The World Needs Heroes – Are You Ready?

kid-hero

It might sound like a throw away line from the latest superhero movie, however the fact is that the world does need heroes. We all do. Heroes inspire us and motivate us. They give us hope. They give us something to believe in, and something to aspire to be. They make us feel good about ourselves, and about the world at large.

For many of us our heroes are the larger-than-life people who have achieved great success in their lives. We find heroes amongst sports stars, entertainers, business and community leaders, and dare I say even politicians. These heroes are obvious because their success has put them in the public spotlight. They are interviewed and talked about and promoted to the extent that even though they might not be our personal hero, we cannot miss the fact they are heroes to somebody.

But then there are the others, the ones we often refer to as the ‘everyday’ or ‘unsung’ heroes. These are the ones whose faces you won’t see advertising the latest energy drink or sports footwear, or promoting their latest book, fragrance or clothing line. We find them in all walks of life: health professions, emergency services, military service, educators, religious leaders, volunteers, and parents to name a few. They become our heroes not just for what they do as much as for the fact that they do it at all, often without thought or need of thanks or compensation. They do it because to them it is the right thing to do – and for that they gain our admiration.

I have a number of heroes, and I would like to introduce you to two of them.

Jade is your typical 9-year-old Australian girl, who is constantly coming up with ideas to raise money for charities. She has supported everything from the preventing animal cruelty to research into childhood diseases. In her latest venture, she has taken it upon herself to make and sell what she calls ‘pink puppies’ – a folded piece of pink paper with a puppy dog face drawn on it. She drew her inspiration from the pink ribbon campaign known worldwide for raising funds to combat breast cancer – something she became aware of when her best friend’s grandmother commenced her own battle with the disease. Jade’s intent is to sell her pink puppies for 25 cents each, and donate all the money to Cancer Council Australia. She started by folding 50 pink puppies, which if sold will raise $12.50 for Cancer Council Australia. When asked if she thought it was worth all the work for a relatively small amount of money, she said, “it still helps, doesn’t it?”

Across the world, Emma is an all-American 10-year-old girl, who recognised a problem in her school and made a decision to try to fix it. That problem is bullying – an anti-social behaviour that is being increasingly recognised and publicised for the physical, mental, and emotional trauma it causes, particularly in school-age children. To tackle this in her own school, Emma decided to form an anti-bullying club to help other kids recognise bullying and give them the confidence to put a stop to it. In Emma’s words, “We don’t want kids to be bullied because we think it is wrong. We are hoping that when we are doing this we can encourage the bullies to stop! We want to help people feel better about themselves, which will help people step up to bullies.” Emma took a proposal to form the anti-bullying club to her school principal, and is waiting for the green light to go ahead.

Jade’s and Emma’s stories show us what it is to be a hero. At ages where all they should be worried about is what they’re going to do with their friends on the weekend, they have taken it upon themselves to make a difference in the lives of others, and to make our world a better place. Their selfless actions and altruistic intentions should inspire all of us. They show us that it is not just the act itself, but the intention behind the act, the desire to stand up and do something – anything – to make a difference, no matter how great or small, that is what makes a real hero.

Jade and Emma show us that we all have it within ourselves to be a hero. Are you ready to be a hero to someone today?

“I think a real hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” – Maya Angelou

Who are your heroes? What makes them a hero to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

4 Things You DON’T Need to Start a Business (Part 2/2)

Make it Easy

We’ve already established that you don’t need money (at least, not a lot of it) or an office space or store front in order to start a business. Now let’s look at what else don’t you need.

3. (Paid) Staff

Many people starting out in business start out by themselves, as sole-traders/sole-proprietors. For many new businesses or business ideas, this is all that’s initially required. There is so much that you can do yourself in the early stages. In fact, depending on the type of business you want to set up, you may not actually want to bring anyone else in at the start-up stage.

However, what if you need other people right from the beginning? What if your idea is bigger than one person? Or requires a lot more time, effort, or assistance than you can devote to it by yourself? You need staff – but that’s a huge expense, especially if it’s going to take you a while to generate cash flow.

