Website Launch

Today is the official launch of the Marlee Shul website: http://marleeshul.com. Still a work in progress, but the bare bones of the site are there, and it will be updated frequently over the next few weeks.

Protect Your Name and Reputation

A piece of advice to anyone venturing online – protect your name and reputation. Specifically, I am referring to preventing information from being posted under your name, when in fact it is not you. This means that if someone were to search for your name, you can be sure that what turns up is actually you.

There are two parts to this. First, locate your name as a domain name. In my case, that would be eliekochman.com. Make sure that if the domain name is available, you own it. That will prevent someone else from:

  1. Buying the domain and trying to sell it back to you for a lot more.
  2. Buying the domain and posting information in your name.

Next, ensure that you search for your own name on a regular basis. Go through the hits, and make sure information that is out of date is updated, and that your reputation is not being sullied by someone else posting negative information about you. While you can’t stop negative information from being posted, you can try to make sure it disappears under a mountain of positive information.

A domain name is cheap: about $10 per year. Buying back your reputation  is not.

Parnasafest Toronto – A Networking Success

I attended ParnasaFest here in Toronto tonight, and it was, in my opinion, a fabulous success. There were over 80 people in attendance, from a variety of professions. People were friendly, open and willing to talk. The speaker was great, getting people to think about why they were there (it’s facinating how many people can’t answer that question, but more on that later) and helping them to introduce themselves better.

The evening began with people getting a name tag and dropping a business card in a jar for a later draw. There was a local sponsor, SaveUtel Communications who were giving away some mugs as they talked about how they save companies money on their cell phone bills. A few other people had arrived on the early side as well, and over the next 30 minutes, the room filled with people introducing themselves.

After a while, Ida Shessel of Let Us Facilitate was introduced. She talked about the Million Dollar Moment, and the importance of making a good first introduction. She provided some tips on what she termed the Best-Test 2 sentence introduction:

  1. Say who you are, and what you do, in a creative manner. List one of your skills (Best) that you would like to focus the conversation on.
  2. Give an example (Test) of how you applied that skill.

For example, your Best-Test sentences might be: Hi, I’m Elie, and I help my clients get the technology solutions they need. Last week, I helped set up a client with a new website and inventory software along with fresh templates for their business newsletter.

The conversations after the short presentation were renewed with fresh enthusiasm. I met several people over the course of the evening, some of whom I may be able to assist, others who may be able to send me some business. Overall, I would rank the evening a success.

The issue I had, and shared with the organizers, was that as an event advertised as helping people find jobs, there was a shortage of employers there. However, time will tell whether that was a major issue or not, as people may still find jobs as a result of the evening. For the follow-up, tentatively scheduled for about 8 weeks from now, they aim to get more employers and recruiters to attend. I wish them the best of luck, and look forward to attending once again.

Goal Setting and Success

I completed a career plan at work today. This involved listing out what skills I have today, what kind of work I’ve been doing in the past, and what I would like to do in the near and distant future. This was a valuable exercise, as it gave me an interesting look at what I’m doing at work.

Many people, perhaps most, have an idea of what they want to do in life. Even from a work perspective, people have goals and aspirations. They may even have an idea of how they are going to reach that goal. But without a plan and a guideline, reaching that goal may be more difficult than it needs to be.

The plan consists of a few components. First, list out what your current skills are, and how you acquired them (e.g. took 3 courses and was mentored for 6 months to learn how to lead a team effectively). Next, list out what parts of your job you like, and what types of work you want to do more of (e.g. spend more time working on the company newsletter). Finally, list out what you need to do to achieve your goal (meet with Sam to discuss a temporary assignment to the Corporate Communications group).

Write up your plan and post it somewhere that you will see on a regular basis. Once a month or so, look over the plan and update it to reflect your progress. Check to see that you are still on track to meet your goals. Perhaps your goals themselves are changed – you thought you wanted to work on the newsletter, but really you want to work in graphic design for the newsletter.

If you don’t have a map, it’s a lot harder to figure out how to get where you want to go.

