Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Good News for the Unbanked

Seventeen percent of our clients do not have bank accounts two years after training. Although this is slightly better than the statewide average, where one in five people are unbanked (as high as 50% of African American and Latinos), this means our clients are most likely wasting hundreds of dollars a year on check cashing fees and money orders. Predatory check cashing business are highly concentrated in low-income areas such as in the Mission District in San Francisco where our main office is located. In addition to having to pay much more for basic banking services, studies have shown that the unbanked are less likely to save and build assets.  At Women's Initiative we found out that following training, 44% more had business than they did before the program.
But there is more good news for our unbanked clients in San Francisco. The City has partnered with local bank and credit union branches to make banking accessible to all San Franciscans. Thanks to Treasurer Cisneros, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the non-profit EARN and the New America Foundation, nearly all bank and credit union branches in San Francisco have committed to offering low- or no-cost accounts to unbanked individuals, even those with a history of bounced checks. In addition, Mexican and Guatemalan Consular IDs are now being accepted as proof of identification.
Governor Schwarzenneger has announced that the program will soon include Oakland, Fresno, San Jose,and Los Angeles.
For more information on the program or opening an account

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dead In The Water? or Down, But Not Out!

By Tracy Watson, Publisher Our World Books – books that inspire falling in love with your life.
(WI grad ’06)
So, for the past three months I’ve been saying “OMG, I’ve got to sell more stuff!  I’m on the brink of bankruptcy!  I’m almost out of money! HELP!” I got my first shipment of hardcover books back in January and since then I’ve been working to get them into stores around town. I figured let me do as much of my own distribution as possible and then look for a national distributor to go after retailers out-of-state. 
I’ve been slowly making contact with different companies I’ve targeted as potential good fits, while doing my version of an Avon Lady.  The first store I walked into was Spectator Books on Piedmont Avenue.  I walked up to the counter and asked if I could speak with someone about carrying one of my books.  A salesperson, let’s call him “Bill” to be nice, told me to come back on a Tuesday when the manager would be there. I penciled that in and went to the next store, a little more self-assured. I’d approached Walden Pond Books back in September when I thought my books would be ready and the staff there – sooo friendly! – had very warmly encouraged me to come back and talk to the manager, told me what day he’d be in, the best time to stop by, and even added that he was especially receptive to local authors. Yeah!   
When the books had finally gone to print and were due to arrive shortly, I tried back, but it was December and the reception I got (from staff, not the manager) went something like, “Are you completely daft?  It’s Christmas! We can’t look at anything new! Call back later, you nit-wit!” So, even though I knew when to go and the manager’s name, I was a little nervous of hitting some other inappropriate retailer’s nightmare. But, I sucked in my breath and went in anyway.
Not knowing the protocol, I stood in line with those buying copies of this or that and at last stood in front of the manager with a bag of books and a hint of hope that he’d take all of them. I had over 1,600 copies to unload and I was – just in case you forgot - running out of money. The manager looked over my book, complimented me on the design and professionalism of the printing and asked how many I wanted to sell to him. I was thinking 50!  25! And then 5?!?  But I asked if he’d take 25 and he agreed to take 10. Okay, it’s a start, I thought. 
Since then I’ve gotten into Pendragn and Sweet Dreams on College, Spectator Books on Piedmont Avenue, and sent out proposals to a handful of national book distributors. I’ve got a lot more to do to reach my goal of 20 local and 100 national bookstores and/or retailers by the end of 2008. But just when I feel the most urgency to keep the promotion train rolling, I’ve come face to face with my rapidly evaporating finances. 
It’s no longer, “I’m on the brink of bankruptcy! I’m running out of money…” I’m out of money and scared to death. 
After months of trying to make my business profitable enough to carry itself, I started looking for work. At first, I had no intention of doing anything full-time. My party line went like this, “I need to make enough money to cover my expenses, but I’m not going to work more than full-time for anyone else! I have a business to run.” Three months later I still had nothing in the works. I thought, “I can handle being on a budget, but how much can my business or I grow if I have no budget!”
Desperately, at the 10th ½ hour, I placed an ad to contract myself out on Craigslist. I applied and applied to jobs – full-time, part-time, permanent, temporary, contractor, whatever!  And I waited, but nothing was happening!  By the beginning of March, I had one month of expenses left and nowhere to go. I’d tapped my IRA and my savings as much as I could; I was DIW – Dead In the Water!  And then…
I had a talk. You know, The Talk. The talk that goes, with or without tears in your eyes, “Listen Universe, I am doing everything I can. I am Out There. I am looking and applying. I am being proactive. I am doing everything I can think of and it isn’t working. If there’s something I should be doing, tell me. I cannot do this alone. You have to help me! Are you listening to me?” I had The Talk in my crowed bedroom-office, one sunny afternoon, and I searched myself for anything that could be blocking me. At that point, there was nothing left. The fear of losing my hold on my entrepreneurial dreams, of being sucked into a “real job” with all the “security” that seems to provide, was past me. I couldn’t afford a box of paper clips and that was the reality I was facing. I would take the best job offered to me and somehow I had to believe that I would keep my business alive.
The next day I got a response to my ad on Craigslist. The following day a friend sent me a link – not uncommon for her – to an interim position at a local gallery. I sent the most earnest and well-crafted cover letter I’ve sent in eons with my application. I’d posted and reposted my CL ad several times and on the first run I got response from a woman looking for help in setting up her self-publishing house and I’d dismissed it because I thought it wasn’t enough hours. I’d sent her an email to see if she was still interested and the second day after my Talk, she replied that she was. In the week following my talk I had three interviews and got hired by all three individuals! So instead of one all-consuming job, I have three (sometimes four) very manageable projects that use a lot of what I know as a writer and publisher. 
So, the title of this chapter of my life is definitely Down But Not Out. In my next installment, I’ll probably talk about learning to manage multiple contracts and keep your business thriving. That’s a work-in-progress.
Much success to you!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Business or Boyfriend?

