Author Archives: Ray Silverstein

About Ray Silverstein

RAY SILVERSTEIN is an entrepreneur, author and speaker revered for his high business intellect and ability to communicate meaningful and practical concepts to those wishing to achieve success in business. As the President of Peer Advisory Training and President’s Resource Organization (PRO), he is instrumental in creating breakthrough moments for executives wrestling with an assortment of personal and organizational issues. Ray describes himself in metaphorical terms as both a corporate chiropractor, one who helps straighten out businesses and a corporate farmer, one who provides the corporate fertilizer that helps business grow. He currently presides over seven peer advisory groups in Chicago and Phoenix.

The Art of Delegating – A Little Leadership Goes a Long Way

The Art of Delegating

To grow a business beyond a certain point, there’s a bridge every entrepreneur must cross. You must transition from “doing” to “leading,” which means stepping back from day-to-day operations in order to oversee it. In other words, you must learn to work “on” the business, not “in” the business.

Let’s go back in time to when you first formed your company. Of course you were involved in every aspect of it. But as your firm grew, you needed help to get things done. So you began hiring employees, and delegating tasks and (hopefully) responsibility.

Learning to delegate is an ongoing journey. Half the battle is hiring people who you feel comfortable delegating to. The other half is creating infallible work processes, and defining the amount of risk you are willing take and deciding what to delegate.

Some of this comes down to good ol’ communication. In many small businesses, employees wear many hats. As a result, they’re not always sure what their most important job is. It’s the boss’s responsibility to tell them…

• What their responsibilities/tasks are, and of them, what the priority is.
• What doing a good job looks like. Don’t expect workers to instinctively know; it’s up to you to define and describe it.
• Where each worker stands in terms of job performance. How can you improve without feedback?

Even if you haven’t implemented formal job descriptions and performance reviews—and many small businesses don’t–you can still communicate this information to employees.

But what if you don’t have the right people in place? What if you aren’t comfortable delegating to them? Well, there are several things you can do.

You can provide training designed to get their skills up to par. Not likely? Then move them into a less demanding position. Some employees don’t want the responsibility of thinking; they want to work on autopilot. Perhaps there’s a place for worker bees in your organization?

But if there isn’t, and nothing is working, you may have to take that difficult step of replacing them with people who eagerly accept responsibility. That takes courage. That’s leadership at its toughest. Peer boards give support and insight to take the necessary steps.

Until you get your business to the point where it almost runs itself, you won’t be able to disengage long enough to provide that essential vision. And once you reach that point, you’ll find it’s true: a little leadership goes a long way.

If you would like a “hands on” experience of a peer board please either call/text 312 593-5133 or e-mail I would be happy to invite you to attend a meeting as my guest.

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Great Minds Don’t Think Alike

Ways to Get Employee Involvement

So, with that in mind, how do you encourage freethinking in the workplace? Here are some techniques that some members of my peer advisory groups use:

• Encourage your employees to offer suggestions—after all, who knows the ins and outs of your business better? Whether through an old-fashioned Suggestion Box or a special email address, create a dedicated process for soliciting employee input. Perhaps each month, you could solicit ideas on a specific topic—say, “What do customers want?” or “How can we make this product better?”

• Recognize and reward your employees’ best ideas. It doesn’t have to be a huge reward to be powerful. Whether it’s a premium parking space for your “Great Thinker of the Month” or a paid day-off, recognition works. Implement as many suggestions as you can, even some of the weaker ones, in order to prime the pump.

• Cultivate a workplace environment that encourages innovative thinking and collaboration. Hold interdepartmental brainstorming sessions. Make sure employees know how to give each other positive, constructive feedback. Provide training if necessary.

• Similarly, don’t foster an environment where employees feel free to criticize and badmouth each other. This tends to shut people down. If you have an organization destroyer in your midst—someone who consistently undercuts morale—take action. Even if that person is one of your top performers.

• Take note of your own management style. When one of your employees makes a suggestion, is your knee-jerk reaction to quickly shoot them down? Train yourself to respond in a more positive way. Be more open to new ideas.

