Ten Habits of Successful Real Estate Entrepreneurs

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 17:09
Note: The following is a summary of my notes from a presentation given on Nov 30 2009 by Don R. Campbell to the Edmonton REIN (Real Estate Investment Network) meeting. These ten items represent habits that are all practiced by a group of very successful investors interviewed by Don over the last year. The audience was mostly Real Estate entrepreneurs of course, but I think these are great ideas that could apply to entrepreneurs in any industry or business. 


  1. Slow Down! It's not a race. Take the time to do things right. Work at your own pace and work your own plan.

  2. Buy at market, sell at market. It's not necessary to grind on the price of every deal. Yes, you make your money when you buy, but don't need to screw over sellers to do so. Squeezing deals leads to missed deals.

  3. Treat people with respect. You don't win in business by being a pitbull or a jerk. You will need solid relationships with the professionals on your team and if you have to constantly rebuild those relationships because you're burning your bridges then you're wasting your time. Your reputation is key!

  4. Run it like a business. Whether you own one property or one hundred, you must operate like a business. Pay attention to cash flow, clients, inventory, expenses, revenue. Manage your risk. Prepare in advance for eventualities like vacancies and repairs.

  5. Always have an agenda.  Have a plan  and follow it - For your real estate. For your life. For your fun. For your business. For every meeting. Learn to manage expectations - tell your team what you expect from them.

  6. Celebrate the journey.  Give yourself rewards for the steps along the way. Don't put it off until the biggest end goal is met - it might not come. Reward yourself for success in the small things.

  7. Be willing to walk away. There will always be more opportunities and more deals. Say NO to deals that don't fit your plan. They will turn out to be Time Vampires. Make your decisions based on fundamentals not emotion.

  8. Leave something on the table for someone else. Especially when selling. Don't constantly haggle your partners and your team. Let them make some money too. Help someone else achieve their goals and they will be there to help you achieve yours.

  9. Choose carefully with whom you associate. Surround yourself with people who are outperforming you. You will be challenged and learn from them. Partner with people who have complimentary skills. Know what jobs you're not good at and work with people who do have those skills. Protect your confidence - Ditch the people in your life that kill your dreams. Some people will live in constant judgement of you. You don't need them. 

  10. Stick with YOUR system. Always follow your proven system. Ignoring what works will create chaos. Make your real estate business boring. It should not be exciting. If it is, you are doing it wrong!         

What goes up, also goes down. Simultaneously.

Friday, November 27, 2009 at 11:26
A Nov 24 Edmonton Journal article has the headline "Alberta Jobless Numbers Soar" and quotes a StatsCan report showing that a total of 71,900 Albertans received EI in Sept 2009, a 25% increase from Aug 2009.
But if we look at the StatsCan overall employment data for Alberta in Sept 2009, we see a very different picture of the changes from Aug to Sept 2009:
  • Alberta saw population growth of 6200 people.
  • Number of people "employed" in Alberta grew by 3000.
  • Number of people "unemployed" in Alberta dropped by 5800 people. 
  • Alberta's overall employment rate was unchanged at 68.8%, the second highest of any Province.
StatsCan Sept 2009 Labour Force Survey

So what we actually have is an increase in the number of people on EI and NOT a soaring increase in the number of people who are jobless in Alberta. You spin me right 'round baby, right 'round.

Chrome OS - Does it shine?

Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 15:28
I spent some time yesterday and today playing around with Google's new Chrome OS. Chrome OS also calls itself chromium, which I think is actually a better name. Chrome OS/Chromium is a lightweight, web-oriented operating system from Google. It's more derivative of their Chrome browser than the Android operating system developed for handhelds. I tested Chrome on my tablet PC using a vmware image.

