Defensive entrepreneurship

DDFD over at Self Reliance Exchange recently published a short post on the skills one can acquire by operating your own business, and emphasizes that having a side-business can help cushion against job loss.

Speaking from my own experience, starting a business teaches you a lot, even if you already thought you knew it. There’s nothing like hands-on, in-the-trenches learning to both teach you new skills and boost confidence in the ones you already have.

That said, it can be hard to start a side business, especially if you are already employed. Time becomes a big factor. Time you could be spending on many other things, like being with your family. But even if you never actually get the business started, it never hurts to start planning one. That way if you ever do lose a job you can get started right away on your new business rather than spinning your wheels and spending your severance trying to figure out what to do.

But if you can spare the time, get started on your business. Get a few good, satisfied customers you can turn to for recommendations and referrals. If you start getting more business than you can handle, see if it’s something you can “outsource” to your kids to help them get some pocket money (not to mention teach them valuable skills and entrepreneurial thinking as well).

If things start going really well you can start putting away your profits against the day when you think you might want to quit your job and go full-time at your side business. You’ll need a buffer in any case if you ever need to go from part-time to replacing your income.

Owning your own business can be a lot of fun. Depending entirely on your own business, however, can be very stressful. Any progress you make before you have to rely on it can be invaluable.

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Emergency preparation for apartments

American Prepper Network had a good article up today about emergency preparations you can make even if your living space is limited (or controlled, ie. strict rules).

I think the main point of this article is that even this limited amount of preparation can help in a tight spot. There was nothing on their list that was unique to apartment life–it was good advice for anyone.

Having lived in several apartments during my life I’m amazed by just how much room you can exploit if you really try. The key is that you have to:

  1. Be creative. There is space everywhere, if you know how to use it. Even right out in the open can be a good place with a little creative screening or decorative boxing.
  2. Make storage a priority. Any amount of space will fill up. The key is making sure you fill it up with the right stuff. Instead of keeping a supply of dead electronics (I’m guilty!), use that space for rice, beans, or other staples.
  3. Check regularly for unwanted guests. Mice and other pests can get into all sorts of places. Make sure you check regularly for signs (scattered traces of food, droppings, shredded insulation, wall-materials, paper).
  4. Keep an inventory of what you have and where it is. You may be so creative with your storage that you may forget you have certain things, or where you put stuff.
  5. Make yourself rotate your stored items regularly. If you can, use from your storage first and replace it with new items.
  6. Keep track of what you use so you can replace it.

While having more space certainly helps, it often comes down more to what you do with the space you have than how much you have. Apartment-dwellers can be just as prepared as anyone else–and in some cases their emergency stores may even be better protected.

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Lessons from Japan

I haven’t written anything about the Japanese earthquake so far. It seems almost mean-spirited to try to and find things they did wrong. The biggest lesson, really, is this: Sometimes it just doesn’t matter what you do.

I’m sure there were people who were prepared. They may have had a significant reserve of staples and emergency gear. But the quake hit in the mid-afternoon, when many of them were away from home. The tsunami followed the earthquake so quickly that unless they had emergency supplies with them (a car kit, perhaps), they wouldn’t have much chance of getting to them.

Afterward, even assuming their homes were still intact, much of what they had would likely have been ruined, washed away, or contaminated. Most of them would just be thankful to be alive–entire towns weren’t even that lucky.

No, the Japanese who would benefit most from home storage and emergency preparation would be those outside the tsunami zone and in other parts of Japan. With rolling blackouts and severe shortages, there will be many caught without adequate reserves. It may be weeks or months before their lives return to normal.

One emergency preparation step that cannot be emphasized enough, however, is having a communication and meet-up plan should families be separated or cut off. With the quake coming when it did, I’m sure quite a few families were forced to evacuate without knowing where all their members were.

With communications so severely interrupted it would be quite some time before families would be able to contact each other. Having a set meeting point would become vital. Having set family members outside the area they would all know to contact as soon as they could would help get connect families more quickly.

There will be many lessons to learn from the Sendai quake. The biggest is probably this: plan for the worst–and then imagine worse, and plan for that.