This is where finding helpful volunteers can be a great benefit to any start-up business. I put volunteers of this kind into two categories: 1) the helpful friend/family member; and 2) the like-minded interest. It isn’t unusual for a volunteer to be both, which can be even more beneficial. Let me illustrate with a couple of examples.

When I first had my clinical practice years ago, I found I was on-selling a number of products to patients; wheat bags, braces and supports, that sort of thing. As a very small and new business, I didn’t have the purchasing power to buy and stock items in bulk – I could only order one or several items as the need arose. This meant I paid very close to retail for items, and could only charge enough to recoup the expense of ordering them (sometimes not even that). One popular item was the wheat bag – a fabric bag full of wheat grain that people could use as either a hot or ice pack. These were popular, but the quality ones were expensive, so to stock cost a lot of money, and demand wasn’t such that it justified keeping a large surplus. It is a really simple product to make – I’ve known a number of patients who end up making their own – but I knew nothing about cutting out a pattern or sewing. And to be honest, I had no desire to learn. Fortunately, I had a family member who knew lots about it and was willing to help me out. After purchasing the materials at less than the cost of two wheat bags, we were able to come up with our own design that was every bit the same quality as what I had been purchasing. Once we had a template, we could make about five wheat bags for the same cost as purchasing one. And because I had a volunteer, I didn’t have the expense of hiring someone, or contracting the work out, so profit was immediate. I was even able to start compensating my volunteer for their time and effort.

It was similar when I helped establish the National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Physiotherapists, Inc. (NAATSIP). NAATSIP was formed completely by volunteers – by a group of like-minded people – of which I was one. We had no money, no location, no staff; all we had was a group of people who shared a vision, and a desire to make it happen. We formed a board of directors, registered a business name, established ourselves as a not-for-profit organisation, and put ourselves into the Australian health arena. With no support staff (and no funding) we did everything ourselves, from developing our strategic plan to preparing reports, establishing services like our mentoring program to representing ourselves on local and national bodies. In our first year we made connections with all key stakeholders in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, participated in State and National policy-making decision processes, and became recognised as the peak professional body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapists by other peer peak health organisations. All without a single dollar being spent on salaries or other form of compensation. How? Because we all shared a vision, and while that vision was beyond any one individual to achieve, by coming together we made it realistic and achievable.

Volunteers can be the lifeblood of any organisation, even ones that are already established. For the budding entrepreneur, they can be an invaluable form of assistance to get your business idea off the ground and in motion.

4. (Paid) Advertising and Promotional Materials

There’s no question that advertising and promotion is a must for any business, and should be part of any marketing plan. The problem for start-ups is that it’s very expensive, not just in terms of cost, but the initial return on investment is usually very low, and sometimes nothing at all. It is very easy to invest thousands, or even tens-of-thousands of dollars in advertising and promotion and not make that money back for sometime, if at all.

Fortunately we live in the era of one of the best free ways to advertise and promote yourself – social media. In my opinion, social media is still either grossly under-valued, or ineffectively utilised, as a marketing and networking tool for new businesses. Yet consider these statistics:

  • Facebook has a reported 1.3 billion active monthly users;
  • LinkedIn and Google+ have 300 million users each
  • Twitter has 255 million users.

At those numbers, the chance of being able to expose your business to potential customers/clients is enormous, and (at this time of writing) it is all free-of-charge. All you have to do is sign up, create your business profile, and start promoting yourself.

Social Media Keyboard

One of the ways social media can promote your business is by finding people who will advocate on your behalf. You’ve probably heard it said that ‘word of mouth’ is the best form of advertising – never has this been more true than in the world of social media. Encouraging clients and supporters of your business to share that with others is one way you can attract ever-expanding interest in what you’re doing. Having people write reviews or testimonials about who you are and what you do, and then sharing that as far and wide as possible, is another way.