In many ways, Chrome is trying to accomplish what the Internet appliances  like the 3Com Audrey, i-Opener and the Compaq iPaqs tried to do a decade ago. I have an Audrey and an iPaq here on my desk. They are nearly as useful now as they were when they were new, which is to say, not very. The idea then was to provide a simple hardware device with a lightweight OS that was strictly provided Internet-related functionality - email, browsing, IM, etc., to an audience that was not prepared or willing to deal with the complexity of operating and maintaining a PC. It never really worked, mostly because the appliances weren't very price competitive with bargain PC's of the time.

The other feat that Chrome attempts to perform is the realization of another idea that was talked about a decade ago -  when the big online software giant was Netscape and everyone wondered when/how they would create an operating system and Sun was telling us how the network is the computer. The target platform for Chrome OS is going to be netbooks, which typically have low power CPU's and limited local storage (not unlike the appliances). Where Chrome differs is that from the user's point of view the browser *is* the OS. Other than a few config popups, there is no other interface to the computer other than the Chrome browser.

So, it's new, but is it any good? Technically, it seems to function well. Chrome is a decent browser and the default "apps" installed (really, they are nothing more than bookmarks to online services) covers all the basic Google services - Gmail, Calendar, Reader, Contacts as well as a handful of social services like facebook & twitter, and video sites like youtube and hulu. Other than hulu which doesn't work in Canada, everything I tried seemed to work properly. I was even able to use flash-based apps like pixlr. So on that front and from the perspective of accomplishing the goal of building a browser-only OS, I'd have to say, yes it is very good.



However, the question I keep thinking to myself is "Why?" The target hardware platform of netbooks already come with full featured operating systems (either Windows XP/7 or some form of Linux) and run any of the popular browsers. They are also capable of running many programs that don't have online equivalents and more crucially, the ability to be useful when they are NOT connected to the internet. With a device running Chrome, if you have no connection, you really have nothing more than a paperweight. Perhaps Google has plans to incorporate some Gears-like functionality for offline use, but that doesn't appear to be the case yet.

What is the use case for carrying a device like a netbook that has zero offline capability? Coupled with built-in 3G and a reasonably priced data plan (do they exist?) one could approach full-time connectivity, in which case you'd have something that's almost as useful as the iPhone. You'd be trading light weight and portability for a keyboard and a slightly larger screen. IF you actually stopped carrying the phone, which isn't likely. What about filling the home internet appliance niche? Yes, Chrome could do that easily and that would provide the always-on connection, but it's not clear that a market ever truly existed for those kind of devices. Maybe this time around will be different. The only plausible application I can imagine is a not-yet-invented class of ultra-cheap netbooks - priced at $99 or less. Something like that could probably take the wind out of the sales (ewwww) of the Peek dedicated task devices.

The last puzzling bit for me relates to how I use online or cloud-based services now. For me the main advantage of using online applications is that I'm not limited to having data, documents, email on just one computer. I move around to several different computers and operating systems each day and having all my stuff available and pretty much where I left it makes those transitions much easier. Even better, I don't even have to be using one of my own computers, I can use any connected computer to access my online resources and applications without the need to carry around my own device.

Bottom line is that Chrome is a reasonably impressive technical achievement that at best will fill a small niche within a slightly larger niche (netbooks without hard drives). Maybe that's all it's intended to do. Anyone that already has a netbook can approximate the experience by running their browser fullscreen and making their homepage a page of links to all their favorite online apps that open up in new tabs. That's basically the Chrome experience.

iTunes credit in Canada - Apple changes its (i)Tune

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 18:07
Today's update: Yesterday (Oct 13 2009) I replied to John at iTunes support to express my dissatisfaction with the the outcome so far. Today I received another response. The good news is I'm getting my refund. Excellent! It's nice to know that persistence pays off. Where it goes all wonky is that now Apple claims that the previous statement regarding Canadian commerce law was "unauthorized" and that Apple policy alone is the One True Reason why Canadians can't buy apps with store credit.