• Instead of running every meeting yourself, let your employees take turns being chairperson. This encourages others to talk and gets you in the habit of listening. Remember, as the boss, you are by nature intimidating. Your staff is pre-programmed to defer to you. You won’t invite anarchy by occasionally leveling the playing field a bit.

• Make a point of hiring different kinds of thinkers, as well as people with diverse backgrounds. Look for candidates whose strengths and styles complement rather than mirror your own. (Of course, they must share your moral standards and work ethics, but that’s a different story.)

The point is, you never know where—or from whom—your next great idea is coming from. Be the kind of leader that encourages innovation.

So let’s banish the expression “Great minds think alike.” I like this one by General George Patton better: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

If you would like a “hands on” peer board experience please either call/text 312 593-5133 or e-mail

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Inspiring Employees is Easier Than You Think

There are managers who “lead” through bullying and intimidation, but demeaning people doesn’t inspire loyalty, only fear. Dictatorship isn’t leadership, and most people don’t perform their best under stress, anyway. True leadership means creating a gratifying employer/employee relationship that starts as simply as treating others with respect. For example:

  • When employees talk, listen. Don’t interrupt; don’t shoot down their ideas or dismiss their complaints. Investigate their suggestions as well as their criticisms, and report back with your finding. By being open and responsive, you’ll earn their trust.
    • Recognize good performance. You don’t have to offer monetary rewards, but it helps to have a formal recognition program. Post an “employee of the month.” plaque in your reception area, reserve a special parking space, take them to lunch. Honor your people in front of their peers. Corny? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.
  • Give credit where credit is due. If someone offers a good idea, attribute it to them (even if you have to modify it to put it into practice). This will encourage more good ideas.
  • On that note, ask for suggestions regularly. Beyond the fact that people like to be heard, remember that your employees know aspects of your business you’ve undoubtedly forgotten. You never know where your next “eureka!” will come from.
  • Delegate. It will not only free you up to focus on the big picture, it gives employees a chance to grow and learn. It also demonstrates your confidence in them, and confident employees are creative employees.
  • Look for qualities to compliment, rather than criticize. When you critique performance, start with the positives and do it in a constructive way.
  • Don’t be mysterious about the business. Employees want to know the scoop; they have a stake in the business, too. When you have a big success—like picking up a big new account—celebrate as a group, even if just means springing for pizza or cupcakes.
  • Similarly, when things aren’t going well, be truthful, but frame the news in a positive, reassuring light. Don’t let the rumor mill run wild. When morale plummets, so does productivity.
  • Schedule regular monthly or quarterly status meetings, so workers can feel confident you’ll kept them in the loop. Share your goals and vision as well as your corporate status. Few things motivate employees like being in the know.
  • Similarly, create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing with you, even when it’s bad news. That way, you can nip problems in the bud. Instead of placing blame when there’s an error, approach problem solving as a team effort.

While none of these are revolutionary ideas, sometimes the simple things are also the most effective. And when you take the trouble to inspire your employees, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that they return the favor.

If you would like a “hands on” experience of a peer board please either call/text 312 593-5133 or e-mail

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Goal-setting: The Entrepreneur’s Secret Weapon

Many entrepreneurs don’t set specific goals for their business, but studies show that goal-setting really does drive higher achievement. According to small business peer board members who’ve embraced this technique, goal-setting forces you to focus your energies effectively and develop real, viable action plans. It isn’t hard if you follow their lead.

Here’s how PRO peer board members put the goal-setting process to work for them.

Vision Goals: Where Do You Want to Be in Three Years?
Most people set goals in one-year increments. Think bigger. Research indicates that successful people plan out three years ahead.

“I had always established and worked on long term and yearly goals,” says PRO member Rocky Palmi, President of Ramcel Engineering, Precision Stamping and Manufacturing of Northbrook, IL.

“My perspective was enhanced when I was asked about where I had to be in six months, three months and thirty days, and what strategy and actions had to be completed to accomplish my near term goals to meet my year goals and move toward my long term objectives.”