A good example of people who are using social media as part of their marketing strategy are independent (indie) authors and publishers.You’ll find indie authors and publishers on every social media platform, promoting their latest work or achievements to their followers, and encouraging said followers to share with everyone they know. Many actively engage in building friend/follower lists, and soliciting reviews of their work which they can then further use to promote themselves. The have to do this because, thanks to e-publishing, it has become such a highly competitive market: there are literally millions of self-published authors out there, all vying for your money. If you want to see how it’s done and how effective it can be, looking up the indie authors in your social networks can give you some pretty good examples.

Starting a business does not have to be as daunting or as expensive as it sounds. So many successful entrepreneurs – Richard Branson, Robert Kiyosaki, J.K. Rowling, Sara Blakely, and the Teutel family, just to name a few – have started out with little more than an idea and the desire to make it happen. One of the keys to their successes was that they made a start. If you have the desire to start your own business, you now know at least four things that won’t stand in your way.

Good luck!

Got more ideas on what you don’t need to start a business? Please feel free to share your tips in comments section below.

4 Things You DON’T Need to Start a Business (Part 1/2)

Make it Easy

Ever wanted to go into business for yourself? Been tempted but the thought of it is way too daunting? For starters there’s the money involved in starting a business, then finding a place to work out of, paying staff, advertising and promotion, licensing, registration, insurance, and on and on it goes. How can anyone struggling to get by possibly start their own business?

It might just be more possible than you think.

It actually takes surprisingly little to start your own business. Of course, what you DO need to start is highly dependent on the type of business you want to create, and any business that wants to succeed in the long-term is eventually going to need all those things already mentioned, and a whole lot more. But getting started, actually getting your idea out of your mind, out of your dreams, and into reality need not be as onerous or restrictive as you might have been led to believe.

Here are four things that might be holding you back that you don’t really need to start your own business:

1. Money (at least not very much)

Now you probably think that’s crazy, if not impossible, however bear with me. To build a long term, successful business will require expenditure, which means you will need money – I admit there is no escaping that. However, to get started, to take that first step towards being an entrepreneur, requires very little to no money at all. Chances are much of what you need you already have, or have access to.

Keeping initial costs down is all about two things: taking the do-it-yourself approach, and utilising as much free stuff as possible. For example, my first attempt at owning my own physiotherapy practice was as an in-home service. I had a computer, a printer, a car, my hands, and my vision. It cost me around $25.00 to obtain an ABN, and I registered my trading name at the same time. My first step was to create a letter to send out to all the doctors and medical centres in my area informing them of my service and what I could do for patients. Using programs that came with my computer, I created my own log, letterhead, and information package. After printing and stationary it probably cost me around $60.00 to do that. I then created a small flyer to do a mailbox drop in areas I thought I might get a response from. Printing costs may have been around $15.00, and I did the mailbox drop myself. Once I started getting referrals, the cost of service immediately offset the expense of running my vehicle, and soon compensated me for my accumulated expenses.

Setting up a physiotherapy service for around $100.00 is no mean feat. Sure, it wasn’t an elaborate clinic, and if I had simply left it at that it would never have led to long-term success or sustainability. It was, however, a start. It gave me my first real taste of being an entrepreneur, and led me to the business I operate today. Unless you have major initial expenses related to your business idea – for example, the need to purchase equipment, storage space, or stock – there’s no reason money, or a lack thereof, should stop you from starting a business.

2. An Office/Storefront

Almost every business venture I’ve started has been run from my desk and/or my laptop. In some cases this has been a pragmatic approach – I simply didn’t have the money or resource to lease and fit out an office or storefront – however for the most part the simple fact was that I didn’t need a physical location in order to do business. And unless your business idea requires a physical space that you cannot already provide, neither does yours.

The Digital Age give us the opportunity to revolutionise business like never before. Think about the average office environment – what does it contain? For an individual, it’s typically a desk, a chair, a computer, a file cabinet, and a phone. Some may have their own printer, many use a printer that is assigned to a work group. This will often be a multifunction device, enabling printing, copying, scanning and faxing. Look beyond the cubicle: every other person essentially has the same thing. Some – directors, managers, and so forth – will have their own office, but the contents of that office, the things that actually need to be able to work, are essentially the same. You’ll probably also see some kind of board- or meeting-room as well. Pretty standard, right?