Contract Work and Contracts

I do some work on the side for charities and small businesses. Most of this work would be referred to as “contract work” where I am brought in to do a particular task, for a specified amount of money, to be completed by a target date. With some of my clients, I have a formal contract, with others, not.

I don’t always work under contract, although the exceptions to that rule are becoming few and far between. A contract is binding on both parties, and it is in your best interest to always have one. Here are a few examples of how you, as the contract worker, benefit from that piece of paper:

  • Guaranteed rate: no more arguing about how much you are entitled to
  • Guaranteed work: no more changing requirements and trying to claim you agreed to do so in the initial work agreement
  • Guaranteed responsibility: no more wondering about who owns what at the end of the project

From the client’s perspective, a contract is likewise of immense benefit:

  • Guaranteed rate: no more arguing about how much you owe for the work
  • Guaranteed work: no more hidden fees for work you asked for initially
  • Guaranteed responsibility: no more wondering about who owns what at the end of the project

Additionally, a contract can include additional information regarding maintenance costs, support after the project is complete, and dates for completion. As a client, you may want to include information about what happens if a date is missed. As a contractor, you may want to specify what happens if payments are late.

The reason I occassionally work without a contract is simple. Looking through dozens of templates online, it is difficult to locate the appropriate contract for your location and the specific work you are doing. However, recently, I was sent 6 contract agreements for my current jurisdiction (Ontario, Canada) which cover issues surrounding non-disclosure and release of information. These became the basis of what was to become my set of templates for all contracts.

If you are looking to put together some templates, locate a generic non-disclosure agreement for your jurisdiction. Add a section describing the work to be completed (your requirements section), fees to be paid (including maintenance and expense fees), and dates of all deliverables, and what they are. For each section, ensure you cover in detail what is included, and how changes to that section must be negotiated.

For example, you may be building a website for a client (note that I am not a lawyer, and the following is meant for illustration purposes only):

  1. Requirements: To construct a 6 page website describing the client’s business. The information for each page will be provided in electronic form by the client. The text for each page will not exceed 750 words. There will be 5 e-mail accounts set up for the site. Hosting will be arranged by the contractor through SuperWebHosting.com and the client will absorb all fees associated with hosting the site. Images will be provided by the clientin jpg format, to a maximum of 4 images per page. Graphic design is not included, and all graphic design work will be done by the client.
  2. Fees: The cost to set up the website specified in the requirements is $250.00 and is payable on delivery of the site. Once the text for each of the pages has been provided, one change to each page following publication will be included, provided the change is requested with 60 days of publication. 2 hours of telephone and e-mail consultation is included. Non-payment within 10 business days of publication of the site will result in a $25.00 late fee. Non-payment within 60 days of publication will result in a further $25.00 late fee.
  3. Deliverables: The contractor will provide the client with all files required to publish the site, and all source material created for the purposes of creating the website. This will be completed within 30 days of the client delivering the final wording of all pages to the contractor. The client will provide this wording within 10 business days of the signing of this contract.

Basics of Long-Term Planning

In my last post, I discussed the need for a financial plan, and stressed the importance of having one prepared as early as possible. In this article, I will discuss what some of the components of a financial plan are.

First, you will need to provide the planner with some information about your current state of affairs:

  • Your income
  • Your expenses
  • Your debt
  • Your credit

Then, you will need to provide the planner with information about your goals:

  • Short term (e.g. vacations)
  • Medium term (e.g. own a house)
  • Long term (e.g. retire and live in Aruba)

The planner will ask you some questions:

  • Do you have life insurance? What kind? How much are you paying? How much is it worth?
  • Do you have a will? Is it up to date?
  • Are you saving for retirement? How much are you saving? Do you have RRSP contribution room?

