Commission or Bribe?

Supposed you’ve decided to move part of your business overseas, those administrative fees could look like illegal bribes.

Let’s say that to open a manufacturing plant in Southeast Asia you need a permit from the local government.  A government agent there offers to get you the permit within a week – and his commission will only be $1,000.  Back off! Watch your step here.  In many countries, kickbacks and bribes have long been the accepted cost of doing business.  However, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), enacted by Congress in l977, prohibits bribery of officials in other countries.

It’s illegal to make payments, offers or even promises of anything of value to foreign officials to obtain or retain business or get an advantage.  It’s also illegal to make such payment to a third party (say the official’s wife or sibling).

For over 20 years the United States was the only country trying to prohibit bribery to foreign officials.  U.S. companies complained they faced either bribing foreign officials and risking FCPA prosecution or losing the contract.

Since then, with the urging of the US, international organizations have enacted treaties and conventions aimed at stamping out this practice.  The European Union, the United Nations, and the World Bank have adopted resolutions and policies against corruption which has helped to level the playing field.

You don’t want to get tangled up in bribery!  The problem is it’s rarely easy to tell whether a proposed payment is actually a bribe.  For instance, the FCPA doesn’t prohibit “grease payments” which are fees paid to foreign officials to expedite the actions the government would eventually take anyway, such as issuing a routine permit.  But suppose you need a permit to build an oil pipeline, and a government agent asks for a few thousand dollars for advising you on environmental issues and compliances to make sure you get the permit.  Would that be a “grease payment,” or a bribe for the officials to look the other way?

In light of the new rulings and laws, people of authority rarely ask for bribes, but they may ask for a small payment for advice on doing business there. For instance, if a government agency asks your company to build a park or pave a road in exchange for approval, that wouldn’t count as a “bribe.”

This whole scenario is further complicated by the layers of people it might take to get a job done.  So, if you hire an agent to work with an agent abroad, how do you know he isn’t paying bribes and implicating your firm in corruption?  Know what the deal should cost, so you can tell if money is leaking out.

Because complying with the many overlapping laws is tricky, don’t try it alone.  Hire a lawyer with experience in international business to help you through this minefield.

In fact, it makes one wonder whether it wouldn’t be better just to stay on your home turf!  Such is the way it goes when you start doing business overseas.

Virtual Assistant

A virtual assistant is a self-employed business owner who provides administrative support to their clients.  The clients may want a one time job, or a long term position.  A virtual assistant may do secretarial duties, such as writing up letters and memo’s or contacting other business people for the client.  Other duties a virtual assistant may cover are customer service, messaging services, email blasts or autoresponders, email support, fax paperwork, and many other duties.  A virtual assistants duties really does vary drastically.

There are a few key attributes to a great virtual assistant.  Good grammatical skills are necessary; no spelling errors are going to be acceptable.  A virtual assistant must be extremely organized because no one will hire an assistant who doesn’t have their files arranged and handy.  A virtual assistant with a wide range of skills is sought after.  Being technically savvy is essential especially when you are a virtual assistant because it is what people expect and need in such an internet related business world.  Also, in this technological world, you must be able to take directions, understand them without too many questions or issues, and get the work done, perfectly.  A virtual assistant must be on their toes, on the lookout for unforeseen issues that may have been overlooked.  Virtual assistants have great communication skills, negotiating rates, deadlines, and project plans.  But, unfortunately, these assistants must make sure that they make time for work.  It is really easy to get caught up in housework or the kids and not set aside work time at home.  When deadlines are missed, it looks bad on your reputation as a virtual assistant.

A virtual assistant can make their own hours, as stated before, but they can also make their own rates, which is excellent.  They do not have to settle for getting paid too little for a big job.  They do not have to worry about long commutes, and therefore expensive gas, leaving their children at daycare, and stressful co-workers and bosses.

Win Big at Casino Gambling

What's more American than Mom, apple pie, and baseball?  Would you believe Mom, apple pie, and casinos?  It's true.  Americans are visiting casinos more than they visit Major League baseball parks!

With all this participation, are Americans becoming expert at gambling?  Do they know their odds and the ways to improve their odds the way they used to know baseball stats?  If we are to judge by the billions of dollars dropped in casinos each year, the answer is a resounding "NO."

If winning at the casino is the new American dream, it seems to be a dream that comes true for very few - except the owners of the establishments. We'll assume you are not an owner.  Then what can you do to improve your chances of winning a piece of the American casino pie?  How can you change your luck?

Would you believe that your "luck" is really only one factor in the game, that there is a lot more going on here than just plain old-fashioned apple pie luck?

