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Writer-s-Bloc

Sick of working for others? Launch a microbusiness

Working for yourself

Hankering to go off on your own and start your own business? If you think you’ve got what it takes, consider launching a microbusiness.

Dal LaMagna, a Poulsbo, Wash.-based entrepreneur, says anyone can do it – if they go about it the right way.

He speaks from experience. LaMagna launched personal beauty-tool company Tweezerman in 1980 with $500, built it into a multimillion-dollar international company and sold it in 2004. He is also the author of Raising Eyebrows: A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right.

A microbusiness is a business with one to five employees. A sole proprietorship is technically a microbusiness. The best part is it can be started with a few hundred dollars if overhead and operating costs are kept low.

Thinking of giving it a go? LaMagna offers the following helpful tips:

Pursue something you love and that also offers lucrative market potential. If a strong market doesn’t exist for your product or service, it may not be worth the effort.

Be frugal. Don’t spend money you don’t have and don’t buy anything you don’t need. During your first year in business, all revenues should be turned back into the business. Only spend money on essential business tools, such as essential technology. Anything that enhances and expands your business is a worthwhile expenditure. The primary goal is building cash flow and reserves at the same time. Grow your business one day at a time.

Balance efforts three ways. Think of your business as a triangle consisting of three important functions: Sales, production, and control of your business. Spend equal amounts of your time, energy, and resources on each of these three functions. From January through April, it might be prudent to aggressively beat the bushes and build a solid client/customer base. May through August, concentrate on fine-tuning your services and mining your market niche. And September through December, concentrate on setting up accounting and computer systems in order to monitor workflow. Whatever systems you create, the idea is to set achievable goals that build the business.

Find free or inexpensive equipment. Many items needed to start and run a small business are available for free or at minimal cost. Friends or former colleagues may have a computer or printer they want to get rid of or sell at a fraction of what they paid.

If purchasing equipment or technology, consider refurbished products. Refurbished (also called reconditioned and remanufactured) computers are as good as new ones right off the assembly line. When it comes to buying technology products, the prevailing myths are that new means best, state-of-the-art, and often top-of-the-line products, and refurbished means tarnished, second-best and mediocre. Unfortunately, consumers and small business owners believe these myths, which is a testament to the incredible job legions of copywriters have done in brainwashing buyers.

Every year, companies introduce new desktop and laptop lines. Yet, the changes are minor and mostly cosmetic. The notion of upgrading technology yearly to boast owing the newest technical gadgets on the market is ridiculous, not to mention an outrageous waste of money.

Typically, refurbished computers are less than a year old, which means they’re practically brand-new. The difference in buying refurbished over new translates to huge savings – sometimes price tags are cut in half.

Technology equipment is refurbished for a number of reasons. Possibly, the computer was returned because it didn’t work properly. Often, the problem was nothing more than a cosmetic defect, such as a small ding on the monitor or the computer’s housing. Or it could be that a customer received the wrong model but had already opened the box. The computers are refitted with different parts, if necessary, and tested and approved for resale by the manufacturer.

Get it in writing. Clients often assume that they don’t have to sign an agreement or contract with a very small business. This simple step not only makes you look professional but it also avoids hassles if there is a disagreement or misunderstanding about the precise nature of the work performed, along with when payment is expected.

Stay focused. Concentrate on doing what you do best. If you specialize in a specific industry, stick with making a name for yourself within that industry. Once a reputation is built, consider branching out in new directions.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.



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Everyday is International Overdose Awareness Day

Preventing overdose deaths

As mentioned in the title, for those who have lost loved ones to what we are now rightly calling the “toxic drug poisoning crisis,” the day of remembering is every day.

The daily grief that families carry is unimaginable. The most intense part of that grief is that this crisis can be resolved, but it seems like no one is listening.

Here is my take as a retired mental health and substance use clinician and now advocate for drug policy change.

The answer to the toxic drug poisoning crisis is not treatment as we understand it. It is harm reduction which must include the repeal of prohibition on the remaining substances that are considered illegal and to regulate the safe supply and distribution of said drugs.

Treatment as it is currently envisioned and structured is a separate issue and is designed for people who are needing, ready and able to make changes to their substance use. And harm reduction needs to be included throughout the treatment process as part of relapse prevention. Thus, harm reduction is actually a part of the treatment process.

Again it is the lack of harm reduction and its principals that contributes to toxic drug deaths. This is true among too many current treatment programs as they continue to practice treatment models that are very limited in scope. Thankfully many programs are beginning to recognize this lack of current best practices. However, treatment as we think we know it is not appropriate for everyone.

