I am Thankful

I am thankful for a lot things.  This Thanksgiving, take saying “thanks” one step further.  Do more than saying thanks at grace before you eat.  Write down what you are thankful for.

Here is my list of some of the many blessings I have in my life.Raj Khera and Jeff Kaplan

I am thankful for my family. They are my rock. No matter what happens at work, with a client, on a trip, or at home, I have an endless supply of hugs and smiles waiting for me.

I am thankful for my many, many friends. Today, my best friend since the 6th grade surprised me with a lunchtime visit. He moved to the Philadelphia area years aMailerMailer Wins Stevie American Business Awardgo so we rarely get the opportunity to connect like we used to. It was a blessing to see him today to share and catch up.

I am thankful for my amazing staff at the office.  They continuously make magic happen and provide inspiration to me to become a better leader.  It’s their hard work that earned our company the American Business Award (The Stevie) this year.

I am thankful for my clients without whom I would not have a business.  They drive us to create the best customer experience we can make and provide us with input to improve our products.Times Square by night

I am thankful for masala dosa and pani puri.  If you like Indian food, you know what I’m talking about.  I grew up in an Indian household where my mother was always making something special.  Every time I get a hint of these aromas, it takes me back to childhood Sunday mornings.

I am thankful for Times Square by night.  My favorite U.S. city is New York City.  Its unique energy and vibrancy make you feel alive and ready to tackle the world.  I also love the M&Ms store inside Times Square where they have dozens of colors to choose from.

DC snow stormI am thankful that the D.C. area only gets hit with major snow storms a couple of times every decade.  I am also thankful for my snow blower without which it would have taken me 6 hours to shovel the heap that fell two years ago.

I am thankful for my education.  I’m a Terp.  True, this football season wasn’t very good and there were a lot of disappointing games.  But being a part of the university community isn’t only about sports.  I am thankful to be part of an institution that produces some of the brightest and most productive professionals around.

I am thankful for our armed forces.  Last year, I was fortunate to participate in the Marine Corp. Business Executive Forum which allows business owners a hands-on opportunity to learn more about the Marines.  The experience was very rewarding.Marine Corp Business Executive Forum

I am thankful for red wine.  Yum!  ‘Nuff said.

Wine Tasting


The power of gratitude is an amazing force.  I didn’t realize how powerful it was until I started keeping a gratitude journal to document the things I am thankful for.  The more things in your life that you are thankful for, the more of those things you get.  I now keep a small spiral notebook next to my bed.  Before I go to sleep, I reflect on the day and write down what I am thankful for.

What are you thankful for?

The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself Every Day

Ask yourself this question every morning and you will see dramatic progress in achieving your goals:

What is the most productive use of my time today?

You can always get more money, but you can never get back time.  Look at your calendar.  What meetings are scheduled for today and for the rest of the week?  What items are on your “to do” list?  Are all of these meetings and tasks things that you must do or can someone else take care of them for you?  And will these take you closer to achieving your desired goals?  (Maybe writing down your goals should be one of your “to do” list items.)

Take a moment and rethink what is on your calendar right now.  What meetings and tasks should be on your list that aren’t?  The most productive people write these items down and follow through.

Make a point of asking yourself this very important question at the start of every day.  Your future depends on it.

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

Moving a mountain by yourself is virtually an impossible task.  So how do you get others to participate in your vision?  In this video, Simon Sinek talks about what great leaders do to motivate and inspire people around them into taking action.  His mantra: people follow you because of why you do something, not because of what you do.  This video is loaded with examples that drive this point home.

[ted id=848]

The Immense Power of the Handwritten Note

When I was in my 20s and trying to figure out how to start a business, I realized that I needed help.

True to the old saying “when the student is ready, the master will appear,” I read about a local mentor/protege program where first time entrepreneurs are paired with experienced business people for one-on-one mentoring.  I applied for the program.

A few weeks later, I was one of several people scheduled to be interviewed by Barry Friedman, a potential mentor.  At the time, Barry was the CEO of Friedman & Fuller, a successful local accounting firm.Thank You Note

He wasn’t much for small talk.  When I walked into his office, we shook hands and sat at his conference table.  He couldn’t pronounce my name so he just nodded his head.  From the moment we sat down, he started grilling me with lots of tough questions while taking notes on his fresh new pad of paper.

Fairly quickly, as I stumbled to respond to the barrage of very legitimate business questions he was shooting at me, I started to wonder why I was in business in the first place.  It became obvious to me that I knew very little.

Finally, the interrogation ended.  Then, Barry asked if I had any questions for him.  I figured I had nothing to lose – after all, “why would such an experienced business person waste his valuable time on me?” I thought.

I told him it that was clear to me that I would learn a lot from him.  Then I asked, “So, what would you get out of doing this?”

He immediately put down his pen and turned soft.  “I was once in that chair,” he said pointing to me.  “I know you need someone to hold your hand and show you the ropes.  I think I can do that for you.”

Boy did that comment feel good.

Barry acknowledged my fears, understood my pain and appeared to be willing to help.  Before I left the interview, I thanked him for his time.  He told me that he had some more people to interview and that he or the program’s director would be in touch.