The planner will go and crunch the numbers, and produce a plan for you that tries to do a combination of the following:

  1. Reduce your debt and increase your cash flow by consolidating your debt to a single, lower interest rate, debt.
  2. Arrange for protection by ensuring that you have an appropriate amount of life insurance. This needs to reflect your style of living, and any outstanding debt.
  3. Put together a saving plan to help you reach your goals. This will be in the form of a certain amount of money put away on a regular basis toward each of your goals. For example, bi-weekly, put $100 toward vacation, and $100 toward retirement, and $150 toward a down payment for a house. The numbers, of course, are adjusted to fit with your budget (which you prepared earlier).

What happens next, now that you have a plan, is that the planner will try to sell you some products that will help you meet your goals. They may sell life insurance. They may sell mutual funds. They may be in the lending business. Or, if you work with certain groups, they may be connected to all 3 areas.

A good planner will give you the information, and then give you time to decide if this is what you want. They will not try to pressure you into any of it. They will inform you on how to do some background research into alternative products. It is then your responsibility to follow up and do the research, and then decide on a course of action. If the planner throws some terms your way that you don’t understand, ask them to explain. Or write down the terms, and then go to Wikipedia or just Google the term later. In the age of information sharing, it is not difficult to locate explanations of any financial concept.

A last piece of advice is as follows. Before embarking on a saving plan, talk to your accountant. There may be tax benefits for you to invest in certain ways over others, and make sure that your plan takes this into consideration. This could save you even more money in the long run.

Financial Planning and Advice

I have several friends who have commented that they are awful with money. Others, a generation older than me, have no idea how they will be able to afford to retire. My suspicion is that the friends I have today who say they are awful with money will be the ones commenting that they have no idea how they will be able to afford to retire 20 years from now.

The problem is that for people my age (mid to late twenties), retirement is something not often thought about. At least, not as it pertains to us. As a result, we don’t take action to prepare ourselves for that eventuality. Or we make a comment like I have a company pension plan or I contribute to my RRSP or I have plenty of time to worry about that later.

My advice to everyone is to work out a financial plan. It only takes an hour or two, and there are plenty of people available who can do this for you. Basically, what you are determining is how much will it cost to retire at a particular age and it takes into consideration your lifestyle, goals, ambitions, as well as your current income, expected raises and bonuses, the age at which you want to retire, and inflation.

The numbers that your plan comes up with may surprise you. They can tell you not only how much money you need saved up to retire, but also how much you would need to save monthly if you start 10 years before retirement, 20 years before, or 30 years before. For example, in order to maintain an income of $70K in today’s dollars post-retirement, you will need savings of about $2M on your retirement day, numbers not intended to be accurate. If you started 30 years before retirement, you could establish savings that size on $250 per month or $3000 per year with compounded interest over 30 years. If you half the time to 15 years, it will cost you over $1000 per month to achieve the same result.

What about the stock market and the economic crisis we’re going through?

Actually, if you are more than 10 years from retirement, this works in your favour. Graphs of the performance of the stock market over the last 75 years show that over no ten year period did the market go down, and in general, out-performed inflation by several percent. Investing in stocks at the moment may be a good idea, since you can hold onto the stocks through the end of the crisis (you’re in no rush to sell), and there are bargains to be had in tough times, if you have the money to spare.

My advice, though, is much more simple. Find a financial planner (try your bank, or ask friends for a recommendation) and ask them to help you with a financial plan. The sooner you do this, the easier it will be for you to implement your plan.

My Children Will Do It Differently

This is #11 on Chris Brogan’s list of 100 Blog Topics I Hope YOU Write.

Until I was 17, most of my life was spent in school. At the parochial schools I went to, a typical day started at 7:30 AM (6 days a week) and didn’t end until about 9:30 PM (5 days a week). This did not leave a lot of time for many extra-curricular activities. Not only that, but I was in school from September through the end of July, with a single month of summer vacation. Getting a job for the summer was difficult at best, because I could only work for 4 weeks. Camp was an option some years, not others, depending on the exact dates for the start and end of the school year.

My children will not have to do this. They will go to schools with reasonable hours. They will participate in extra-curricular activities. They will have time off each summer to go to camp or get a job. Fortunately for them, there are more options available today for parochial schools, and so I do not have to choose between lifestyle and beliefs.