We do not require treatment for the legal distribution and use of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and cannabis because the majority of people who use those substances use them recreationally. Other, just as dangerous, substances are prescribed and monitored. People don't typically die from overdose of substances that aren't prohibited because the supply is regulated and safe and because harm reduction principals are practiced from the distributors through the legal and medical systems and the individual. So the majority of Canadians do not suffer from substance use disorder, particularly from substances that are currently legal.

If people do progress to develop substance use disorders, then treatment should be accessible, evidence-based and monitored.

There is a mountain of evidence building that indicates the issues surrounding substance use disorder are based in the prohibition of these substances. As with the prohibition of alcohol in the early 20th century, crime has increased, substance use has increased, substance use disorder has increased and what we view as overdose deaths have increased.

The increase of deaths with the prohibition of alcohol, and the increase of deaths associated with overdose are very much alike and primarily due to what happens when substances are prohibited in a society.

To make a long story short, the “product” becomes more powerful when unregulated so as to maintain an increasing demand for that product.

So people are not really dying of overdoses, they are dying because the product is increasingly toxic. There are no labels indicating the level of medicinal or intoxicating ingredients such as there is now with alcohol. And most importantly, we are finding that many of the people who are “overdosing” are not necessarily “addicted”.

The repeal of prohibition will end the war on drugs, thus end the war on people who use drugs. Treatment should not be a mandated condition to the repeal of prohibition. It should be an informed, encouraged and easily accessible option for those who need it.

In the meantime, while we talk and debate and talk and debate, people are dying. Some of those people were struggling with substance dependence disorders, some were just kids experimenting and others were grieving the loss of their jobs or coping with overwhelming stress for various reasons. And families are endlessly grieving the loss of their loved ones, overwhelmed with the knowledge that their deaths were preventable.
So, first and foremost, harm reduction is the strategy needed to end the massive fatality rate of toxic drug poisoning. Ending prohibition is the overall answer. Talk about further treatment models can co-exist with harm reduction and the end of prohibition because harm reduction is a crucial part of treatment.

Ben Goerner is a resident of Lake Country, a father, husband, musician and retired mental health and substance use clinician with 31 years of service in the field. He is a volunteer advocate and a writer, focussing on drug policy and substance use treatment policy change.



Five tips for recharging your motivational battery

Find your work mojo

It isn’t a secret that many of us don’t love our jobs.

At the moment, I am happily in that “I love my job!” place. But I remember when, a couple of years ago, I was in the “I loathe my job" place.

You may be somewhere in the middle. In many respects, that is the worse place to be. It isn’t so awful that you are looking desperately for the escape hatch, but you aren’t that excited about it either. If you are in that middle zone, there are things you can do to shift your motivation and re-ignite your passion.

Start with gratitude. Feeling better about where you are starts by being thankful for where you are. One of my summer jobs was at the courthouse entering traffic tickets into the computer. All day, every day for four months. This was during the 1980s when computers were painfully slow and cumbersome. Other than being occasionally amused by the unfortunate names parents chose for their children, it was as exciting as watching paint dry. I am grateful that I am doing something else this summer. Sometimes re-awakening your motivation is as simple as reflecting on the alternatives.

Stop whining and take responsibility. Are you holding yourself back? Sometimes we allow ourselves to settle into a routine and then get irritated, blaming our malaise on the job, the boss, the company. It is your life, your job; own up to the part you play in maintaining your motivational mediocrity. If you want something to be different, take accountability for making that happen.

Empower yourself. While it can sometimes be hard to see how things might be different (blame the malaise), you probably have a lot more freedom and flexibility in your job than you give yourself credit for. Get to the heart of what is sapping your energy and give yourself permission to try and change it. My friend Tre was in a job with too much scope and he was frazzled trying to stay on top of everything and everybody. His boss noticed, but it wasn’t at the top of her priority list to deal with. Tre took the initiative to have a conversation with her; together, they came up with an elegant solution: one of his direct reports, who was ready for a promotion (she was experiencing her own malaise), took on leading part of the team. Tre is re-energized, focusing on things he cares about. Ask yourself what you can do or what conversations you can have that will help put you back in your motivational sweet spot.