So, where do you want to be three years from now? Think in measurable terms like dollars, percentages, and market share, as well as in terms of specific activities. Do you want to add new products to your portfolio? Hire a sales staff? These three-year goals are your Vision Goals.

365 Goals: Plot a Course to Reach Your Vision Goals
Now, let’s figure out how you’re going to get there. Break each Vision Goal down into manageable steps. Look at those initial steps—you’ve just identified your goals for the coming year. These are your 365 Goals.

For example, one PRO member’s primary Vision Goal was to attain 10% of market share. We determined that her primary 365 Goal would be acquiring 3% of market share. Her remaining 365 Goals included specific actions to help her reach her Vision Goal—i.e., hiring a salesperson, launching one new product and reworking her marketing plan.

If your 365 Goals look like action plans, you’re on the right track!

Now Goals: Jump-starting Your 365 Goals
PRO members report that the goal-setting process generates energy, excitement and ideas. These are valuable assets—don’t let them slip away. Leverage them by identifying one or two short-term goals that you can attain in, say, 90 days. These are your Now Goals.

Perhaps one of your Now Goals is to update your website or to join your local small business peer board. Whatever they are, get started right away!

Assign Due Dates to Your Goals and Action Plans
One step PRO members say is very important is to break those action plans down into small steps and assign each one a due date. This allows you to measure your progress and helps keep you on track.

Or, as I like to tell my peer boards: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

Put Your Goals to the SMART Test
Have you heard of the concept of SMART goals? SMART goals are grounded in the real world; they aren’t just fantasies. Set yourself up for success by making sure your goals meet the SMART criteria:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Realistic
T – Timely

Put It in Writing: PRO’s Goal-setting Worksheet
Finally, write it (or type it) down! The act of committing your ideas to paper forces you to think in concrete terms and make your resolutions more real. It can also lead to brainstorming, which is always valuable.

Studies show that people who put their goals in writing are more likely to achieve them than those who don’t. It’s important.

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Work Smarter, Not Harder with the 80/20 Rule

Are your days so busy that you rarely get to the most important items on your to-do list?  According to small business peer board members, success came easier once they learned to concentrate on tasks that matter, instead of spending time on trivial activities. They learned to harness ‘the 80/20 rule’ and if you follow their tips, you can, too.

It’s tempting to spend time on small tasks at the expense of the big ones. They’re easier to finish, for one thing, and it feels good to cross things off your list. But “doing” isn’t the same as “accomplishing.” The key is to prioritize your activities, so you’re investing your time and energies where it matters most. That’s where the 80/20 rule comes in.

“I found that learning to delegate is one of the most important skills a business owner can have,” says PRO member Doug Timberlin, President of Cupp’s Industrial Supply Inc. in Phoenix, which manufactures gaskets, mechanical packing, seals, expansion joints, plastic fabrication and CNC machined parts.

“Get the little tasks off your desk so you can focus on the bigger picture.”

Understanding the 80/20 Rule

You’re undoubtedly familiar with the 80/20 principle in one context or another.

The concept was first proposed by Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th Century Italian economist, as far as I know. After studying Italy’s economy, Pareto concluded that 80 percent of Italy’s income was generated by 20 percent of its population.

‘Pareto’s Theory of Mal-distribution,’ as it was first known, suggests that 80 percent of output comes from 20 percent of input. Turn it around, and it means that a small percentage of our efforts generate a large percentage of our results—a fact just about every PRO member has found to be true.

Apply the 80/20 Rule to Your Workday

Now, apply the 80/20 concept to the way you manage your time. Of all the activities you engage in on a typical day, what tasks create revenue for you? What is essentially trivial? Identify which activities propel you forward and which ones hold you back.

That “busy work” is destructive. Once you’ve identified it, you’re job is to figure out how to get it off your desk.  Can you delegate it? Automate it? Outsource it? Forget it?

However, some of my PRO members find that there’s some ‘small stuff’ you can’t delegate. They’ve found that setting aside a fixed block of time to attend it, say, one afternoon a week, is a good way to keep it in its place. The goal is to keep your main focus—and big blocks of prime work time—to doing things that count.