Now consider this. You most likely have, or have access to, all those things right now. If you own a computer, a laptop, or one of the better tablets or smart phones, you already have your workstation. You might even already have a small personal multifunction device that lets you print, copy, scan and fax; but even if you don’t, you probably don’t need it anyway. Being able to store and share documents and information electronically has almost eliminated the need for hard copy. Why print when you can read and edit on-screen? Why fax when you can email? Why take up physical space filing hard copy when you can store things digitally on a device a fraction of the size of the average novel?

ConnectThinking along those lines, it’s not difficult to see how this can revolutionise workgroups. If everyone can work and share electronically, what is the need to have an actual office? You might say what about face-to-face contact, interaction and collaboration? Well, that’s all possible too thanks to almost every device that connects to the internet having audio-visual capabilities. If you own a recent laptop, tablet or smart phone, you already have a device capable of video conferencing, which helps bring people face-to-face. There are plenty of apps and software available – much of it free of charge – that will allow to connect one-to-one and as a group: and you don’t need to be in the same area, the same town, not even the same country to be able to do it.

But what about presence? What about having that location that represents your business? What if you need to meet with clients or investors or other VIPs? Meeting at your kitchen table or the local coffee shop might not cut it, right? In that case, let me introduce you to the virtual office. Virtual offices have been around for sometime but remarkably not many first time or developing entrepreneurs know about them. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve already done business with someone who used a virtual office and never even realised it. What is a virtual office?

You can think of a virtual office as the façade of your business. Virtual offices are a business in themselves: their business is presenting a public face for your business. A basic virtual office setup will often include, for a recurring fee, a physical location address, a mail service – whereby you can have mail sent and either pick it up or have it redirected – and a ‘receptionist’ who can redirect calls to you or take messages as required. You are generally provided with a business number to give out and calls received on your behalf are greeted with your company’s name as they would be if you had your own employed receptionist. For additional one-off or recurring fees additional services can also be provided, from having access to an office/cubicle and business equipment, to the provision of a board- or meeting-room to hold face-to-face meetings with clients. Many virtual office providers have services in different cities, even different countries, and can extend the same range of services in area they are based in. Suddenly, your business can give the appearance of being national or multi-national – something to consider when planning the scope of your business.

A virtual office can be an excellent short-to-mid-term solution for someone wanting establish a professional presence for a new business. Yes, all of this comes with a price, however when you consider the costs associated with leasing, or worse, purchasing, a business property, there really is no comparison when first starting out.

The next two tips will appear in Part 2 of this article – be sure to Subscribe so you don’t miss out!

Why Australian Health Insurers Should Cover Tai Chi

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Photo courtesy Gold Coast Tai Chi Academy

 

Regular readers will be well aware of my advocacy of Tai Chi as a means of maintaining optimal health for the lifespan. (For those who are new, click on the Tai Chi tag to read past articles about the benefits of Tai Chi). There are few forms of exercise that can boast the wide range of physical and mental health benefits, whilst being accessible to people of all ages and abilities, as Tai Chi does.

Health insurers around the world have increasingly recognised the benefits of enabling their members to engage in activities designed to promote healthy lifestyles, and thereby maximise health and well-being. The rationale is simple: engaging in preventative health practices minimises the risks of developing more serious, complicated, and/or debilitating conditions, and therefore reduces both the incidence and level (not to mention the expense) of future medical care required. For example, it is far better from an insurers point of view to support a member to engage in a weight management program, gym membership, and nicotine replacement therapy, than it is to support them through coronary artery bypass surgery and the follow-up care afterwards.

As a result, most, if not all, health insurers now offer some form of support for members to engage in activities designed to maintain or improve their health. The types of activities vary between insurers: in Australia, common activities covered include gym and personal training, yoga, Pilates, and weight management programs. Yet despite its known benefits to health, Tai Chi is not currently covered by any major Australian health insurer. Why?