First, let me ask you a couple more questions.  Do you spend more than you intended to on most of your visits to the casino, stay longer than you had planned, win far less money than you would like to win?  Are you frustrated by your inability to really get ahead but find yourself going back again and again?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, you are solidly in with the vast majority of people who visit casinos.  But, let's look at what "yes" answers imply.  Notice that what you are really saying is that you don't seem to have as much control over your "luck" AND YOUR BEHAVIOR at casinos as you would like to have.  Why?  Would you believe good old-fashioned American psychology?  It's true - psychology is planned into the casino business!

First of all, there is the general psychology of society's changing attitude.  Gambling has increased in popularity in good part because it is no longer perceived as terribly immoral - even the government has given its approval.  Since you're, in effect, looking through society's view of gambling as an acceptable form of entertainment, it's easy to let your guard down.  It's just an acceptable, harmless way to have some fun.  This is fine, as long as you either have inexhaustible funds to throw away or you can keep enough control to spend no more than you can afford.  But if you want to make your casino visits PAY, then you must change the way you look at gambling.

To make it pay you must look at the casino as your adversary.  Now, that's not to say it can't be fun - after all, wouldn't it be more fun to walk away from your casino-adversary with bucks in your pocket and a smile on your face than it is to walk away from your casino-friend with empty pockets?  But the psychology part is more involved and complicated than just analyzing your attitude and society's attitude.  Casinos consciously and deliberately exploit known psychological responses to control your gambling behavior.  Knowing some of their methods will help put you back in control.

We all know that casinos are set up to give the casino a mathematical edge. They are in the business to make money, after all.  What you may not know is that your mathematical odds of winning are affected by the length of your visit.  The longer you stay, the poorer your odds of winning are. That's mathematical.  The casinos, then, use psychological methods to persuade you to stay longer - the longer you stay, the greater the odds that they win.

The design of the casinos - the colors, the lighting, the space, the chairs, the smells in the air, everything - is analyzed for maximum comfort and appeal.  The operators figure that anything that can keep you playing just another five minutes each visit can add millions to their take.

Let's take a critical look at some common casino practices.

Special promotions, for instance.  Some are designed to get you into the place, others to keep you there just a little longer.  The free or cheap meals - an all around winner for the casino - will bring

some people in for a bargain meal.  How many will leave without dropping at least some money in the games?  Most will end up paying dearly for that "cheap" meal, but will forget that the next time they want to go out for a nice, "cheap" meal.  But there's another aspect to it.  If you are already at the games, a cheap meal conveniently available in the casino will keep you in the building at mealtime.  You'll be away from the games for a minimum length of time.

The fairly new bill acceptors on slot machines keep you at your play.  When you are out of change, you don't have to wait around or walk to the change booth for more coin.  This adds to your playing time - your playing time is money - for the casinos.

Casinos operators carefully plan their lighting.  You may have noticed that when you are in a casino it is difficult to determine whether it is day or night.  This is deliberate.  Remember, they like you (or your money) so much they want you to extend your visit.  If they can get you to drop your usual time consciousness, you'll stay longer.

Colors are chosen to trigger automatic responses.  Slot machines are outfitted in colors that will attract and hold gamblers.  Sophisticated color combinations are used to minimize the time you will spend slot hopping.  Many casino operators add a scent to the air.  Think that's silly?  In an experimental test the scent was shown to increase substantially the number of coins customers dropped into the slots - very substantially, about 45 percent.  Most of these techniques add greatly to your comfort as well as sometimes triggering an automatic psychological response.  If your visit is pleasant, you will stay longer, play looser with your bankroll, and come back again.

Other techniques have little or nothing to do with your comfort and are simply exploitive.  You are simply the "white rat" - the unsuspecting victim of psychological games.  For instance, the payout system of the slots has had psychology applied to that.  The system of paying tiny winnings often is that new psychology.  How was it done before?  Well if you won, you won a reasonable amount, but the payoffs were infrequent.  What is the advantage of frequent small payoffs?  It is the psychological "promise" of a big win.  You will be enticed into staying longer and risking more money.

Putting in a few "hot" machines is also an application of psychology.  Your search for the "hot" machine is motivated by the psychological "promise" of a lucky streak.   Again, you'll stay longer and risk more.  Some casinos will give you small denominations as change for large bills or, at the tables, small denominations of chips.  The reason?  Because, as we all know, it is easier to spend a dollar than it is to spend a twenty. Psychological?  Of course.