My letter to Apple:

Dear John,

Thank you for your response and for reiterating Apple's policy regarding app store purchases in the Canadian app store. I understand that you feel the issue is closed. However, your response below does not in fact answer my questions at all. I am clearly aware of what Apple's policy is. I am not asking for clarification of the policy.

If you carefully re-read my previous message, you would note that I have asked for assistance with two separate issues, neither of which is resolved by restating Apple's app store policy.

The first issue is that I have asked for a refund of the allowance credit on my daughter's Apple account *****@********.***, or at the very least, a transfer of that credit to my account, ***@********.***. I indicated previously that giving her more song credits is not a satisfactory solution. To be clear: I want to see the credit in my daughter's account refunded or credited to my account.

The second issue is that I have asked for clarification of the statement made to me by Corvacia of Apple iTunes support that the reason for the Canadian app store policy is "due to Canadian Commerce Laws that the iTunes Store must strictly enforce". I have asked Apple three times to provide me with information on what these Canadian commerce laws are. You have not addressed this issue in any way. Again for clarity, please cite for me exactly what Canadian commerce law Apple believes it must enforce.

In conclusion John, your response to me is not helpful in any way. I am already aware of Apple's policy, quoting it back to me does not provide me with any new information. I am making my third request for answers to the two issues above. Please make an effort to read my questions carefully and to address them directly. Thank you.

Thank you for your time; I am looking forward to your response.

And the latest response:

Dear Jim,

I apologize for the previous miscommunication that agents statements were unauthorized. You are speaking with a senior agent which is why I provided the correct, and only reason why store credit cannot be used for Apps/Software.

Regarding a refund or transfer of allowances. I will be able to issue a cash-out of your daughters account.

I will be happy to send you the store credit on your daughters account. If done you would receive a check in 4 to 6 weeks.

Forgive me Jim for any inconvenience that this may have caused you. I hope this information has been helpful.
OK, so I'm getting a refund. Thank you Apple, I appreciate that you have taken a satisfactory measure to help with my daughter's unwanted credit balance.

However, I'm amazed that the previous statement about Canadian commerce law is now considered "unauthorized". I wonder if the same statement made to Claire Feikema back in June was also unauthorized? What about when Apple support made it to Dave Sawyer? Was it also unauthorized when used by Natalie in iTunes support? Or when this guy was told the same thing? That seems like a lot of unauthorized statements from Apple iTunes support people, and I know there's many many more customers out there that have been told the same thing.

So is anyone buying this story?

From what I can tell, the policy from Apple now is that the policy is the policy because that's the policy and it has nothing to do with Canadian commerce laws at all. Really? After telling so many Canadians that was the reason, now it isn't?

Nope, not buying it at all.

Canadian iTunes app store credit update

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 21:58
Today I received another response back from Apple Canada iTunes support. This one is even less helpful than the previous one; I don't think the Apple rep even read what I'd written in my request as the response is even more vague than before and fails to address my questions in any way.

Here is my email to Apple:
Thank you for your attention to this situation, Rashida. I'm sorry to say that my issue has still not been resolved. First of all, in my previous message to Apple support I explained that my daughter is not interested in purchasing songs via iTunes and since she could not use her allowance to buy games, I requested a refund or credit to my iTunes account (***@*******.***). You responded by crediting her with two additional songs in iTunes. It should have been obvious that providing her with more of what she does not want is not a satisfactory solution.

Second, I have followed up with the Canadian government and the Federal Minister of Industry, Hon. Tony Clement, is unable to substantiate Apple's position that there is some Canadian commerce law that prevents Apple from accepting iTunes credit as payment for apps. Why does Apple believe that such a restriction exists? This is my second request to Apple to provide me with the specific Canadian legislation that Apple believes applies here. Again, I will reiterate that the Canadian Minister of Industry has indicated in writing that there is no such legislation (see a copy of his letter at the url provided below).

