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Incentives Demoralizes Professional Activity

“Excessive reliance on incentives demoralizes professional activity.”

That’s a quote from a TED.com video I watched this week in which Barry Schwartz, Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and social action at Swarthmore College and frequent contributor to the New York Times, calls for discusses how our society has gone mad with an abrupt loss of “practical wisdom” in the face of bureacracy, the failure of incentives, and rules often protect us from disaster but ensure mediocrity.

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Incorporating Your Business: Sole Proprietorship, LLC, or Corporation

When I started blogging, my “business” was a sole proprietorship. As I began to earn a little more income, I decided to move from a sole proprietorship to a limited liability corporation, an LLC, to reduce my personal liability. As the years passed and business grew, I ultimately converted to a S Corporation for tax purposes. At each step of the way, I analyzed whether going from one business entity to another made sense from a financial and a legal standpoint. You have to weigh all these factors before you decide whether filing the paperwork is worth it.

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Photos of “Work From Home” Office

I saw that David was sharing photos of his Work From Home office and thought that it would be fun to give you all a peek into what my office looks like. First, before I show you, I have to say that my office isn’t nearly as clean as David’s. Mine looks like a veritable explosion of paper, books, electronics, and just random messiness. My mom, who reads this blog, is probably going to call me up after she sees this just to tell me to clean up because it’s an absolute disaster.

That being said, there is a bit of organization within the chaos, and I’ll explain everything!


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Mona Vie Scam? The Magical Acai Berry Juice Product

Mona Vie Acai Berry Juice ProductMona Vie. One of my friend’s wife was targeted to join Mona Vie. I’ve seen a lot of references to both Mona Vie and one of the components in its mixture, açaí, but never really looked into it. I knew that it smelled fishy, in part because its a classic multi-level marketing program, and that alone gives me reason to pause. However, I wanted to take an objective look at it, since there are a lot of MLMs out there and they can’t all be bad right?

Multi-Level Marketing / Pyramid Schemes

Only two words are needed to describe Mona Vie, the brand name of the juice: pyramid scheme. Mona Vie is a “standard multi-level marketing program,” commonly referred to as a pyramid scheme, that relies on people marketing their products. Every time you make a sale, you earn a commission. The people who recruited you, and the people who recruited that person (your “upline”) into the program will also earn a commission. If you recruit someone into the program (your “downline”), you will earn a commission on their sales. The classic pyramid scheme.

There’s is nothing inherently illegal or disreputable about multi-level marketing programs. They aren’t illegal in the sense that Ponzi Schemes are illegal , it’s just that most implementations of MLM programs only really benefit the people at the top of the pyramid. This is because many of these programs have quotas that members need to sell and, when they can’t, members often find themselves buying the products themselves just to meet quota. Anyway, enough with the generalities, what’s specifically scammy about Mona Vie?

Mona Vie Scam?

What’s this Açaí berry juice product? It’s supposed to jump all over the antioxidant health craze people have been clamoring all over and Açaí berries are a very good source of antioxidants (most dark colored berries are, like blackberries, raspberries, etc.); that part is legitimate. The drink itself is 19 juices blended together.

There are two parts of Mona Vie that are suspect. First, many agree that antioxidants are beneficial for you but Mona Vie makes some big promises such as improving cardiovascular health, improving joint function, etc. It claims that it can cure many ailments because it contains components that have been shown to address some of them. Nothing they say is a flat-out lie but it’s like saying you can do laps in a kiddie pool. Possible? Yes. Probable? Not really.

The second part that’s suspect is the fact that the stuff is $30-$40 a ~26 oz. bottle and proponents say you have to drink 2 oz. in the morning and 1 oz. in the evening. Simple math shows that each month you’ll have to spend $120-$170 on the juice, or $1,500-$2,000 a year. If you want the benefits of these types of juices, you can get it for much much less. Oh, and any distributor has to buy 4 bottles a month. Sure you can sell them, but what if you don’t? You’re always on the hook.

Other red flags? Their CEO and founder, Dallin Larsen, is a 20 year veteran of the MLM industry and the FDA recently shut down a similar juice product operation, Dynamic Essentials distributed Royal Tongan Limu juice, for illegal business practices. Hmmm…

Finally, check out the MonaVie compensation plan, courtesy of The Fraud Files blog. There are all sorts of crazy exceptions and rules. For example, you have two legs on your “downline,” but are only paid on commissions based on the shorter of the two. It gets really complicated, really quickly, and that certainly doesn’t bode well for people who sell the stuff.

The bottom line is that you’re overpaying for a product and, if you’re a distributor, you have to buy 4 bottles a month. Do you think it’s a scam? (this site, Purple Horror, documents a lot of Mona Vie’s shenanigans)

(Photo: wmode)

 Business 
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How I Prepared To Be A Freelancer Problogger

Mac LaptopSix months ago, I became a professional blogger (or problogger, as the lingo goes) but the process of going professional was easily six months in the making (three years if you ask my wife).