By Tracy Watson (WI grad ’06), Our World Books – Books that inspire falling in love with your life.
It’s been a while since I had a serious relationship.  Now I do and it’s a little tricky to manage both.  Well, for one thing, it’s long-distance, so my morning is his evening and his morning is my way-too-late at night.  For a while we were meeting up around 11p.m. and talking until 2am.  It was super romantic, and, well, at that time of night, kind of hot!  But, after a few months, I found that the cost was pretty high.  Even though I have a work-at-home business and set my own hours, the lack of any kind of “normal” schedule was starting to get to me. 
My schedule became like this, waking up around 10a.m., doing my morning routine, having breakfast, checking email, and getting down to business at around 2p.m.!  By then, I was super-stressed because I only had three hours to contact people on normal office hours, if I had to contact someone on the East Coast, I was rushing to get to them before they left for the day, it just really set me off behind the gun so to speak.
So, eventually, I started shutting down at 1:00a.m., then 12:30a.m., 12:00a.m. and yeah, my boyfriend wasn’t too thrilled.  See, he was at work, and had the kind of gig that allowed him to IM me with impunity.  In other words, it was convenient for him, especially since he didn’t have a computer at home. 
It was really tough to make the call, since not talking with him during his mornings meant maybe days before we’d meet up again.  But, when I heard myself say, “You know if you respected my work, the way I respect yours, you would be more understanding of my need to have real business hours…”  I sounded so whiny!  And it was pretty clear that I needed to respect my business, not my boyfriend.
So, bit by bit, I’ve gotten back to a real schedule.  I’m up at 8:00a.m., I start work at 9:00a.m. and the best part is I don’t feel like I have to make up for the late start by working until 10 at night!  I’ve also started to have real weekends.  One or – gasp! – two whole days off!   I feel more refreshed in the morning and I get way more done; I guess it really does work to get your work done during the day. 
It wasn’t easy making the call, but I believe a happy businesswoman is a better girlfriend!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday Linkblogging: Microenterprise

  • ABS-CBN News Online has an article about how a Filipino foundation is helping to break the cycle of migrant overseas labor by helping Filipinos to start businesses at home.
When money is tight, it's tempting to hold on to what you have and not worry about expanding your brand. But if you stop advertising and marketing, you'll do your business serious harm.
  • Here's a terrific blog called How I Changed The World Today, about a woman's daily efforts to make the world a better place. She's been doing a lot with KIVA and international sponsorships so check it out for ideas for yourself, if you need any.
  • And finally, this article in the Mercury News about Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, Barack Obama's mother, tells us that she spent the latter part of her life working in microcredit in Indonesia.
She became a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development on setting up a village credit program, then a Ford Foundation program officer in Jakarta specializing in women's work. Later, she was a consultant in Pakistan, then joined Indonesia's oldest bank to work on what is described as the world's largest sustainable microfinance program, creating services like credit and savings for the poor.

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