you, and they don't attempt to hold you to someone else's definition of what success is. If you look at all the questions these trolls have posted on here, you will see that not one of them is the least bit constructive. They are not constructive because these people don't know the first thing about me, so they can't possibly know, for instance whether being far away from family is really a bad thing. For all they know, I could have come from an abusive family (I didn't) and this could be a good thing. As it is, it is a neutral thing, since my family is very geographically spread out. But my point is, they couldn't possibly know this, and therefore their question cannot possibly be constructive.

This brings me to my last point, which is that only those people who know you well can ever offer constructive comments of criticism of what you are doing. Everyone else who thinks they are being constructive are in reality just flapping their gums 99.9% of the time because they like to give unsolicited advice. My suggestion is to either politely accept what they say and make it clear through your actions that you are ignoring them, or politely tell them off. If you are not in a position to do that because the person in question is your boss or someone with power over you than you have to just remember not to get swept up in what they are saying.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sales Surpass $6,400 in May, Our First B&B Booking and Saying Farewell to Ian Bentley

The last two days of June saw an flurry of last minute sales, and orders that I had in the works during the month finally come to fruition, so that we had our best month yet, in terms of stamp sales at $6,475. In addition, we earned accounting income of $160, bringing total revenue for May 2017 to $6,635 - well above a daily average of $200. Life is good.

We also finally obtained our permit from the city for the Bed and Breakfast - The Cosy Cottage Inn:

It turned out that we had to have an inspection when the permit guy came to drop off the permit, the result of which was that we had to install emergency backup lighting and hard wired smoke detectors. Fortunately we were able to call the same electrician who did our electrical upgrade when we bought the house, and he came by and did the work the next day. Steph installed a deadbolt on my office door and one on the front door and we were all good to go. No sooner was this all done when we got our first booking. A fellow from Toronto who is doing a 3 year bicycle tour had biked from Toronto to Saint John and was looking for a place to stay that was close to the Digby Ferry, which he was to take to Digby, Nova Scotia on Sunday morning. We are just up the street from the ferry terminal and we are the least expensive in town, so he called us. He arrived on Friday and is just getting ready to leave as I write this. It was a fantastically successful first stay. Here is a picture of how our dining room finally looks now that it is finished:

Here is what we served him this morning:

Fresh, from scratch pancakes, fresh berries and lots, and lots of crispy bacon, along with fresh orange juice, coffee and water. Yesterday morning was Eggs Benedict, so we went a little simpler today. Our guest was very happy though and leaves us with plenty of energy to continue his cycling journey. 

On a sadder note, this past week I had heard about the death of Mr. Ian Bentley, who was my English teacher in high school from the age of 14 to 16. Ian and I had a complicated relationship when I was his student, and we had no contact for many, many years until I re-established contact with him in 2007. 

Ian was without question the best English teacher I ever had, and I am eternally indebted to him for helping me gain confidence as a writer. I am sure I am not an amazing writer - not by any stretch of the imagination. But, I believe I can write readable prose and for that I owe him everything. My entire career and livelihood in the end has rested on my ability to communicate in writing. When I first met him as a pimply-faced 14 year old in 1985, I had no confidence whatsoever in my writing abilities. Previous English teachers had either eviscerated me in their classes, or outright ignored me. But not Ian. He had an unorthodox style, which was nonetheless highly effective: he would identify your strengths and call those out, while giving you a "D" and telling you you could do better. Then, as the term wore on, if you tried, he would gradually raise your marks and your confidence at the same time. He was the rebel teacher, regularly wearing his Oxford tie as a belt instead of as a tie. He could be cruel and blunt as well, saying of one of my friends in his report card: "A young man who feels content to sit in class and fritter his intellectual assets away being nothing more than a classroom wit." Ouch. He didn't have much time for you if you didn't try. He was actually a little bit like the famous chef Gordon Ramsay in his temperament. I imagine that is fairly common with a lot of people who are brilliant in their chosen field when they encounter a lack of enthusiasm in someone, and that person isn't responsive to their attempts to raise their level of engagement. 

I was fortunate to be able to have dinner with him and thank him personally for all that he did for me on a trip that I took to London in 2010. I no longer have the picture that I took of us together on that night. But I do have this picture:

Ian is second from the right in the picture, as you could probably have guessed. 

He wasn't perfect by any means - no one is. He and I had harsh words for one another on more than one occasion. I can still respect the man deeply while being perfectly aware of who he is. He was much fonder of his female students than he was of his male students. However, I genuinely believe that he cared about all his students, and he remembered them. If someone were to tell me that he won teaching awards for being one of the best teachers in the UK, I would not be the least bit surprised. Unfortunately he and I fell out of contact again in 2012, but I remained vaguely aware of him from his activity on Facebook. 

Rest in peace Ian. You will be remembered and missed. I hope you find the peace in death that eluded you in life.