Friday, July 31, 2009

Me, Inc.

A light purse is a heavy curse. -- Poor Richard's Almanac

Fast Company magazine ran an article in 2007 entitled The Brand Called You by management guru Tom Peters that is still well worth reading. The gist of the article is don't think of yourself as employee 123 of Megalithic Corporation, but you're Me, Inc., an idependent consultant, a business with your own brand., and you must market that brand to grow your sphere of influence and power to increase your opportunities for success.

The current recession and the almost daily headlines of large scale layoffs by the nation's blue chip companies emphasize Peter's point that lifetime employment is a thing of the past, and you work on a project by project basis for whatever company needs your skillset. I certainly see evidence of this trend inside the company I work for where the core "permanent" staff is continually shrinking, and consultants are brought in on an as needed basis by project to make up for the shortfall.

This brings me to the point of this article... since everyone is really just an independent consultant responsible for their own life and livelihood, I think each individual should view their financial lives as if they were a corporation called Me, Inc (or Us, Inc. for couples). I'm a big believer that Me, Inc. should, at a minimum, prepare yearly financial statements such as income statements, balance sheets and even cash flow statements for the more sophisticated to assess the financial health of Me, Inc., analyze those statements against a set of objectives and make the necessary adjustments to spending and saving habits.

A sample income statement might look something like:

The focus of income statement analysis should be on increasing both top line and bottom line income while reducing unnecessary expense to free up cash for debt reduction or investment. Or in other words... like with any business, the focus should be on increasing the net income available to the shareholder(s) of Me, Inc.

A sample balance sheet might look similar to:

This type of exercise reinforces the concepts of budgeting, spending less than you make, debt reduction, and building equity in Me, Inc. Concentrate on compounding your book value per share like the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett. Mr. Buffett's record at Berkshire Hathaway from 1965-2008 is 20.3% annually (326,319% cumulative) compared to the S&P 500 with dividends included for the same time period of 8.9% (4,276% cumulative), neither of which is too shabby.

Cheapskate's Corner: How to Get $10B Worth of Software for Free

For those who are tired of paying Microsoft or Apple for software, and then paying then again to upgrade to the next release, there is an alternative. Yes, I am a Linux advocate and dedicated Linux user. Just as Linux is rapidly gaining acceptance as a server platform in corporate America to reduce IT costs, more and more average people are trying it out on their home computers and finding that it is a reasonable replacement for the old standbys.

Linux has a reputation for only being suited for the ├╝ber geeky. However, most modern distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora, openSuse, Mint, Mandriva and Debian have become quite user friendly without requiring extensive manual configuration editing. My personal preference is the Ubuntu distribution running the Gnome desktop as seen in the screen-shot below:

I've changed Ubuntu's less than pleasing default look and feel to the Nimbus theme that was developed for openSolaris. Gnome is easily configurable and with little effort can be customized to look and behave like a Mac or a Windows machine. Imagination is the only limiting factor.

I love my Linux box, both the price and the functionality as well as the easy upgrades to new release. But not everything works flawlessly.  Media encoded in proprietary Microsoft formats can be played.  This an inconvenient  reality than all Linux users must learn to live with.

But even with these annoyances, Linux is well worth a try. It comes with its own office suite, graphics editor, sound editor, video editor, numerous video and sound players, dvd/cd burners and rippers, plus many more features.

If you're not ready to cut the cord on Windows, try giving Linux a spin inside Sun's VirtualBox or configure a dual boot environment between Windows and Linux. Many tutorials exist on the web to walk you through these options step by step. I've read articles claiming that a private company would have to invest upwards of $10B in R&D to recreate the software developed by the open source Linux developers. That is a pretty strong sales pitch to me.