Sometimes, we busy ourselves with small activities because we’re not sure how to tackle the big ones. In that case, create an action plan. Break a massive project down into small, concrete steps that you can tackle one by one. If you like crossing things off you list, this will work well for you.

Review Other Aspects of Business through the 80/20 Lens

It’s helpful to review other aspects of business this way, too.

For example, look at your customer base. What ‘20 percent’ of customers generate ’80 percent’ of sales? The actual number may vary, but the principle won’t. According to PRO members, the key is to analyze the characteristics that your best customers have in common, so you can target more prospects like them.

Or, consider what additional products or services you could be offering to these key accounts. How can you maximize the sales relationships that matter?

Or, study your workforce through the 80/20 prism. Are some employees doing the lion’s share of the work while others coast? Use this knowledge to manage your employees more effectively and ramp up productivity.

Put It in Writing: PRO’s 80/20 Worksheet

Your time and energy is finite. Applying the 80/20 Rule to your workday can help you use both more effectively. Be principled about it—put it in writing.

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Are You Fit to Be an Entrepreneur?

Are you fit for entrepreneurial endeavors or to be an entrepreneur? 2 Small Biz Guys explore the path to profitable returns. We explore considerations and questions regarding small business start ups. Some folks want to start their own business but may not be a good fit for becoming an entrepreneur. You can take a brief quiz and see where you stand on the scale before launching into something you may regret. On the other hand, you may be a perfect match for taking the leap. Find out here.

If you are a self-starter, can create good relationships and lead others you are on the right track. There are some recommended steps, though. We often leap without looking, especially when we accept and engage risk. When we plan strategically, looking for and filling the holes in the plan effectively, we have a much greater chance for success. Here’s the steps:

  1. Write a Business Plan
  2. Get Business Assistance and Training
  3. Choose a Business Location
  4. Finance Your Business
  5. Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business
  6. Register a Business Name
  7. Get a Tax Identification Number
  8. Register for State and Local Taxes
  9. Obtain a Business License and Permits
  10. Understand Employer Responsibilities

Often the latter is not fully appreciated until the business owner is taken off track because there are now employees to manage. Competitors, rather than wish you ill, may wish you more employees. Human resources are often the most important aspect of a business that is growing, maintaining good employee relations being imperative.

Cash flow is most important, though, and without it your business will suffer greatly and potentially fall without great fanfare. There are some key considerations in this article. There are also some excellent resources for short-term on-demand small business education at Practical Business University. We also discussed sales strategies briefly and these made the top ten, from the author of How to Say It: Business to Business Selling.

On to the show:

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Woodstock – The Apex of a Social Revolution

August 18, 1969 is a date that was the apex of a social revolution. That was the date of Woodstock, a weekend music festival whose impact was felt around the world. The music festival occurred forty years ago but is still remembered not only by the sixties generation, but by those who followed. Many who attended said it was a “life changing event.”

Woodstock is remembered as a time of hippies, drugs, love, peace, freedom of ideas and revolution of accepted mores. In short, youthful hedonism and 60’s excess. But, I want to examine Woodstock from an entrepreneurial point of view.

I recently went to visit friends who live in Livingston Manor, New York. Little did I realize that they live not far from Bethel, the site of Woodstock. My friend spent his summers in a home adjacent to Max Yasgur’s pasture, where Woodstock was held.

The setting today is a pastoral hillside with a small marker indicating where Woodstock took place. On the hillside is the Woodstock Museum and a small outdoor concert area, mostly for classical music. What a change but still worth seeing.

Woodstock was pure entrepreneurship–people with an idea and a passion! For sure, this was not a MBA mentality. They were, as Tom Peters states “Ready, Fire, Aim.” The concept came together very quickly. Although they had some business experience, it was not great experience. The original goal was to raise enough money from the festival to fund a music recording studio in upstate New York, where some of the artists lived.