I don’t know if it’s come through in my writing, or if you’ve read long enough to tease this out, but I’m a predominately conservative person with regard to risk (not political leanings). However, given the right opportunities, I’m willing to make aggressive moves that some would consider extremely risky. Resigning my full time position to pursue what is essentially a freelance writing gig ranks as extremely risky in my pantheon of risk. While you’re never 100% safe in your job, it’s certainly more stable than working for yourself. Being self-employed has its benefits, stability certainly isn’t one of them. This article will detail how I mitigated those risks, as best I could, and how I prepared to become a professional blogger.

This article is pretty long and might not be all that useful to many people, but several other bloggers and my friends have asked about how I prepared to become a freelancer/problogger so I thought I’d put it all together.

(click here to continue reading…)

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Don’t Let Fear Make Decisions

A little over four months ago, I left a comfortable, well-paying job that I was quite competent in doing, for the unpredictable, self-employed route of professional blogger. Professional blogging is a lot like many professional sports, you have a handful of rockstar performers getting a ton of headlines, a ton of money and you have the rest squeaking by. Check out this Fortune piece, dated 1998, on #100 ranked tennis player Jack Waite. He’s the 100th best tennis player in the world and his take home page, after expenses and taxes, was less than three thousand dollars. That’s rough.

So, was I destined to be a rockstar or would I be content as one of the rest? I, of course, thought I was going to be a rockstar. As my wife says jokingly, and often, I probably would do well to sell off some of my self-confidence (she used another word) for my sake and hers. Despite the long odds, I left my job, and the predictability and the comfort, and haven’t looked back. When I left, I was scared. I was really really really scared.

To give you an idea of how scared, it was a lot like when I climbed up the two and a half story ladder to inspect our roof after it was replaced. In the case of the roof, I really had no choice. There’s no way in the world we were going to spend four grand on a roof and not inspect it with our own eyes (I did and the roof was as expected) but in climbing up that roof I learned one thing: things are never as bad as you think they are. As I climbed the ladder, I quickly realized that the most unstable point was about the middle. Once I got past the middle, the roof helped stabilize the ladder and it stopped bowing and shaking as much. Fear sharpened my senses, made me more cautious, but it didn’t change my decision. That’s what fear should do.

So, here I was leaving a job that I liked in order to do a job that I also liked, but one that lacked as much predictability and comfortability, if that’s a word (it’s not). I was so afraid of pulling the trigger, despite all the signs saying it could be possible, that I just put off thinking about leaving for at least six months. My wife and I talked about it off and on and she was supportive, but it took an epiphany before I could think about it rationally.

I realized I was more afraid of working the next forty years of my life and wondering “what if?” than I was of blogging full-time and failing. Then I used my fear of failure to hone in on a plan that would, at the very least, give me confidence that everything is progressing as it should be.

So how are things four months later? I love it but it’s still scary. There’s a certain bit of comfort in taking direction from someone else. If your boss tells you to do this and it’s the wrong thing (wrong as in bad decision, not ethically wrong), then the responsibility and the blame falls on your boss’ shoulders. If you are the boss, the burden is on you not to mention the burden of figuring out what it is you’re supposed to do. That freedom is very exciting but also very demanding.

I’d also like to thank all the folks who read this site regularly. It is because of you that I was even able to have a decision four months ago and you all keep me honest. Much thanks. Please continue to email me with comments, questions, sites you’ve found interesting, articles you thought I should check out, anything in the world, I’ll read it and try to get back to you.

So moral of the story, fear isn’t a reason not to do something or not to consider something. This blogging thing may not work out in the end but at least I’ll have tried, right?

 Business 
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Contracts Are About Understanding, Not Trust

There was once a time when a handshake and a person’s word were all that was needed to formulate an agreement. If promises were broken, the only recourse was through thoughtful deliberation and six shooter. Okay, I’m just romanticizing the Wild West but I do think the point still holds true. Nowadays you see contracts here, signed documents there, notarize this page and initial there. When push comes to shove, contracts are scrutinized every which way and even English grammar comes under fire. However, when all is said and done, it ultimately comes back to building relationships, reaching an understanding and then putting it on paper.

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Legality of Mixing Personal and Business Charges

I had the following question on my post about 50 Fun Facts About Credit Cards that I wanted to float by you all and see if my answer was on point or off base.

Jim,

Is it illegal to charge business and personal charges on the same credit card, if we pay each item separately from appropriate accounts? I have been doing this for years, and my accountant just informed me that it is not legal, which I think is wrong information, but cannot locate a place to find the answer — can you lend me some correct facts?? thanks — Lauren

I’m not a lawyer and so I can’t be certain of the legality but I don’t see why it would be illegal for you to charge business expenses on your credit card. Consider the situation where you’re an employee and you buy something for your employer. When you do that, you probably submit an expense report and your employer pays you back some time later. If the mixing of business and personal charges on the same credit card were illegal, then this wouldn’t ever happen.

Now, one reason why you wouldn’t want to mix the two is when you have a limited liability corporation (or some other entity) and you are trying to shield your personal assets from your business liability. In that case, you have to clearly delineate between your business and personal finances – mixing the two will blur that line and expose you to personal liability if something happens in your business. So, while charging business and personal to the same card is not illegal, it’s generally considered a bad idea because it takes away the only benefit an LLC provides – personal liability separation.

Anyone else care to weigh in?

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