It’s a good question. Considering that health insurers will, for the most part, only cover treatments or activities that are supported by clinical evidence to be effective in maintaining or improving health, Tai Chi is possibly one of the better examples of evidence-based interventions for good health. A good example of this can be found in a review published in the American Journal of Health Promotion (1.). In this article, Jahnke and colleagues examined the outcomes of randomised controlled trials investigating the outcomes of both Tai Chi and Qigong exercises, and found evidence of positive outcomes for numerous health factors, including bone health, cardiopulmonary health, physical function, falls prevention, immunity, psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression and self-efficacy, and general quality of life. This is by no means an exhaustive list: research since publication continues to identify more health conditions for which Tai Chi can be beneficial. In the face of such evidence, and considering that many insurers cover a range of complimentary or alternative health practices whose evidence based is equal to or less than that of Tai Chi, it seems odd that Tai Chi would not be covered alongside options such as yoga and Pilates.

It becomes even more confusing when you consider that Tai Chi has previously been covered by at least one insurer in Australia. In 2010 the Tai Chi Association of Australia (TCAA) reported that MBF (which has since merged and is now known as Bupa) had recognised Tai Chi for inclusion in its Lifestyle Bonus option, and as much as 70% of class fees could be covered under certain conditions. At the time of writing however, Tai Chi does not appear to be covered under Bupa’s Living Well programs, whereas other forms of exercise such as yoga and Pilates are, and the reasons for this remain unknown.

Another point of consideration is the fact that Tai Chi is gaining recognition and support from the broader health and medical industry for its health benefits. An increasing number of doctors, physiotherapists, exercise physiologists and other health professionals are recommending Tai Chi as a part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. A number of hospitals and health services either conduct, or are connected to, Tai Chi classes, and promote this to their patients and the broader community. For example, the South West Hospital and Health Service in rural south-west Queensland offers free Tai Chi classes to the general public. This is similar to programs offered by local councils, such as the Gold Coast City Council’s Active and Health Program which includes Tai Chi amongst its variety of healthy activities. In addition, the benefits of Tai Chi have been formally recognised and endorsed by a number of peak representative bodies, including Arthritis Australia, Diabetes Australia and Osteoporosis Australia.

In the light of such evidence, recognition and support, it seems to only make sense that health insurers should be including Tai Chi alongside other already recognised activities such as yoga and Pilates. Indeed, health insurers in other countries, for example the United States, have already recognised the benefits of including Tai Chi in their own benefits packages. Surely the inclusion of Tai Chi within a healthy lifestyle package can only serve to benefit health insurer’s members, and in doing so, benefit the insurers themselves.

Do you practice Tai Chi? Do you have private health insurance? Do you think health insurance should cover Tai Chi, as it does other activities such as yoga and Pilates? Please share your comments below.


References

1. Jahnke, R., et al. (2010). A comprehensive review of health benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi. American Journal of Health Promotion, 24(6): e1-e25.

 

Words vs. Actions: which is stronger?

Pen_Mighter-620x330When was the last time you heard someone say, “actions speak louder than words?” How about, “the pen is mightier than the sword?” Words and actions have been stuck in an endless grudge-match since both coexisted. Both have their merits and pitfalls, their strengths and weaknesses. Yet does one have an advantage over the other? Are words in fact stronger than actions? Or will actions always win out over words?

There’s no question that words can be very powerful, a topic I’ve touched on before. We’ve all felt their power at one time or another in our lives: “you’ve passed”, “you’ve failed”, “you’ve got the job”, “we’ve given the job to someone else”, “I love you”, “I hate you”, “I’m so proud of you”, “I’m so disappointed in you” are simple examples of phrases that have most likely had a profound effect on you when you’ve heard them. Even “yes” and “no” can be powerful within certain contexts; just think about the impact either word can have in answer to the question, “will you marry me?”