On the drive home, all I could think about was the benefit of working with Barry.  I wanted him to pick me out of the pool of candidates he was interviewing.  More than wanting it, I envisioned it.  I started to visualize both of us working together.  I could feel it happening and it felt great.

Handwritten Thank You Note

I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. That night, I drafted a handwritten note to him appreciating his time and expressing that I was looking forward to working with him.  My attitude this time was completely different – very positive.  No more thinking “why would he pick me?”  Now all I could think was “of course he is going to pick me.” The tone of my letter reflected the feeling that I had: I was going to be his protege and that was that.

I got picked.

Some time later, Barry revealed to me that I was the only one who sent him a “thank you” note.  Nobody else he interviewed even bothered to follow up.

He was just as excited to work with me as I was with him.  Our business relationship quickly blossomed into one of mutual respect.  A year after joining the program, he and I capitalized on each others’ strengths to form a new venture we called GovCon, the first web portal to help federal government contractors find bidding opportunities online.

We grew GovCon to be the largest web site of its kind and sold it a few years later to a publicly traded company for millions of dollars.

It all started by saying “thank you” the old fashioned way – in writing.

Express Gratitude Every Chance You Get

Twenty years later, I continue to use the handwritten “thank you” note – now on personalized stationery – every chance I get.

  • Hey Mike, thanks for inviting me to your business social. It was great seeing you again!
  • Alison, I saw the article about you in today’s Post. Way to go!
  • Nicole, congratulations on your promotion!

One time I sent individual handwritten notes to a group of executives at a company that I was trying to do a business deal with.  Unbeknownst to me, the postal service lost one of the notes to a key executive, Bill.  I happen to see the group again at a conference the following week and another executive mentioned to me jokingly that Bill was wondering where his note was.

Horrified that Bill might have felt alienated, I made it a point to let him know that I sent him a note, too.  He smiled and said not to worry about it.  I didn’t let it go.  My company makes an email marketing product so I sent him another handwritten thank you note the next day, this time saying “Bill, our deliverability is a lot more reliable than the post office” and sent it by Fedex.

I got an email from him the next day inviting my company to make a formal presentation to them.

Unfair Advantage

People remember handwritten notes because nobody else sends them.  Use them and you will be more memorable than, well, everybody else.

Open Your Mind – A Story of Working Less and Making More

One of my company’s biggest successes online is a small business web site called MoreBusiness.com.  It started out as a collection of articles I had written for various newsletters to help small business owners and consultants find customers.  At the time, my brother and I were starting our web consulting company and figured that we would use this content to showcase our web development capabilities (i.e., building web pages, something you needed a consultant to do back in the mid-1990s).

We built a web site that was basically a brochure showcasing our services.  This “Business Resource Center” would be a great example of the kind of site we could build.  The plan was simple.  People would see the site and call us to build web sites for them.  We had no idea of what was to come.  Good thing we were awake – and had an open mind.

Luck From Left Field

The site wasn’t up for more than a month when we got a call from Ogilvy & Mather, one of the largest ad agencies in the world.  Their New York office was exploring advertising on business web sites for IBM’s Lotus division and they wanted to know how much an ad would cost on MoreBusiness.

“Uh… $250,” I said rapidly without really thinking about it.  They said “Okay, send us an insertion order.”  I robotically replied, “Sure thing, what’s your contact info?”

After getting off the phone, I had to do two things:

  1. Find out what an insertion order was – I didn’t want to look stupid on the phone.
  2. Kick myself because they said yes way too easily, which meant I could have gotten a higher price.

Just in case you were wondering, an insertion order is simply an advertising contract that lays out the terms of the ad purchase.  Most agencies these days have their own insertion orders with extensive legal language.

This was pretty cool.  There was no extra work for us to do. Just post their ad on a site that we had already built.

A few weeks later, the agency for Fidelity Investments called.  Same question.  This time, I figured I would double my price. “$500,” I said.  “Sure, send an insertion order.”  Darn!  They said yes way too easily, too.

Then another big agency called and so on.  I finally knew I got the pricing right when I started getting some resistance.  If they said yes right away, as if it were a no brainer, that meant our pricing was too low.  If they stopped to think and wanted to negotiate, then we were probably pretty close to what they were really willing to pay.  When this happened consistently across several advertisers, we had identified what market would bear.

Open Your Mind

So, there we were, trying to get consulting work.  Yet several of the calls we got were about advertising on this “example site” we had slapped together.  The writing was on the wall.  Why were we trying to sell consulting services?  That’s a lot of work.  Plus, you can make only as much as you can bill out.  In consulting, our “product” was our time.  To really get big, we would have to sell other people’s time.  That means more staff, more office space, more personnel issues to deal with. There was nothing wrong with building a company this way.  Many of my friends did it and some of the most successful companies provide consulting services.  For me, I felt more comfortable building a publication, like MoreBusiness.com, or a product.  I knew that doing this would make me happier in the long run – it was more fun.

I realized that we should be focusing on making MoreBusiness.com bigger and attracting a roster of advertisers, maybe even selling other company’s products online at a hefty margin.  This would mean fewer employees, smaller office space requirements, and lower overhead.  And best of all, we would be getting paid without having to bill out hours.

