Friday, February 9, 2018

Growing Vegetables in my Backyard

It's been more than six months since I formally finished the Organic Agriculture course at the UP Open University. Did I learn anything from the course? Yes but this kind of knowledge is not something you can teach online. Instead, it requires hands-on learning so I found myself trying to grow vegetables in my teeny tiny garden. Some plants are easier to raise than others though.

So far, my ampalaya vines are growing slowly but surely. I also planted tomatoes, calamansi and siling labuyo (chili) in small pots. I'm not sure if I need to devote that much attention to them because the seeds do take their sweet time sprouting shoots and leaves. Still, I am hopeful to see the day when I can do my first harvest.

Right now, I was wondering where I could get pechay seeds. My sister said the stalk of the pechay we use for cooking can sprout roots if immersed in a small container of water. Not sure if this is true. I would be more confident about it if I had the growing solution that my older brother uses for orchids. But beggars can't be choosers so I am sticking to the water container practice for now.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Secret to Being a Good Teacher

This year one of my part-time jobs was being a tutor to a middle-aged mom in the same condo complex where I used to live. It was actually my first time to teach an adult learner but not my first try at tutoring. I had also taught this young boy years ago but that was a short gig because I quit after just a few sessions.

The reason I lasted longer with this adult learner was that I finally unearthed the secret to being a good teacher (or tutor). The secret is that most students fail in school not because they’re stupid or feel like they know it all, and not even that they dislike the teacher. No, my experience told me that most students fail at school because they are AFRAID.

Students are afraid of school and learning because they don’t want other people to know that they don’t know the answers to the questions being asked. Students are afraid of their teachers humiliating them in front of the class. Students are also afraid that their fellow students (especially those who perform well in school) will make fun of them for not knowing the answers to the questions too. This is the root of juvenile delinquency – the fear of the unknown. Once I had realized this fundamental truth, it became easier for me to adjust to my student.

“Wait” you might be saying. “Shouldn’t the student be the one to adjust to you? You’re the teacher.” Well, the reality is that both sides have to adjust to each other. I had to adjust to my student by acknowledging that she is afraid that I will make her feel stupid. She had to adjust to me by acknowledging her fear and telling me what she was afraid of. Once we got past that stage, it became easier for me to teach her.

When your student tells you what she is afraid of, you learn to create lessons out of the academic topics that you can explain to her in terms that she will understand. So instead of acting like a professor in college who would talk using big words that people in the academic world seem to like to use, I had to scale down my language and explain the lessons in terms that she could grasp and that didn’t seem like they were obscure or difficult to understand. When necessary, we would repeat the lesson day after day until finally a light switched on in her head and she got the core of the lesson.

I had to learn patience and humility through this process, because she already knew that she didn’t understand the topics so I didn’t feel the need to point that out. Rather, I had to observe the way she would go through the lesson, waiting for the times when she would pause (puzzled by a part in the lesson) then I would explain that part again to her. I had to build up her confidence by staggering the lessons into small steps for her to go through so that she could see that big lessons are just small lessons summed up into a whole. I also had to acknowledge that some lessons were vague to me or that I had forgotten them so I had to go through those lessons again just to know how to teach them to my adult student.

The point to all this is that (in this age of soaring tuition fees and schools that are ineffective at educating due to overcrowding) we teachers must realize that our “business” is more of an advocacy and a lifestyle than a business. Yes, it does cost money to train teachers and it does cost money to educate students. But once we realize that the key to educating is to acknowledge that our students are afraid then more students would be able to overcome their fears because their teachers now know what the root of the problem is. And that would mean more students will excel in school and our country would have a brighter future because our human capital will be ready for the challenges of the labor force. So if you are planning to become a teacher, you should practice now how to get the trust of your students – and you will be surprised how they will bloom under your tutelage. That is what I know for sure.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why I Won’t Hire Employees for My Company

When I was still a regularly-employed employee at my first job, I encountered co-workers who were not ideal employees. And that’s putting it mildly. Some of them would deliberately try to hack into and change the settings of the Local Area Network (LAN) just for fun. Others would destroy the company office equipment like the office chairs, also for fun. Some were also kind of weird because they would apply for employment at the company then resent it when they were asked to work already.

Needless to say, my experience working with such people simply convinced me that working alone is sometimes really preferable to working with a host of strangers. True, some people might enjoy the company of their co-workers (and yes, even at that job I mentioned I did have some friends among my co-workers) but the odds that you will have to work beside a weirdo in the same office are quite high nowadays. That’s one reason I decided to become a freelance writer and that is also the motivation behind my setting up my own company named Quill Writing and Translation Services.

So obviously, I won’t be hiring any people to work at Quill. I have gotten used to the pace and the peace of working alone as a freelancer. At Quill, I am only answerable to myself and to my client. I can work as fast or as slow as necessary. I can adjust and make changes when necessary. And of course, I can turn down work also when necessary. The decisions are all up to me and the consequences are fully absorbed only by me. True, it can be terrifying sometimes being alone in your own company especially when you encounter a new writing topic that is outside your comfort zone. It can also be uncomfortable especially when you are approaching a deadline and you think that you aren’t working fast enough to meet that due date. And of course, when you make mistakes, you only have yourself to blame and no one else.