Words have proven their power through the evolution of language and communication. It’s important to realise that our use of words is not only for pragmatic reasons. Consider the difference between reading a book in order to obtain knowledge and information, and reading one purely for pleasure and enjoyment. Consider why we read poetry, or listen to songs. Greeting card companies exist because of the power of words. Words influence us. They are powerful enough to alter our thoughts and our emotions. If they can alter our thoughts and emotions, then they can also influence our actions and behaviour. If our can be determined by words, then perhaps they are more powerful than actions.

However, what are words without actions behind them? Consider a situation where someone says they can do something, but then demonstrates they really can’t. Or makes a promise, but fails to keep it. Or apologises for something they did, and then does exactly the same thing again. The words become meaningless, and words without meaning have no power. They lose their ability to influence, convince, or support anything. In this sense, words need actions; they are dependent on actions to reinforce them, to give them credence and credibility, to make them mean something. Actions reveal the level of truth behind the words, and that determines what influence the words have upon us.

For example, if someone says, “you can trust me”, and then demonstrates through their actions that you can in fact trust them, this will have a powerful effect on your perception of that person and relationship with them. However, an equally powerful effect will occur if that person’s actions demonstrates that you cannot trust them. The words themselves are unchanged – “you can trust me” – so they are not what determines the direction of influence. It is the actions the person undertakes after speaking them that determines their meaning (or lack thereof), and the ultimate outcome. If words can only derive their meaning from the actions behind them, then it surely it stands to reason that actions are stronger than words.

Consider what happens though when there are no actions, or to put another way, when someone undertakes the action of inaction. You’ve probably encountered this situation numerous times: ever sent an email or left a voice message and not had any response from the recipient? Ever scheduled an appointment with someone and they just haven’t shown up? Ever told someone something and their only answer was silence? Those who follow the concept of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) tell us that a person cannot not communicate: that is, even when someone does not respond to us, that lack of response is in fact a response in itself. The problem is, how do you know what they’re trying to communicate to you? Are they ignoring you? Are they indifferent? Are they considering? Do they simply have nothing to say or contribute? Or perhaps they haven’t had time to respond? Maybe they didn’t get your message at all? How do you know what they’re telling you?

The fact is you cannot know what the lack of action means without some form of clarification, and this will almost always be through the use of words. Words can explain both action and inaction, and thereby give those actions context and meaning, which then helps our understanding and comprehension. In fact, sometimes words are all you’ve got to be able to convey something to someone else.

Consider a couple separated by distance – perhaps one is a soldier stationed overseas, or needs to travel for business, or for whatever reason just can’t be with the person they belong with. Under these circumstances, the physical presence that conveys the love, security, and support through the many non-verbal cues and actions that occur when they are together is absent. Does this mean all those things suddenly stop, or change, or become less important? Not at all. However, many couples struggle with this situation simply because while they detect this absence – that something is ‘missing’ – they are unable to resolve it, or at least accommodate it, through other means. In this instance, words can be vital, because they might be all you have. We know that words influence feelings, emotions, and behaviours, and if it’s all you’ve got, then doesn’t that make them a great asset in terms of maintaining what you share as a couple?

This is not to suggest words can substitute for actions, nor that one needs to become a poet or bard in order to use words effectively in this type of situation. But saying something – saying anything – about how you feel about someone, what they mean to you, how important they are to you, or your relationship together is to you, can help ensure that you don’t ‘lose’ anything during your time apart.

Now here’s the real kicker. Ask a couple that’s been through this: was it the words themselves, or the action of expressing them, that made the difference? What do you think they will say?

It’s easy to keep going around in circles with this discussion, and therefore why words and actions have been squaring off for so long. Is one stronger than the other? Sometimes, yes, one does appear to be stronger, or have more meaning, or more power, than the other. Ultimately though, both words and actions are equally powerful; it is the context that determines the balance between the two. What does this mean in practical terms? My advice would be: don’t choose a side, or better yet, choose both sides. Just say what you mean, and mean what you say, and you will have the power of both.

Where do you stand? Are actions more important than words? Are words more powerful than actions? Are both equally important to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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