Please see the following blog post for a more complete summary of my correspondence with Apple and my government representatives:

http://www.jimwhitelaw.com/2009/09/itunes-credit-in-canada.html

And today I received the following response:

Dear Jim,

This is John from iTunes. Your request has been escalated up to myself to further handle your case.

The inquiry regarding why a credit card is needed to purchase App or software can be found here in the terms of sale that was agreed upon with your account creation.

MONTHLY ALLOWANCES

Monthly Allowances are for transactions on the iTunes Store only. The Allowance Account may not be used for gifts, or purchases on the Apple Online Store or in Apple Retail Stores. Monthly Allowances may not be used for purchases on the Apple Online Store or in Apple Retail Stores. Monthly Allowances are non-refundable. Monthly Allowances may not be used to purchase Gift Certificates, iTunes Cards, Apps, or other Monthly Allowances. Monthly allowances may not be used to purchase software, games, or apps.

iTUNES CARDS

iTunes Cards are for transactions on the iTunes Store only. iTunes Cards may not be used for gifts, or purchases on the Apple Online Store or in Apple Retail Stores. iTunes Cards are non-refundable. iTunes Cards may not be used to purchase Gift Certificates, Monthly Allowances, Apps, or other iTunes Cards. iTunes Cards may not be used to purchase software, games, or apps.

You can find this information here:
http://www.apple.com/legal/itunes/ca/terms.html#SALE

In closing this is a clear a concise answer for this request. It is the current policy for Canadian customers.

We do recommend customer review these terms before the store is used if they have any concerns such as this.

Please note that Apple now considers this matter closed.

If you would like assistance with another iTunes Store issue, please don't hesitate to contact us:

http://www.apple.com/support/itunes/ww

I apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused you. I hope this information has been helpful.

Sincerely,

John
iTunes Store Customer Support
In short, today's response consists of quoting Apple's policy back to me and telling me to piss off. It doesn't appear that "John" has even bothered to read my message. I was not asking for clarification of the policy, I'm well aware of what the policy says by now. I was asking for 1) Refund or credit of my daughter's credit to my account (Is that so unreasonable? Just transfer the balance back to my account - unlike her, I DO buy music from iTunes.) and a citation or reference to the Canadian Law that Apple believes they need to enforce in the app store.

I also sent similar messages via the Apple iTunes feedback page and to sjobs@apple.com (which I believe is a valid address for whoever gets the task of reading Steve Jobs' email), and have not received a response from either.

I don't really hold out much hope that this approach will bear any fruit as I don't think anyone at Apple support is actually reading what I write. That and the "escalation" process likely works in the reverse of what you'd think - that is, the newest person in the call center with the least authority to actually do anything to help a customer is now stuck with dealing with my complaints.

To be clear, I'm not necessarily blaming Apple for this situation (though the way their support is dealing with it is clearly sub-standard) as the company probably does have some grounds for believing their policy needs to be what it is. I just want a straight answer concerning whatever is behind that policy. That shouldn't be so hard should it? Since this app store limitation surely hurts Apple's Canadian business and Apple claims it's a Canadian regulation they have to enforce, you'd think they'd be only to happy to identify that regulation as the root cause of this policy.

My must-have Wordpress plugins

Monday, October 12, 2009 at 19:15
Recently, I've been setting up a bunch of new websites for some of our business ventures. They aren't web applications and don't need fancy programming; they just need to be informational, attractive, quick to set up and in most cases easy to maintain by non-techie types. A while back, @nathany suggested to me that Wordpress might be an appropriate tool for these kinds of sites. At first I thought a blogging tool was kind of an odd choice, but then I realized I'd already used the Blogger platform for a couple sites that are more static-y than blog-y (See http://thelog.ca and http://wildrosemiata.com) so I thought I should check out Wordpress.

Turns out the recent versions of WP are pretty good for use as a basic CMS and there's a fair number of articles available online offering tutorials on this use. My hosting provider offers Wordpress as an easy and free add-on so I didn't even have to do the install, just click-click, voila! and I had a test site to play with.