The original site was an industrial park in Wallkill, New York. Contracts were already signed, but town people became nervous about the potential crowd. An audience of 50,000 was the initial target. But these young entrepreneurs were adaptable. In June, Wallkill town people were still raising issues and Woodstock Ventures quickly found another location that was willing to accept them. Imagine, changing locations with less than 75 days to concert time!

The major marketing activity would be word of mouth. And, there was no internet to spread the word. They thought they would need three major acts to get the buzz going. Jefferson Airplane was the first to sign at the incredible amount of $12,000. At that time, they usually received $5,000 to $6,000. The next to sign was Creedence Clearwater for $11,500 and then, The Who, for $12,500. In total they spent $180,000 on talent. These promoters were risk takers. Just think…a concert in a pasture, over 100 miles from New York and without any major population nearby.

The concept slogan of “Three Days of Peace and Music” was cultivated very carefully in the underground press. Publications like the Village Voice and Rolling Stone were used along with some ads in the New York Times. Artie Kornfeld, one of the original Woodstock producers said, “The cool PR image was intentional,” using counterculture symbols and phrases. This is another entrepreneurial cornerstone; you must identify your market. The advertising and public relations was targeted for a specific group—young, peace loving and hip. This audience spread the word from the east to west coast.

Woodstock was over the top successful. It is estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people attended on a rain soaked, muddy field. The New York Thruway was clogged and created one of the worst traffic jams experienced.

Woodstock is now a brand. These promoters had an idea and were passionate, adaptive risk takers who identified an audience. They had a message targeted to that audience and were proactive in creating word of mouth marketing that was “cool” and easy to spread.

To be successful in tough times, you need similar traits. You need ideas and a passion to execute them. You need to be adaptive when necessary and make investments (risk taking) to promote the concept. Lastly, you need to identify your audience and choose the best vehicle to get attention.

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Did You Know? Maybe You Did Not

Are you ready to learn something today? You may already know this. Allow me to refresh your memory if you do. I am forwarding you a link to a rather startling YouTube video. (It was supposedly a presentation made at this year’s Sony Executive Conference). I found it to be very informative, thought-provoking, and, frankly, hair-raising.

There is something to be learned here. So, please click the following link and take a look. It’s just a few minutes long. (Don’t finish reading my email until after you’ve watched it.)

Did you watch it? In that case, to quote a line from the video…so what does it all mean?

To me, it means that the world is changing far faster than it did in any of my experiences of the past…and even faster than the life I am experiencing now. As the video says, “These are Exponential Times.” Business and life will never be the same.

In general, most people do not welcome change, but nevertheless, Change Is Here. The way we communicate, conduct business, socialize and even think will be radically impacted. It’s already happening. For example, five years ago, would you have ever believed that your daily newspaper could possibly become a thing of the past?

What does this teach us? For one thing, that we can’t take our industry or business for granted. I once attended a seminar where the speaker—a Boeing executive—made a remarkable statement. He said that, in a competitive society, if a company wants to stay in business, it must essentially destroy its own product. If it didn’t create its next-generation replacement, the competition would.

Metaphorically, businesses are often compared to ships. Small businesses are small, zippy PTs; large corporations are looming, ponderous aircraft carriers. Which one has the ability to change course rapidly? Yes, the PT boat. That’s good news for us. With the right attitude and people, small businesses have the ability to feel the waves, grab the wheel, and change course.

Today, it’s imperative that organizations have the right people, ones who can “feel the waves” and are willing to make changes. Technology has increased our communication capabilities, but at the expense of personal relationships. It is so much easier to email or text than to call someone on your cell phone or—Heaven forbid!—pay them a visit.

But, can you really achieve a vibrant exchange of ideas through texts and emails? (For example, my fingers are already tired from keying this in, and they can’t begin to keep pace with my brain.) Isn’t it more productive to have an actual, real-time dialogue, where questions are raised and answers are offered, and in the process, all kinds of thought-provoking ideas are explored?

So, did you know…
•     You can learn more by getting out of the office?
•     You can learn more by talking with other business owners?
•     You really can change, when you have support from your peers?
•     An exchange of ideas can create an epiphany?