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Be a good neighbor

I read about this situation on the American Preppers Network site. A woman is growing an organic garden in her front yard and has run afoul of her HOA. I know I should be shocked, upset, outraged, etc., but you see, I’m the president of my HOA and have a different perspective.

HOA’s have rules, and everyone is supposed to receive a copy of those rules when they move in. They are responsible for reading and obeying the rules. The HOA is responsible for enforcing them. If you find the rules prohibitive, don’t buy a house there.

Now don’t get me wrong. My HOA is not nearly so restrictive. And I’m in the process of working to change the rules where they are. For example, when our neighborhood was built nearly twenty years ago they had rules against xeriscaping. Times have changed, and I think we need to allow xeric landscaping now.

But in changing the rules I have to consider all the angles. Let’s face it, some xeriscaping can look pretty trashy if not done correctly or maintained well. I don’t want someone saying “Hey, weeds are natural and drought-resistant. I’ll just let my yard go to weeds.” When we do change the rule we have to make a clear, enforceable standard about what we will accept.

I, obviously, am all in favor of self reliance and making your own property produce as much as you can. As HOA president I do my best to be supportive of that. I haven’t clamped down on the people who are keeping chickens, though the CC&Rs clearly forbid it, because they are out of sight, and are not causing a nuisance.

But at the same time, if you live in an HOA it’s your responsibility to know what the rules are and to live by them. If you don’t like the rules then let your HOA know. See if they can be changed. Work with your HOA to find ways to satisfy the rules (screening things with strategic landscaping can go a long way) and still make things work for you.

But in the end, if you can’t, perhaps you should move to someplace more accommodating of your lifestyle. If I were to decide that I needed to raise a few sheep as part of my self reliance program I wouldn’t dream of just getting them and waiting for the HOA to complain. It’s clearly against the rules. I would move someplace where it’s okay.

You see, I’ve seen the other side of things, too. We used to live in a neighborhood where there was no HOA. The duplex across the street was a rental, and the landlord lived in another town and didn’t care. The weeds and grass were seldom less than a foot high, and usually brown. Those weeds would blow seeds into our yard, and it was a constant battle to keep them out.

Down the street lived a man who kept his Vegas-style Christmas light display up and turned on year-round. Down the other way was a house where they hung a 6-foot inflatable pterodactyl from a tree branch hanging over the road. The last time I drove through the old neighborhood I saw they had also added a metal rocket as tall as the house to the front yard.

Certainly there are worse neighborhoods, but when people see that sort of thing they can be hesitant to move in. Would-be sellers have to drop their asking price to entice someone to buy, and the lower it goes the more likely the buyer will also be someone who doesn’t care about how their own property looks. Pretty soon property values in the entire neighborhood are dropping.

Yes, I’m probably venting a bit here. The attitudes expressed in the comments on the APN site were rather frustrating, and decidedly anti-HOA. I know some HOAs are over the top. But as the volunteer president of an HOA who continually feels caught between the “let it all rot” crowd and the “not one inch out of line” crowd, I see a definite need for balance–and for some external pressures to put in at least a minimal effort to keep one’s place looking acceptable.

So go ahead and use your land to the fullest, but please be aware of the rules and do your best to operate within them. You never know when you’ll need your neighbors. It’s best to be a good neighbor yourself. If more people would be, we wouldn’t need HOAs.

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Six steps to urban homesteading

I’m not sure this qualifies as “urban homesteading” to me, but this article gives some pointers on making the most of your space when seeking to become more self reliant:

Urban homesteading may sound time-consuming, but the couple points out that incorporating even just one practice into your lifestyle allows you to maximize your natural resources and space, save money, and feel the satisfaction of enjoying something you cultivate yourself.

The suggestions the give here sound more like “suburban homesteading” in my book, but it’s all good. The ideas they offer are good, where possible.

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The changing face of employment

DDFD at Self Reliance Workshop posts a few thoughts on employment:

If You Couldn’t Get a Job Ever Again . . .

Do You View Yourself As “You, Inc.”?

