Scheduling Time to Expand Your Business and Requiring Proof of Death (Podcast) | Ep. #034

Eric Dollinger, Elizabeth Larkin, and Mike Kelly

In episode #34 we discuss a topic that will feel very familiar to most (all?) small business owners. How do you carve out time to work on your business when you need to spend so much time working in your business? How do you schedule time to “think big”?

Our second topic is about an employee who seems to call out all the time because of deaths in the family. Should you require proof of death?

Join hosts Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks as they tackle these topics and more on this episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast.

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Elizabeth: Welcome back to another episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. This week we have a question from a fashion blogger. Gene, I’m assuming you have a lot of experience in that.

Gene: Yes, anybody whose taken a look at me can tell about my fashion sense. (laughs)

Elizabeth: And a question about an employee who I guess has been claiming a lot of deaths in the family recently, and how a small business owner may deal with that. So we will be right back with question number one, after we hear from our sponsor.

QUESTION #1: Growing My Business While Busy

Elizabeth: Okay, question number one is from Julie in Atlanta. Julie writes;

“I run a fashion blog that is actually profitable and supports my family, including my husband and child. My husband takes the pictures and does some tech work, and I do the styling, writing, and corresponding with my clients. We use a virtual assistant who responds to my emails and moderates comments on the blog. Here’s the problem: while the blogging bubble may never burst, I know it’s going to evolve so I need to be putting aside time to do some strategic thinking. But instead I’m spending my time working in my business, rather than working on my business.

How do I put aside time to think about growing my business when I’m so busy in the day to day, already?”

So, I just want to explain, because I think a lot of people might not be familiar with the revenue streams that fashion blogger might have. Although maybe you are, Gene. I don’t know. But, (laughs) for the audience, a fashion blogger will start blogging. They’ll put up pictures of themselves wearing different fashions, and they’ll use affiliate links so that every time someone clicks on a link to go buy that piece of clothing or just go look at that piece of clothing, they get paid for it.

Separately, brands, like let’s say Club Monaco or Chanel, will go to a blogger and say “We’re going to pay you $2,000 to $20,000 to write a post about our product.” So they send them the product, like a hand bag or something. The blogger does a post about it. Then they get the money from Chanel. I don’t know if Chanel does this, I’m just using that as an example.

So that’s how they make their revenue streams. So what you can do as a fashion blogger, or any type of blogger, really, is create your own products. You could partner with a big brand and become their blogging spokesperson, or something. So there’s a lot of ways to make money.

Gene: Do you know who Cameron Dallas, is? Cameron Dallas- now we’re showing our ages here, okay. (both laugh)

I’m actually fascinated by what Cameron does. There was a write up about him recently in the Wall Street Journal, about a 22 year old kid who is a fashion blogger and he was featured in the Wall Street Journal earlier in January. He has about 50 MILLION followers on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and all that. Same model that you’ve had.

This kid, not even that! He’s got his own show, I think … it’s a Netflix series called Chasing Cameron, as well. He’s idolized. So he’s got the ability of not only being like, really have a great fashion sense and identifying sense, but like, I think he’s like a really good looking kid and his audience is like girls anywhere from 12 years old to 20-

Elizabeth: Girls, really.

Gene: Yeah, it’s just, he does female fashions.

Elizabeth: Oh! Interesting.

Gene: And because of that, he gets a whole bunch of bling. He not only gets huge sponsorships because obviously fifty million followers and people want to advertise on his site, but also they give him lots of free products to talk about, to review. They invite him to shows. He was at Paris Fashion Week. He was sponsored by Dolce and Gabbana to do, you know, this and that. So he’s made … I mean, by the way- being a fashion blogger is a tough business, like any other business. I mean this kid is hitting it big, and deserves it. I mean, I think he’s very good. It’s just that, for every one of him there’s ten thousand others that are trying to be like him. But it’s a business …

Elizabeth: It is a business. I think a lot of people didn’t take it seriously until very recently.

Gene: Oh not anymore.

Elizabeth: Other blogging businesses that you can actually make money on are home decor, that’s a big one, and health-

Gene: Eating. Oh, I was thinking of the guy, and I forget the name of the kid now. I feel really bad because I’d love to recommend it, but he’s got a series of YouTube videos where he does nothing but review fast food.

Elizabeth: Really?