Anyway, on to the meat of this article, after setting up a few sites, I found myself installing a core set of plugins on each. These are my basic set of must-haves for setting up a Wordpress-powered CMS site.
  • MMForms - Quick and easy setup of forms for contact info, applications, etc. Nice set of options, including confirmation emails to submitter and saving to database and providing an RSS feed for the submitted data. I can forsee creating some app links that pull the form data via RSS into something else for additional processing.
  • Ultimate Google Analytics - Makes it easy to add and manage Google analytics links across the site. I like the ability to have it not track requests when users of a given userlevel are logged in and to ignore admin requests.
  • All In One SEO Pack - This plugin is great for making various tweaks to how your pages are formed, titles, keywords etc. I'm not all that concerned about SEO at this point in time, but I do like the fine control it gives over the page metadata.
  • WP-DBManager - This should really be a part of Wordpress core. It provides options to view, optimize and backup your databases and peform various other DB tasks. Handy stuff to have in the WP admin instead of having to fire up a separate DB admin tool.
  • Sociable - This one I haven't used on every site, but for the ones I think warrant it, this plugin makes it super easy to add quick links for readers to share your pages on about ninety gazillion social networking sites.
So that's my list. I'm still pretty new to the Wordpress scene. Are there some others that I should be looking into? I still haven't found a really good Paypal cart/link tool that beats simply using the tools that Paypal provides.


iTunes credit in Canada

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 13:56
The short version for impatient people:

Apple will not allow Canadians to use their iTunes credit or iTunes gift cards to purchase software ("apps") in the iTunes store. It can only be used to purchase music, movies or TV shows. Apple claims that "this is due to Canadian Commerce Laws that the iTunes Store must strictly enforce". The Canadian Minister of Industry, Hon. Tony Clement, believes that there are no laws which prevent this. So, where did Apple get this idea that software, games and applications may only be purchased with a credit card?

The long version for curious people:

In June of 2009, my daughter bought an iPod Touch, mostly to use for playing games. To do this, I set her up with a new iTunes account and funded it with $10 via iTunes allowance. However, she was not able to use her allowance to pay for any games and iTunes kept asking her to set up a credit card for her account. My daugher is 10 years old and does not have a credit card and I don't want to attach my credit card to her account. I want her to be able to use the allowance I've provided for her.

On July 2, 2009, I wrote this email to Apple iTunes support:

I have set up an allowance for my child's account *****@********.***. She has $20.00 in her iTunes account, but is unable to make an app store purchase - receives error msg that she must select a payment method in her account. I do not want that account to have a credit card associated with it, only the allowance amount. How can she get the app store to allow this?


And the next day, I received the following response:

Dear Jim,

Hello! How are you? Thanks for contacting iTunes Store Customer Support. My name is Corvacia. I have received your email and will be assisting you with your request. I will try everything within my scope of support to help you to resolve this issue.

I understand that your daughter is not able to purchase Apps with her allowance. I have reviewed her account and noticed that she reside in Canada. I'm sorry, but you will not be able to purchase software, games, or applications with store credit or an iTunes Gift Card in Canada. Customers residing in Canada may only purchase software, games and applications using a credit card. This is due to Canadian Commerce Laws that the iTunes Store must strictly enforce. In addition, this is why you have been asked to enter billing information even though you have store credit remaining.

Your iTunes Gift Card balance can be applied towards purchases of all other types of content on the iTunes Store.


Sincerely,

Corvacia

iTunes Store Customer Support


That prompted me to do some googling around and sure enough this has been an issue for quite a while. But all I could find online was people complaining about the issue - no references to exactly what laws are being used to inconvenience Canadian consumers. So I tried to find out.

On July 5, 2009 I replied back to Apple support with the following:

Thank you for the explanation. I understand the position Apple is in. However, I relied upon this text in the iTunes help file when purchasing the allowance for my daughter's account:

"Recipients can use gift certificates and allowances toward the purchase of anything in the iTunes Store (unless you have restricted access to items with a Parental Advisory Label)."