Step out of your comfort zone. Sometimes recharging your mojo means you need to step out and do something different in your job. Some of us are wired to run headlong into challenge and change; some of us are not. Giving yourself permission to change something about your job is the first step; actually making that change happen requires follow-through. Change doesn’t have to be on a grand scale to be meaningful. For Shena, her change was nothing more than invoking a ‘closed-door policy.’ She prides herself on being friendly and helpful, but that has led to a continuous stream of people stopping by her desk and interrupting her when she needs to concentrate. Now, for two hours each day, she pops on her headphones – her ‘do not disturb’ signal that tells people to drop by later – and immerses herself in her passion, spreadsheets.

Look beyond your job for satisfaction. Your job is just one part of your life. It has been my experience that people who strive for overall life satisfaction spend less time whining about their jobs. Jack is a guy who is always focused on the bigger picture. Like all of us, he’s had his motivational ups and downs at work. But he learned early on that he’s happier when he’s got more than just work going on in his life. An avid cycler, he rides with a group twice a week. He is also passionate about history and volunteers at a local museum. When work is dragging him down, he ups the time he spends engaged in other things.

We all want to have a reason to spring out of bed in the morning. If going off to work does that for you, lucky you. But if it doesn’t, you can do something about it.

Rebecca Schalm is the founder and CEO of Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., a consultancy that provides advice and talent management solutions.



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How to reduce emissions without penalizing rural regions

Equitable climate action

Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is one of the big concerns of our age.

The numerous diverging interests pitted against each other on this issue make it a real puzzler for policy-makers, though. After many years of public policies aimed at reducing GHGs, layered one on top of the other, it’s time to ask ourselves if our rural regions are not being penalized disproportionately by all of these measures.

Carbon pricing is certainly one of the most effective policy tools for fighting climate change. Such a measure works by attaching a price to certain behaviours, such as fuel consumption, to discourage them. However, this should be done in such a way as to reorganize the tax burdens of individuals and companies rather than increasing those burdens. Indeed, this is a principle that is recognized by many economists.

It must be pointed out that Quebec’s carbon pricing policy increases the price of fuel equally across the entire province. It’s easy to see how this will produce the desired effect in a city like Montreal or Toronto, where people can more easily replace driving with taking the bus and/or subway to get to work or visit friends. The problem is that the alternatives are not nearly as convenient in rural regions, and consumers are therefore held captive. It would be a lot fairer to modulate the price of carbon in such a way that rural residents would not be unduly penalized by what quite frankly becomes just a tax grab.

To take another example, the rigid regulatory framework surrounding the repurposing of inactive wells in Western Canada also deprives the population of interesting economic opportunities, all while posing a risk for the environment and, potentially, human health. The current system allows for reclamation and remediation but not for the repurposing of the land. We, therefore, need to take a fresh look at this very real issue and stop getting bogged down in regulatory processes that move at the speed of quicksand.

For example, it took one project over five years to wade through the layers of regulations in repurposing legacy oil and gas infrastructure for community solar power. When you consider that there are 97,000 inactive wells and 71,000 abandoned wells across Alberta, it’s easy to see that we’re missing out on a promising opportunity to revitalize communities and generate economic activity in a region that has suffered in recent years.

In Quebec, it’s dogma that’s blocking progress. The moratorium on developing the province’s natural gas resources remains in effect, to the detriment of rural residents. It’s the people who live in rural communities, where the average wage is 16 per cent lower than it is in urban centres, who pay the price for this harmful public policy. By lifting its natural gas restrictions for 25 years, Quebec could create 9,200 jobs and gain a total of $93 billion in GDP. We’re talking about a major economic development policy.

We also need to realize that developing these resources and exporting them would help accelerate the closing of coal power plants in other countries, thus reducing global greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, it’s a safe bet that the Quebec government will not seize this opportunity, judging by its decision in the GNL Québec file. And yet, a majority of Quebecers want the province to develop its oil resources, which is an even more sensitive matter.

This is not an exhaustive list of environmental measures that penalize rural regions but merely a snapshot. We all want to take action to slow climate change and mitigate its harmful effects. But we should work together on this, which means that the policies put in place should be fair for all Canadians, regardless of where they happen to live.

Miguel Ouellette is director of operations and an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute, Olivier Rancourt is an economist there, and Krystle Wittevrongel is a public policy analyst with the institute. They are the authors of Environmental Policies Should Be Adapted for Rural Canadians.



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About the Author

Welcome to Writer’s Bloc, an opinion column for guest writers to share their experiences and viewpoints with our readers.

Do you have something to say that is timely? of local interest? controversial? inspiring? foodie? entertaining? educational?

Drop a line. [email protected]

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of Castanet. They are not news stories reported by our staff.



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