What the Chinese can teach me about business

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Sometimes I wonder why I have subscriptions to Fortune and Forbes magazines. Although I operate my own business as a freelance writer/editor/photographer, my operating budget and annual revenues don’t exactly match those of the typical Fortune and Forbes reader. I do occasionally hire a contract worker to do transcription work for me, and for awhile there I thought about outsourcing some administrative tasks to a virtual assistant (until I found out how much they cost per hour, which was about how much I make per hour), but with those rare exceptions, I’m nowhere near being able to hire employees.

Still, it is inspiring to read a lot of the articles, even those that don’t directly pertain to me and my small biz. The ones that feature a particular small biz offer plenty of ideas and inspiration for other entrepreneurs, and it’s heartening to know that others face many of the same challenges I do.

One recent article about Warren Buffett’s foray into the electric car business via a Chinese company called BYD offers some interesting insight into that culture’s secret to business success. The bottom line for Chinese industry is literally near the bottom line of the article itself:

“How did BYD get so far ahead?” Warren Buffett asked Wang [Chuan-Fu, BYD’s founder], speaking through a translator. “Our company is built on technological know-how,” Wang answered. Wary as always of a technologyp lay, Buffett asked how BYD would sustain its lead. “We’ll never, never rest,” Wang replied.

Buffett may not understand batteries or cars, or Mandarin for that matter. Drive, however, is something that needs no translation.

I love that. Hard work may not always save a company from failure, but it’s definitely an essential ingredient for success. It’s something that many would-be entrepreneurs forget to take into account when they dream of making their first million or two. I know that in my previous attempts to start my own business (wedding photography, Mary Kay sales), I always underestimated the amount of sheer hard work and time that I would have to invest in starting and growing the business. It means often having to work on vacation (which I did for about a fifth of my time in Singapore last year); working late during the week and on the weekends; and skipping otherwise very important events, even those that involve family. People have the misconception that working for yourself means that you have unlimited time on your hands — I can’t count how many times I’m often asked, “So, what are you doing with yourself these days?” As if being a freelance writer meant lounging around in my jammies, waiting for inspiration to hit while popping M&M’s in my mouth and watching daytime TV.

Well, okay, yeah, I do pop M&M’s frequently, but usually it’s while I’m hammering away on an article or blog post or responding to a job posting. I watch TV no more than the average American, and probably even less. I don’t watch daytime TV because my job requires my full concentration, even though I’m doing it on the couch at home.

Still, I know I can do more. I’m not afraid of hard work, but it does require some sacrifice. I know I work hard, but I also recognize that there are times when I slack off a wee bit too much, and since we moved back to Dallas, those times happen more often than I care to admit.

What about you? If you’re an entrepreneur, whether you’re a writer or Web developer or artist or craftsperson, do you think you work as hard as you’re capable? Or do you think you have some room for improvement in your efficiency and industry?

Bitch article!

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An article I wrote for Bitch magazine profiling ShinJoung Yeo, Stanford University research librarian and all-around kick-ass feminist, is at your favorite bookshop now. I can’t remember the page number, but it’s the issue with the words Lost & Found (the issue theme) on the black cover.

I’d wanted to write for Bitch, my favorite mag, since the late ’90’s when I discovered it at the Richland County Public Library. When they accepted my query a few months ago, I was over the moon. And now you can read the results of my hard work, while also perhaps discovering a new favorite mag for yourself.

Geeks Rule!

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Found a cool new magazine at the bookstore today!!! Actually, I’d noticed Geek Monthly before, when I saw the premiere issue several months ago on the newsstands. Hard to miss Rainn Wilson‘s smug mug leaping off the cover. I also couldn’t resist reading the article featuring cover model Tina Fey, one of my all-time favorite screenwriters/actors.

I don’t know what drew me to this month’s issue, though. Certainly not the Futurama cover — never saw the show, never was interested. Maybe it was the Ed Helms article, or the one about the “most damaging Christmas specials ever.” Whatever it was that attracted my attention, I’m glad it did ’cause I found the writing to be refreshingly irreverent, snarky and just all around funny and smart. And I don’t mean “smart” the way women’s mags say they’re “smart.” You know what I mean? They claim to speak to a readership composed of “smart, savvy women,” while vomiting — er, printing — features each month that instruct their supposedly brilliant audience how to trim inches off their thighs or get buttery highlights just like Kate Hudson.

Anyway, this one’s smart in that they assume their readers have functioning brains and funny bones. One “random review” of Grapples had me laughing so hard, if I were still drinking coffee it would’ve shot out of my nose. Seriously. And another review of a Japanese Western made the film so intriguing that I just had to write the title down for a future Netflix order, despite my dislike of Western films in general, Asian or otherwise.

Yeah, I’m in love. I’m filling out the subscription card tomorrow.

MRA

Meditations on What Can Be a Crappy World

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I once thought it only interesting that Mariane Pearl once said that she believes in the power of individuals rather than that of politicians to effect true change, but I think I understand what she means now. With all the scandals ripping through the news about this senator or that Congressperson or the governor of such-and-such state, I’m losing more and more patience and faith in our elected officials and turning more towards the actions and courage of people like, well, Ms. Pearl. Maybe she’s right…maybe the only real hope for change lies in the work of people with no agenda but their desire to make a difference, to reach out to the helpless and innocent and pull them out of their dire circumstances. There’s been a lot of talk about the need for peace and dialogue and understanding, but in the fifty years since the founding of the United Nations, we’ve only seen more war, famine, rape, genocide, poverty, and oppression than ever before, and this time on a global scale.

Writing appeals to me partly because I feel helpless myself when confronted with the intractable problems that continue to confound us. I vote, but as the 2000 elections demonstrated, it apparently doesn’t matter. I donate money to worthy causes, but so many more children are born every single day who will never know anything but struggle and pain — if they even make it out of childhood alive. I’ve worked for nonprofits for most of my professional life, but there never seems to be enough time and resources to really make a dent in one’s mission, and the need never seems to diminish, only increase.

And the cacophony of voices that spill over into the Web just add to the white noise. Lots of words hurled at others, very little really accomplished. Reasoned dialogue goes out the window in the heat of some very nasty exchanges, most of which reveal little but the sheer ignorance of the parties involved.

There’s a great special issue of Smithsonian magazine currently on the newsstands with the cover story: “37 Under 36: America’s Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences.” Some very inspiring profiles of people who apparently aren’t letting their despair get in the way of their creativity and desire to change the world in their own unique way. I especially loved the story of Matthew Flannery, who started Kiva.org, a people-to-people microlending organization that crosses borders and cultures. It’s one of those God-I-wish-I’d-thought-of-this projects that can help restore your faith in your fellow Earth-dwellers.

There’s plenty more inspiration in those pages, including writers and other artists who are showing the world that not all is lost, that there is still much to celebrate about the world, so much more that remains to be explored, whether in the depths of the Earth or the farthest corners of the human heart.

Not that my own writing equals that of honorees such as ZZ Packer. But I do take comfort in knowing that my writing can transcend the petty grievances and minutiae that often plague my easily distracted mind, that there exists something more eternal and meaningful than what occupies the shallow attention of a limited world.

M.