Gene: And it’s hilarious. And he like wears- he dressed up in a suit and a bow tie, and he sits in a car or in his desk, and he’ll buy a Big Mac or he’ll buy chicken nuggets, and then he’ll sit there for twenty minutes, and you just can’t stop watching him. He’ll just analyze how it’s made, he’ll take it apart, he takes a bite of it, and he’s talking about it the whole time-

Elizabeth: That’s kind of gross with fast food. (laughs)

Gene: But it’s hilarious! And he’s very serious. And he rates it, you know “Not as good as Wendy’s, but better than Burger King” you know, that kind of thing. So there’s you know …

And you’re right, there’s nutrition. There’s fitness.

Elizabeth: I guess what you would call it is a whole group of influencers, and influencers are people who have just built up a big following. So big brands … and it’s great for brands. A huge cost for a brand is if they want to advertise a new handbag, let’s just keep going with that example, they’ve got to get a photographer, they’ve got to get a set stylist, they’ve got to get a model, they’ve got to pay all these people.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: If you just use a blogger, you just send them the product. Some of them will just do it for product. You negotiate a contract with them. So maybe it’s like $8,000 you’re paying them as opposed to getting your model, your photographer- and then the blogger does all the work. They style it, they photograph it, they do everything. So it’s actually really great for brands.

But think about it, it is a lot of work, blogging. I think a lot of people think “Oh it’s just like a part time job or something,” but if you actually treat it like a business, it can be like a real full time job. It sounds like it is for her because it’s supporting her husband and her child at the same time, which is a lot.

So in general though, how do you get time to step away from your business to think about your business, rather than working in your business?

Gene: It’s a very difficult thing to do. You have two choices.

First of all, if the type of work that you’re doing is so specific to you that you cannot have anybody else do it for you … I mean, you know, Paul McCartney can only have people singing Paul McCartney songs, he’s got to do that himself. There’s some innate talent you can’t get away from. Then you have no choice, that’s what you’re being paid to do. You’ve got to produce that.

So if you’re in that situation, what you have to do is cut back on a little bit of your greed. What I mean about your greed is- if you’re in demand, it is more important to make sure that you’re heading in the write direction, that you have a plan, that you’re providing quality for what you’re doing, and that you’re thinking ahead. It might be more valuable for you to give up an hour or two of the chargeable work a day for the non-chargeable work of thinking, or strategizing, or doing something on your own so that you’re making sure long term that you’re going to be making money back that way.

So, what a lot of people get caught up in, and I totally get it, we all work so hard to bring in work. A lot of these people like this fashion blogger, I guarantee she probably had some lean years while she was trying to build up an audience.

Elizabeth: Yeah, she probably had a full time job and did this on the side.

Gene: And then suddenly, she’s being paid to do this, she’s bringing in some more, she’s excited, you know … It’s really tough to turn down work when people want you, and then suddenly you’re just busy 20 hours a day doing this work. Which is all well and good, except you’re losing the long term planning of all of it not thinking about the business. You’re too busy with the business. You have to have the discipline to be able to say no so that you’re turning down some work just to leave some time for yourself to make sure that you are always looking ahead.

If you have any work that could be done by somebody else, then have somebody else do it. Pay for them to do it.

Elizabeth: Yeah it sounds like she’s using a virtual assistant. They can do more than just respond to emails. You know, they can do more work for you.

Gene: My example that I have is that I was actually working for a company who had hired me to do some kind of round-up type blog of news events and things like that. I’m pretty good at doing that, but I hired somebody to do that. I actually hired a woman who was a work from home mom. She was just a journalism major in college and what ever, a good writer. I said “I’m going to need you to do this for me and send it to me every day and I’ll review it before we submit it to the client”, rather than me just doing it all myself. By the way, it took a few weeks to get into the groove that I wanted, so it took some investment there. Now, what it would have taken me an hour to do, to do this blog for this client, is now taking me like ten minutes to just do a quick review and then send it on. So it really pays it bad.

Elizabeth: That’s great.

Gene: If there is work that you can do that you can offload because it’s not THAT proprietary, do that. Other than that, though, you’ve got to reserve time for yourself.

Elizabeth: So we had one of our writers last year. His name is Alex Huls. He’s great. We should have him on to talk about this. He wrote an article about why you should do a company retreat for yourself and how to do one. So this is for someone like you, I mean Gene, you’re so busy all the time. Let’s say you can’t get that hour a day. He’s saying, take a weekend and go somewhere by yourself. Whether you get a hotel room or you just go to Starbucks and take a couple hours there. Then he really walks business owners through the things that they should be thinking about. Like, you really need to take that time to do kind of the big picture planning, rather than just thinking about, as you were saying, the next thing you have to get done. Like you really need to take the time to think about where you want the business to go, what’s your plan?