After two years of unemployment I’m starting to consider both posts more seriously. In this new era of change we may all need to become expert at reinventing ourselves. Certainly we would probably be wise to consider every job as temporary and always be maintaining our personal networks, keeping our eyes open for new opportunities, keeping our resumes current, etc.

I hope this is not always the case, and perhaps the pendulum will swing back the other direction again some day, but for now, regular job turnover seems to be the norm.

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Mylar bags and five gallon buckets

MooMama over at American Preppers Network has a detailed post on how to preserve beans in five gallon buckets using mylar bags, complete with pictures. Definitely worth a read.

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Building professional networks.

My brother Dan has begun writing a series of posts about developing professional networks, starting with making a case for building networks.

I started with my closest friends, because I knew they wouldn’t say ‘no’ to helping me. I then followed up with their friends. Slowly, over the course of three months, I built the network I should have been building all along. After 125+ networking interviews, I was offered a job that was created for me and for which I was the only applicant.

My brother is one of the friendliest, most outgoing people I know, and even he finds networking difficult. I look forward to his tips for making networking manageable.

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Where have I been?

It’s been awhile since I posted. I’ve meant to post more often, but between being very busy trying to get a business off the ground and feeling as if I have very little to add on the subject or self reliance, I’ve not been able to do it.

You see, last autumn a wonderful thing happened. My business partner and I found a third partner who had a brother-in-law willing to invest in us. After putting together a business plan and projections, we decided to go ahead with opening a store–something we had not thought possible for many more years yet. We’ve been open for coming up on five months now, and we’re starting to break even.

The trouble is, none of us are making very much yet. Meanwhile I’ve been watching the balance in my bank account drop with growing concern. I’ve come to the conclusion that I may have to leave the business for at least a time and go find a job that can stop the bank account hemorrhage, perhaps even start it building up again. Since jobs are still not easy to come by, I’d better start now before we really get in a tight spot.

Meanwhile, given my current circumstances, I’ve not felt very self reliant. I’ve had a hard time convincing myself that I have anything to teach others right now when I’m largely just fighting to pay the bills. Yes, our fiscal discipline back when I had a good job as served us well and allowed us to go nearly two years without any significant income. But I can’t really lecture others on building up their food storage when I’m using up mine.

Or perhaps I’m just being too hard on myself. Certainly I’m verifying the truth of what I’ve been promoting. Had we not been somewhat self reliant things would have been worse–much worse.

But in any case, I need to get back to writing this blog. I was recently approached by someone wanting to do some guest posting, and I’m currently negotiating with them as to what form that will take. But I can’t exactly ask them to post when I’m not doing anything, can I? So I’m coming back. It just may take me a little while to figure out what I can say.

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Emergency preparedness for your pet

Many people know about 72-hour kits and have them for themselves and their family in case of an emergency evacuation. But what about your pet? Are you prepared to take care of your pet if you are forced to leave your home for several days? They need an emergency evacuation kit as well. Some things to consider:

– Food: This is most obvious, and easily arranged. Ziploc bags with enough food for several days can be prepared quite easily.
– Bathroom: This can be a little more difficult to manage, but there are a few options.
– Dogs: Keep a good supply of plastic bags (grocery bags or smaller-size garbage bags) handy to serve as “pooper scoopers”. Additionally or alternately, a stack of old newspapers can also come in handy.
– Cats: A low box with the top removed, or a plastic paint roller tray, filled with an inch or two of litter can work in a pinch. Keep the litter in a ziplock bag right along with the container and you’re ready to go.
– Medicine: If you pet takes any regular medicine or other treatments, keep a small supply set aside for emergencies.
– Comfort items: Retired toys or blankets that they are familiar with can help them feel more at home in unfamiliar surroundings and give them something to do.
– Shelter: Keep a pet carrier of the appropriate (or larger) size handy to grab if you need to evacuate. Most pets deal better with unfamiliar situations or places when confined in a familiar carrier. Other people where you evacuate will also appreciate you keeping your pet controlled.
– Spare leash: Keep a leash handy for taking your pet for walks when permitted.

Your pet is like one of your family, yet can far too often be overlooked when making emergency preparedness plans. Take some time to make sure their needs are accounted for as well, and everyone will be much happier.

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