I know, I know…I am hardly unbiased on this subject.  After all, I facilitate peer groups. But it is because of that experience that I can say with absolute certainty: Peer power is powerful enough to help you change with the times, even if you’re inherently resistant to it. It can give you insight and the initiative you need to actually make those changes necessary to your firm’s survival.

For more information about this concept, visit If you are interested in learning more of my thoughts, you can read excerpts from my book—or even buy it–at

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Long Term Care – I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now!

Getting older doesn’t always offer many benefits (we certainly get more aches and pains), but one big benefit is that we gain knowledge. Long term care isn’t considered often enough.

For example, I learned about the expense of NOT having Long Term Care Insurance when I watched my father wrestle with serious medical problems. Later, that lesson was reinforced when one of my key employees was diagnosed with a brain tumor, living severely disabled for two years.

At the time, I was not aware that Long Term Care Insurance even existed, let alone that it might be tax deductible. I didn’t know that LTCI is a benefit many employees would like and would even be willing to pay for themselves. And, I am embarrassed to say, I didn’t know that my employees could get a discount for their LTCI coverage through my efforts as an employer. But now I do.

We all like to think we will live forever in good health, but that’s not realistic. When the time of need does strike, LTCI is the one insurance you can’t afford not to afford, if you get my drift.

Because of my personal belief in the need for this protection, I have arranged for the people I’m associated with to receive it at a discounted premium. I have contacted an agency who writes ONLY LTCI, who’s been doing it for decades, and who knows all the ins and outs of coverage. This agency works with an A+ rated insurance carrier that is as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.

If you would like to explore the possibility of obtaining Long Term Care Insurance for yourself, your family members, or your employees, please contact me by phone at 800-818-0150 or email I will put you in touch with the experts.

One more thing I learned…only LTCI is designed to help safeguard your assets by providing important protection from the devastating costs of a long-term illness. Traditional health insurance and Medicare do not address this issue. Who knew?

As I get older, I am gaining knowledge that allows me to better protect myself and my family. How about you?

If you are not in the Chicago or Phoenix areas and would like to explore with me how you can position your business and benefit in The World To Come, visit People say life is an adventure…come and explore with me!

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The World To Come

The World to ComeThe World to Come

reviewed by Ray Silverstein

I would like to introduce an extremely interesting book, “The World To Come,” by Dara Horn. This is not a business book, but it made me think more seriously about what is “the world to come” is for business. The book deals with the concept of our individual futures. The next event in your life… the next door you open to an unknown circumstance…even birth and death. Each of us of has our own World To Come.

In the business environment, not everything is unknown. But many business owners do not want to examine or think about the world that will be coming upon them. It is evident that customer communication methods are changing rapidly, in some ways not to our liking. But if we want to experience and be around for The World To Come, we must adapt and change our thinking.

When I first entered the business world (I don’t want to say how long ago), the primary method of communication was a personal letter, followed by a personal phone call. A long distance call was something special, unique and expensive. A telegram was a sure way to get someone’s attention.

These methods don’t really carry any weight today. Many people now favor email. It is easier to make an email connection than a telephone connection. Depending on the age and generation of the communicator, even an email may be out of date, with text messaging or tweeting your communication method of choice.

The world is becoming smaller. It is far easier to learn about customers, suppliers, competitors, and people in general with Internet sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter plus a host of others websites. When I talk to small business owners in the peer advisory boards I facilitate, some are moving forward into these new and interesting venues, but others are still living in the old world.

I believe we all have to move into The World To Come…even me. Nobody likes to change their habits, be forced to learn new skills, or be made to feel uncomfortable. I like to look upon moving forward as a new adventure. Think about the strategic concepts, the way these new technologies can enhance your business, life and experience. For example, my wife is even Skypeing with her grandchildren. What a treat! To be able to not only talk with but actually see friends, children, grandchildren, and business associates around the world. And the price is right…it’s free!

If you are not in the Chicago or Phoenix areas and would like to explore with me how you can position your business and benefit in The World To Come, visit PRO President’s Resource Organization  People say life is an adventure…come and explore with us!

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