Since it is not possible for her to purchase games with her allowance and she has no interest in purchasing music or videos, I would like to have the allowance credited back to my account or credit card. I also recommend that the text above be changed so as not to mislead other consumers about the use of iTunes allowance and store credit.

In addition, I would appreciate it if you could name the specific Canadian commerce law that Apple must enforce as I intend to pursue the issue with my government representative.

Thank you.


I contacted my Member of Parliament, Hon. James Rajotte and asked for his assistance to identify the Canadian commerce law that Apple is referring to. His office was unable to do so and Mr. Rajotte then contacted the Canadian Minister of Industry, Hon. Tony Clement on my behalf. Here is a copy of his letter:



In the meantime I received this helpful (sic) reply from Apple:


Dear Jim,

My name is Rashida and your issue has been escalated to me and I would be assisting you from now on.I understand that you contacted your Member of Parliament regarding the commerce law and they were unable to identify this law, that's affecting the use of iTunes Gift Card to purchase games and applications in Canada. You would like us to provide any help we can regarding this issue. Hopefully I can shed some light on this matter.

Please know that our ability to address these particular issues is limited as iTunes Store agents. Fortunately, Apple provides a page specifically for customers to submit feedback. On more than one occasion I have seen changes made within Apple solely based on customer comments. As a matter of fact, customer feedback is the driving force behind many of Apple's policies and products.

Here's a link to submit your feedback if you wish to:

http://www.apple.com/feedback/itunesapp.html"

I want to do everything I can to help you out. So, for your time and inconvenience this issue has caused, I have issued "2" song credits to your "*****@********.***" iTunes Store account. You can use these to buy the individual songs of your choice from the iTunes Store.

When you next sign in with this account, the song credits will appear by your account name (in the upper-right section of the iTunes Store). The next individual song you buy from the iTunes Store will use one of your song credits instead of your primary form of payment (until all credits have been used or have expired). Please note that song credits cannot be used for purchasing songs that are listed as "Album Only."

If you don't see your credits, refresh your account information by signing out and back in to the iTunes Store. You can find both "Sign Out" and "Sign In" within the pull-down "Store" menu. If you don't see this menu, you should need only download the latest version of iTunes from our website for free:

http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/

Again, I apologize for the inconvenience this issue has caused you. I hope you continue to enjoy the iTunes Store. Please let me know should you have further questions or concerns regarding iTunes Store and I'll be more than happy to help. Have a great day, Jim!

Sincerely,

Rashida
iTunes Store Customer Support


So... After I explained to Apple that my daughter didn't want to purchase music with her iTunes store credit and asking for a refund they responded by giving her more credits for music. Hmmm. OK whatever, my real concern is to figure out why Apple thinks the Government of Canada is telling them they can't sell apps to Canadians who pay with store credit instead of credit cards.

Today, September 30 2009 I received a cc of the reply from Hon. Tony Clement to my MP, and the Minister doesn't know of any law preventing Canadians from using an iTunes allowance or gift card for purchases in the app store. Copy of his letter:



So where does that leave me (and other Canadian Apple customers)? Stuck, apparently. Still, I'm not giving up yet. I've sent a brief email to Steve Jobs and I'll post an update if I receive any response.

Neglect

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 at 09:13
So, it's been well over a year since I updated this blog. Not really sure if I should bother to keep it running at all. Honestly, I don't have that much to say, though it would be nice to have a format that would allow for better discussion of topics that come up in twitter. twitter really sucks as a discussion platform. Friendfeed offers a nice alternative where friends/followers can comment on a status update, but it suffers from the critical mass problem where it's only useful if all your friends also use it, and I'm the only one I know that uses friendfeed.

Anyway, to all 1.5 people who read this blog, I'm still mostly alive, thanks for asking.

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