Embarking on this grand vision would mean taking time away from consulting work.  Since that was what put bread on the table, it wasn’t something we could give up too easily.  Plus, we didn’t know much about the publishing industry.  We just knew how to build web sites, which was a very novel expertise at the time.

Breaking away from what you are trained to do, what you spent so much of your time learning and preparing for, what your mind has framed as your vocation, can be very hard to do.  It certainly was not an easy decision for us to slow down and eventually stop our technical consulting work in favor of something much more risky.

Break the Mold and Let Luck Happen

After analyzing the situation, it became obvious that the bigger opportunity for us was not in software consulting, something we knew how to do fairly well.  Pursing this new territory would require learning new skills and focusing on a new business model.  It was scary at first.  We couldn’t have created our luck if we walked the safe route.  Soon, we built MoreBusiness.com, a vibrant site that now attracts hundreds of thousands of small business owners every month.

Think about the opportunities you have in front of you.  The key is to assess your options carefully while avoiding the temptation to chase every shiny new object.  A lack of focus can drive you nowhere and the next thing you know, you are out a lot of money (which you can earn back) and time (which is lost forever).  The right clarity, however, can uncover a gem.

Mark Twain once said that he never let his schooling interfere with his education.  Don’t get fixated trying to earn money only doing something you were trained to do.  Open up your eyes.  They will open your mind.

Make a Million Dollars

If you really want it and you see yourself having it, at some point in your life you will have a million dollar dialog.  It could be for a job offer or work contract, the sale of your company, the payoff from an investment you made or something else that is big. It won’t be random luck.  You cannot have any doubts about it.  You can create your own luck to make a million dollar dialog happen.

It may seem far fetched.  It may sound hard to believe – right now.  Relax.  You can do it. Really.Money Bag

The dialog will not happen by chance.  It is the culmination of a deliberate series of events, attitudes and actions that you put into motion.  It is the by-product of keeping your eyes open to opportunities that you might have otherwise missed.  It is the payoff from saving your pennies wherever you can.  Because when you add up all of those events, attitudes, pennies and opportunities, you have something big.  You will negotiate for millions.

Overnight Sensations Don’t Happen Overnight

Even overnight sensations talk about how much effort they put in before things come to fruition.  American Idol winner Taylor Hicks describes how he spent 10 years trying to break into the music business and just as he was ready to give up he tried out for the show and ended up winning.  Everyone thought he became a star over night.  He knew differently.

Getting to the point where you are ready to have the million dollar dialog requires preparation.  It requires a special way of thinking, a special way of behaving and a special way of being.

Think about what you would say if you had that million dollar dialog right now.  Would you make certain demands?  Would you just accept the offer on the table?  Or would you negotiate the deal more fluidly by identifying the reasons why you have certain expectations (not demands)?  The difference in your approach, and in your view of the situation, stems from how prepared you are for the dialog.

Prepare Your Mind to Create the Luck You Want

Sound hard?  Nope.  That’s the best part.  The steps to create luck that makes a million dollars start small.  There is nothing radical.  What makes these steps unique is that you do certain things on purpose and do them regularly till they become part of you.  Some may be out of your comfort zone initially.  Not to worry.  These little steps become easier with repetition and will expand your comfort zone quickly.

It’s like riding a bike.  When you first started learning, you fell off, probably a lot.  With time, you learned balance.  And now, even if you haven’t ridden a bike in a long time, picking it up again would probably be very simple. That’s because it is part of you.  You have conquered that fear.  You have learned instinctively what to do to attain the balance you need.

The path leading to your multi-million dollar dialog works the same way.  Conquer your fears, learn what to do, which includes how you perceive situations and opportunities, and you will find the universe magically working to align itself to your benefit.

The Path

  • Paint your vision. In vivid detail, write out or illustrate how you would feel with this kind of money. How would you behave? How would you dress? What time would you wake up and go to bed?  Would you eat or exercise differently?  How would you spend your days?  What would you do on the weekends?
  • What behaviors do you need to acquire to make this painting real?  Are your current behaviors consistent with those necessary to achieve your vision? If you painted yourself waking up whenever you wanted, is that something that millionaires do? Or did you see yourself waking up sparking with ideas on how to make even more money and energized ready to explode with creativity?  Did you say you would exercise more and eat more healthy foods?  If so, what are you eating habits now and how should they change? Did you see your days filled with excitement working on new ventures or maybe even doing a lot of volunteer work?
  • Model the behaviors you want to exemplify.   If you see yourself talking differently in your painting, start talking that way now.  If you see yourself acting differently in your painting, start acting that way now. If you need to change your diet, do it. Don’t wait. You don’t need a million dollars to make that adjustment and doing so will take you one step closer to being the person you envision.  What kind of ventures or volunteer work can you get involved with right now?

All of these seemingly innocuous tiny steps are the pennies you are saving along with the way. They represent the shift in your thinking that will enable you one day to wake up and feel a change in your life.  You have to start somewhere and sometime.

Take a quiet Sunday morning to paint your vision. It will start you on a path to creating good luck like you have never seen.