Some months ago, a gentleman in his 70s walked into my office to get his taxes done. As I worked on them, he started to talk to me about the difficulties of having to work after retirement, he was even more heartbroken at the fact that his wife also had to go out and find part-time jobs because they just couldn't survive on social security and other retirement pensions they were receiving. I noticed that he had income statements from Walmart, Brandsmart and Kroger (grocery store chain), where he had earned little by working odd jobs. My heart broke as he talked about his struggles just to survive and as reminiscensed about the dreams he had had as a young man working hard and looking forward to an enjoyable retirement, only to have found out that there was not going to be such a thing.
As I was finishing up, he asked me, "Ms Lema, do you by any chance need someone to do odd jobs like cleaning and things like that around your office?" I didn't and turning him down was hard.
There are millions of hardworking young people out there who are yet to stop and ask themselves the hard questions about life after retirement. Statistics show that more than 90% of Americans retire poor after working for more than 40 years. When all your energy-filled days are gone and you are well past your prime, how are you going to survive? Is that going to be you, one of those elderly folks we see as we walk into department stores who usher us in and then check that all is paid for as we leave? The story of my client Mr Doe is a story of millions across the U.S., a story set to get worse as the years go by and social security dwindles away.
Back home in Africa, retirement is a lot easier (I believe) primarily because standards of living are lower. Our parents' plans for retirement included saving up some money, building a home and investing in a good education for their children who are expected to help take care of them in their old age. While the family unit is stronger in Africa, and children of my generation still have those values and often take those responsibilities towards their parents seriously, that I am sure is set to change too. I am positive that if in my old age, I turn to my children for support, they will ask why we didn't do more to prepare for retirement.
The good news is, the world is now some what of a global village. Many more in this generation are forced to face the reality of starting businesses instead of relying too much on earned wages at a job — those who work are finding ways to start and invest in small businesses. There are many more opportunities out there. We are a generation of entrepreneurs and go-getters. The internet makes it easier for those who are actually looking and open to embracing new ventures.
However, thriving in these ventures is not so easy. How many people do you know, who have started businesses that failed at some point? Most. The freedom that comes with being your own boss is priceless, yet you are faced with the challenges of nurturing and growing an enterprise, and moving with the times while staying true to who you are. In order to survive in the world of free enterprise, certain skills have to be developed. Personally, I have not worked a job in over 5 years, part of my journey as one who is selfemployed involves working on the following every day, as I reach for set goals.
Here are the ingredients necessary to independently grow a profitable financial empire in any field:
1. An attitude of success. Success like a seed only grows on fertile grounds. You have got to first give yourself permission to succeed and then provide an environment where you can get the results you are looking for. Success will not come to you just because you 'wish', you can't speak it into existence. It comes to those who dream it, think it, believe it, plan it and do it — I must add, live it too. And so provide an internal and external success-friendly environment for yourself.
2. Leadership skills. This is the cornerstone, the pillar that holds it all together. We have written a lot about leadership, just because until you step up and do what you have got to do, you will always only be part of someone else's plan. Period. Leadership means seizing control of your life, being at the forefront of God's plan for you and helping others along the way.
3. Communication skills. Absolutely necessary. In this day and time, your message needs to be loud and clear. People are being bombarded with all kinds of things these days by individuals and establishments with more resources than you, operating from more advantageous platforms. What do you stand for, who needs to hear about it, how can you get your message across to them? Take time to learn about effective ways to get your brand out there.
4. People skills. While leadership establishes you as someone who knows where they are going, people skills keep people bonded to you. No business thrives without people, be it customers, partners, workers, etc. In every aspect of your business, it is absolutely necessary to learn how to be like-able and how to get along with people. Sam Walton, founder of Walmart said it best: "There is only one boss, the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company, from the the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."
5. Money management skills are important on all levels. How does it make sense to make money, when you do not know how to control or manage it? The number one pitfall for most 'successful' people is that they work hard, the money comes in and then goes right back out; "OMG, where is my money going? What did I do with all that money I just made?" If you have ever asked yourself this question, it is time to learn the all too important skills of properly managing your money.
6. Investment skills. Most financial experts will tell you that owning assets and having your money making more money for you is the mark of the truly wealthy. Take time off to learn how to get the wheels of wealth spinning for you by putting your money in the right places.
7. Accountability skills. How do you measure progress? Are you making excuses or making money? Is your business growing or do you find yourself going round and round in circles? Are you saying the "right things", wearing the "right clothes", doing the "right' things", yet your bank account remins empty? You must be able to ask yourself the hard questions in order to make necessary adjustments. Self-discipline is extremely crucial.
8. Time management skills. Many have said there is no such thing as 'time management', that you only manage your activities within the time you have. Whatever the case, whether you are talking time management or activity management, everyone has 24 hours and what we do with those 24 hours is what separates the 'haves' from the 'have-nots'. Plan your activities carefully and be sure to allocate enough time to your business.
9. Goal setting skills. Goals are your navigation system, needed for guidance. Without goals, you are really doing nothing, heading nowhere. Have short-term goals and long term goals, paying special attention to the short term by effectively making these goals.
10. Continuous self improvement and growth by learning how to be a better you in all areas of your life signifies real greatness. The businesses you develop will only become as good as you are. And so the moment you stop improving, your business stops growing – it's that simple. Developing yourself, your skills, your character, and helping others do the same is that intangible that keeps you ahead of the curve.
I must admit that many of these success skills are a work in progress for most entrepreneurs, which means that you don't have to figure everything out in the beginning. Learn as you earn … is the true mark of success in free enterprise. Probably explains why you are not required to earn a success degree from a highly acclaimed university to be a millionaire these days.