Ever notice how wins are played up?  The real coin that's dropped into metal slot pan when someone wins is deliberate.  The noise excites you. The bells and whistles that attend a really big win are also deliberate attention-getters and exciting.  The casinos make a big deal over wins - but losing is pretty quiet.  The excitement of the noise stirs you to try to win, but there is more.  All the attention given to winning makes it seem like there is more winning going on than there really is.

Business Owner

There are many reasons for wanting to start your own business, and most of us get to this point.  Which one of the following applies to you?

  • Freedom from daily routine.
  • Doing what I want when I want.
  • Improve my living standard.
  • I want creative freedom.
  • I want to fully use my skills, knowledge and education.
  • I have a product/idea/service that people need.
  • I’ll have more time with the family.
  • I won’t have a dress code.
  • There are good tax breaks for business owners.
  • I’m a Type B person and work best alone.
  • I want to be my own boss.
  • I want to make the decisions.

Now granted, every one of the above is a good reason for wanting your own business.  The rub is, that not many people think the process through – step by step.  There are 7 phases to business planning.  They are :

  1. Investigation Phase
  2. Planning Phase
  3. Start-up Phase
  4. Operating/Monitoring Phase
  5. Problem/Challenge resolution Phases
  6. Renewal/Expansion Phase
  7. Selling, Transferring, Retirement Phase

We’ll cover all of the above in my next few columns as a “Business Basics” refresher, but for today let’s take number one.

In the Investigation Phase you take a look at yourself and also your business options.  There are careers that are suited to personality types, so the first thing you must discern is “Which personality type am I?”

Duty Fulfillers

This is an introverted personality who is serious, quiet, thorough, orderly, matter-of-fact, logical, realistic, and dependable.  They take responsibility, are well organized, know what should be accomplished and work steadily toward it disregarding distractions.  They are careful calculators, and 20% of this group become accountants.

The Mechanics

These are also introverts and are cool onlookers.  They are quiet, reserved, observing, and analyzing life with a detached curiosity and have unexpected flashes of original humor.  They’re usually interested in cause and effect, how and why mechanical things work, and in organizing facts using logical principles.  They usually are craftsmen, mechanics, or handymen with about 10% becoming farmers.

The Doers

These people are extraverts who are good at on-the-spot problem solving, don’t worry, enjoy whatever comes along, are adaptable, tolerant, and generally conservative in values.  They tend to like mechanical things and sports, and dislike long explanations. They are best with “real” things that can be worked, handled, taken apart, or put together. About 10% of this type go into marketing or become Impresarios.

The Executives

These are another extravert group and are hearty, frank, decisive, leaders in activities and usually good in anything that requires reasoning and intelligent talk, such as public speaking.  They’re usually well informed and enjoy adding to their fund of knowledge.  They may sometimes appear more positive and confident than their experience in an area warrants.  They’re sometimes called “judgers” and “thinkers” and 21% of this group become legal administrators.

To go into each personality type would be far too complicated, but to give you an idea of the roles that personality types could fall into look at the following list.  Beside the categories we covered in depth here are some simply broken down into Introvert or Extravert Personality.

Introverts choose careers that satisfy being:

  • Nurturers
  • Guardians
  • Artists
  • Scientists
  • Protectors
  • Idealists

Extraverts are usually:

  • Performers
  • Visionaries
  • The Inspirers
  • Givers
  • Caregivers

The second part of the Investigating Phase is looking at your business options.  When choosing the business you want to start consider the following :

  • Do you like to work with your hands or brain, or both?
  • Does working indoors or outdoors matter?
  • Are you good at math, writing, puzzles, blueprints, installing things or fixing things?
  • What interests you? What are your hobbies?
  • Do you like to work alone or as part of a team?
  • Do you like to plan things, or go to events?
  • Do you like machines, computers?
  • Do you like to drive or operate equipment?
  • Do you like to travel, collect/display things, give/attend shows, or take pictures?
  • Are you small, large, strong?

Make a list of your likes and dislikes.  Keep a diary of things you do that relate to business and rate each entry from 1 to 5 based on your interest.  Then prepare a list of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and concerns.  After doing all that, you should have a list of candidate businesses that are right for you.  Then you can make a list of the “candidate businesses” and rate them from 1 to 5 based on your own chosen criteria.

Some criteria could be is it feasible, low in cost to establish, meets my objectives, will make money, there is a “niche” market of existing customers, or it will produce residual income to name just a few.

By the time you’ve accomplished all that, you should seriously consider visiting the local chapter of S.C.O.R.E. or your own mentor to use as a sounding board for your plan.  Next week, if I haven’t dissuaded you so far, we’ll cover the Planning Phase.


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