Gene: I think we might have talked about this before, but we will talk about it again. I have a client who had been doing this stuff for years. Every week, he sees a psychologist. Have I ever mentioned this before?

Elizabeth: No, no.

Gene: This is a guy who runs a company and has responsibilities, and once a week … he doesn’t have any issues, per say, except for the fact that he’s a guy in his early forties and raising kids, and has got all the headaches and stresses of running a business and raising a family and all that. Once a week for two hundred bucks an hour, or whatever he pays, he goes to a psychologists office and lays for an hour, and literally lies on a sofa and talks to a psychologist about all things going on in his life. Business, personal, you know, what ever.

He says it is the best therapy he can imagine because first of all, it’s a paid professional. So, it’s somebody that’s emotionally detached. It’s not a friend or a relative or anything like that. They’re being paid to do a job. They’ve got the training and professionalism to know the questions to ask, and how to handle things. They’re not a business expert. The psychologist is not giving him business advice, but it’s an hour that he’s taking every week to, sort of, think about his business, because his business is his life. It’s his family, and you know, his over all goals. He gets to talk those things out with a completely independent person.

So, what ever you decide to do, it has to be some time on your own to do that. I don’t see a psychologist but I walk a lot in the city that I live in, or the airport. There are times where, you know, I put my earbuds on to classical music and I’m just using that time to think about more big picture stuff.

Elizabeth: So you can find ways to do that a little bit every day, or a little bit every week. I’m going to link this article “How To Do Your Own Company Retreat”, which I just thought was such a great idea for people who just can’t extract themselves from the day to day.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: So we’re going to be right back. We’re going to be talking about proof of death certificates.

Gene: Interesting. Okay.

QUESTION #2: Proof of Death

Elizabeth: Okay, we’re back with question number two. This is a bit of a sticky situation from Isabella from Great Falls, Montana. She writes:

“Should I require my employees to provide proof of death when they miss work due to bereavement or a funeral? I have one employee in particular who seems to have had a lot of people close to him pass away in the past year.”

Gene: (laughs) I remember there was an episode of Sopranos … Everybody, I’ve been re watching the Sopranos. Uncle Junior was on house arrest until he realized that there was a twist in the law that would allow him to go away from his house if he was attending any funerals of any family. So for awhile he was making up- “Oh you know, my third cousin once removed … ” And so he was going to funerals all the time just to get him out of the house so he can confer with Tony Soprano and all that (laughs) …

So this one employee, they’re falling like flies around him?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Which happens, oddly. In some families, it does kind of happen … you know, I don’t want people to think we are making light of this, but …

Gene: Like we do everything else? (laughs)

Elizabeth: Celebrity deaths happen in threes, you know. That does seem to happen to people once they get a certain age. They tend to know a lot of people that are-

Gene: I think it’s a easy answer to this person’s question. I think you should have in your employee handbook, which every business should have if you have more than two employees. I think that if you place time off for bereavement, it’s just inserting one line that says “Evidence or proof of death may be requested.” So you just leave it open. Maybe, maybe I might request it, maybe I won’t. And if you feel that one employee is abusing this, you’ve got the door open to say “Listen, our policy may require it. In this case I’m going to have to request it.”

Elizabeth: Yeah, you’ve got to cover yourself. We talked about this a couple episodes ago. A business owner had an employee that kept calling in sick. So we talked about combining sick time with vacation time and calling it paid time off. You also can have bereavement time. Do you have that?

Gene: Yeah, we actually do not. We just have paid time off and you can take it for whatever you want.

Elizabeth: So if you use- let’s say, you have bereavement time. So you get four days a year that you can use. Once you go over that, maybe then you say “Okay maybe I’m going to require proof of death.”

Gene: You could do that too.

Elizabeth: Which I think would be really, really awkward to have to ask for that.

Gene: I think it would. I like keeping it where, you know, “We reserve the right to ask.” Hopefully 98-99% of the time you don’t have to ask for it. But if you think one employee is becoming a problem, you’ve got that back door that you can use to ask.

Elizabeth: Okay, on that note, we will be right back with our Word of Brilliance.


Elizabeth: All right, we’re back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance. I think this is going to really delight everyone. Gene what is it?

Gene: The Word of Brilliance for today is Kardashian. That’s what it is.

Elizabeth, I’d written about this a couple of times, and I will write about this forever, about the Kardashians, and Kim Kardashian in particular. People always hold her up to be a figure of scorn and ridicule. If you want to be an entrepreneur, I think Kim Kardashian is a person you should study, because I think Kim Kardashian is a fantastic entrepreneur. I’m a huge fan and admirer of not only her, but her entire family.

Did you know that Kim Kardashian when she was a kid, she made her first money by designing closets for people. She would go around to celebrities, before she was famous, and redesign their closets. So she got to meet Paris Hilton and whatever by redesigning. I think before that, or after that, Kim- I know you’re listening, I apologize if I get this time line wrong. (laughs) She also had a very successful eBay business. She would buy used fashion accessories and resell them on eBay and turn that into a business.

Elizabeth: She that’s funny, I always thought it was Kris Jenner who was the brains behind all that.

Gene: Kris Jenner. Oh, so you watch the Kardashians?

Elizabeth: I actually don’t watch the Kardashians-

Gene: Sure, sure.

Elizabeth: I’m a human being alive in the world, so I know about that. (laughs)

Gene: Well, the Kardashians … Kris Jenner, who is the mom, she managed all of them. She’s a smart cookie.

Elizabeth: She’s the “Mom-ager”.

Gene: So she manages all the careers of all the daughters. So she takes a cut, that’s the way they have it set up. So she’s good-

Elizabeth: How do you know all of that?

Gene: You know, I do my research.

The reason why I like them … And by the way Kim became famous for having an inappropriate tape. You know, I remember all of that, and I realize that, but she’s turned this into a hundred million dollar empire of fashion accessories, clothing stores, her TV show, the personal appearances, the sponsorships, and all that. She charges God knows what for a simple tweet about a product. She has a lot of fans. And she’s spawned the careers of her sisters, and you know all of them have been successful, and it all kind of really comes back to her.

The reason why I bring her up, and the reason why I use her as an example for entrepreneurship- This is a kid who is going to make money from the time she was in middle school. People talk about “Can entrepreneurship be learned?” Yeah it can be learned.

Elizabeth: You just wrote an article about this for us.

Gene: Right, but there are some people that are just BORN to be entrepreneurs. People when they are starting up a business … what I had written is that, I meet people all the time who are thinking of starting a business, and I equate them to Little League baseball players. I was a coach in Little League, right I had two sons who had played in Little League, and I don’t want to say … I’m a pretty good baseball and softball player … you know, I’m a little guy so I’m not going to play in the major leagues, but I am a pretty good athlete. I can tell if a kids a good Little League player in less than five minutes. Two minutes. I have a catch with a kid. I can see the way he throws the ball, you know, the way he catches the ball, the way he moves, and then say “Okay, this kids got it. He’s going to be a good player.” Not that you can’t learn it, but just that inborn, innate whatever.

Entrepreneur are the same way. Some people you meet, and they’re starting up a business, and I think to myself “Oh my God, I don’t know if this person is going to succeed or not.” Some people I meet and they talk about starting up a business for certain reasons. They’re all about the money. They know how to sell. They’ve got it in them. I can see them … like this guy, this girl, she know what she is doing, you can tell.

Kim Kardashian is one of those people. She grew up as an entrepreneur. She grew up in a wealthy family. Her father was a well known attorney, but apparently he restricted the money that she got as a kid. I mean, (he) kept her to an allowance. (He) lent her money to start a business and demanded payment back for the money. He taught her those important things. But more importantly, from a very early age, she was all about making money. And she’s still all about making money.

It drives me nuts when people criticize how other people make their money. You know like, who are you to judge what Kim Kardashian does for a living. As long as it’s not illegal, you know, let her do what she’s going to do to make her money. She’s smart enough to do that. I don’t like to judge. Whatever you’re selling, as long as it’s legal … I know it might be controversial different things but, you know, that’s how you’re making your money and who are we to judge.

So Kardashian is the word. She’s a good example of an entrepreneur that is all about making money, is all about selling, increasing, and improving her brand, and working very hard at it. I’m a big admirer.

Elizabeth: All right, that’s going to do it for this weeks episode of The Small Biz Ahead Podcast. Please remember that you can ask us a question by emailing us at or via our show notes. There’s a form where you can submit your question. We’re always looking for new questions, especially about the Kardashians, (laughs) and how they run their businesses, and we’ll talk to you again next week.

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