But hiring people brings with it its own set of difficulties – and I don’t want that in my life. My job is complicated enough without hiring strangers to do certain tasks for me. And the good news is that there aren’t really that many tasks that I would need to hire for. So life for me has become much easier ever since I decided never to hire any employees for my company, regardless of who those people might be.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What is Quill Writing and Translation Services?

I formed my company Quill Writing and Translation Services last year upon the advice of my sister. Like the name suggests, my company is all about writing services and translation services. At first, I concentrated mainly on writing but I have also been able to do some translation jobs too (mainly English-Tagalog translation work).

The value of having my own company is that it helps me form my own business identity that is independent of any one else’s. Of course, there are also some hardships that come with having your own company. For example, I have to pay for the registration of my company by myself. It cost me 2000 pesos just to get a national registration at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) – national because my clients are mostly foreign individuals and corporations. I also have to pay for a bookkeeper and to have official receipts printed out of my own pocket. In addition, I will need to figure out which clauses in taxation laws and procedures in the Philippines apply to my company.

The benefit of having my own company is that it looks so cool being able to put my digital signature at the end of my gmail emails. I feel a sense of pride in being associated with the name of my company and knowing that this company is mine and no one else’s. When I think of my company I automatically think “How can I make my company better today?” When you work for someone else’s company you may feel that somehow there is a lack of fulfillment because you know that that company will never be yours. On the other hand, when you work for your own company you are motivated to make it better than it was yesterday all the time.

Of course, having my own company also means having to look for my own clients which also means working for other people. That part hasn’t changed – you will always need to find people to serve with your company. But because my company is my brand I know that I stand to benefit over time if I can sustain my work momentum every day.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How to Survive the Competition Faced by Your Business

I have a close friend right now who has way more experience in business than I do and whenever we get together I like to listen to her business experiences closely because I learn more from her by listening than by talking.

One day she told me about her experience setting up a food cart at the MRT. The MRT food cart sold siomai which is actually very easy to prepare and cook and lends itself well to the fast food business model. Nowadays there are so many siomai food carts all over Manila but back then her family was the first to do so at that MRT station.

Everything was okay for some time. The siomai product was a bestseller and they were making profits from the business. However, problems arose when five (yes, you read that right – FIVE) other siomai food carts set up shop at the same MRT station. Having that many competitors meant that my friend had to share the same market with her rivals, which cut into her own profits. Even though MRT stations are usually crowded with passengers, apparently the smaller profits of my friend meant that she could not sustain the business anymore. So she had to give up the siomai food cart business and her business folded.

In any business (not just siomai sales) you have to contend with competitors. However, it doesn’t mean automatically that you would have to shut down your business just because competitors are raring to enter the same market you are in. There are some ways you can protect yourself so that your business has a fighting chance of surviving a highly competitive market and even attaining a high degree of profitability. Let’s check out these ways, shall we?

1) Make sure your product and/or service adheres to 100% quality standards. Just because you have competitors breathing down your neck doesn’t mean they offer the same quality product and/or service that you do. Although you cannot be sure what kind of quality your competitors are offering, you can be sure of yours. So always set high quality standards for your business to follow so that customers will be pleased with you.

2) Try to locate your business in a market where the management won’t let too many competitors enter. Some places, like schools for example, make sure that their area will not get saturated by businesses that are all alike or too similar to each other. You may need to look a bit further than usual to find such a market but this is important for your long-term survival. Such places often stipulate in their contract that they will not let rival companies/businesses set up shop in the location you have chosen – this is good for them as the landlord because it means the rent/lease you have to pay them will be uninterrupted because your business will survive and thrive. It guarantees a long term business relationship between you and the landlord and naturally you want that.

3) Be prepared for dirty tricks by the competition. Business can be a cut-throat competitive world so don’t assume that your rivals are angels. Some dirty tricks that you might come to expect are a) badmouthing of your business by the staff of your competitor; b) annoyances like garbage dumped right beside your location; and even c) downright sabotage like cockroaches released in the vicinity of your food cart. Yes, such things do happen and it’s not all in my imagination. So if your rivals resort to such dirty tricks, your best action plan is to approach the management of your landlord and ask them to correct the situation. Be sure to document these dirty tricks so that you have grounds for a complaint if your rivals resort to worse things.

4) Be sure that your pricing is fair and that your ideal customers can afford it. In the case of my friend, they did price their siomai fairly and they were pretty sure that their customers could afford it. So at first, this business strategy worked. However, their five other rivals seemed to have resorted to the same pricing tier which then meant that they were all offering the same siomai at the same price. So this leads us to number 5 which is…

5) Have something special to offer to your customers that your rivals can’t offer. In the siomai business this could mean offering an extra piece of siomai for every order of regular siomai or offering a free drink maybe per order. Or you could create an extra special type of siomai that your competitors could only dream of creating themselves. In the world of business it is very important to have something unique to offer because customers like variety and offering variety means that your competitors have to work extra hard to offer something unique also.

Naturally, the winner in all this is actually the customer because your target customer will have something great to buy from you or your rivals at any given time. But if you follow these tips your business may last for a longer time than it would if you simply sit back complacently. So look forward to the survival of your business if you keep innovating this way.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Value of Having a Passbook Savings Account

I was analyzing my savings patterns this year and I came to the conclusion that I really needed to get into the habit of saving more regularly. Fortunately, I came across this bank named China Bank Savings near the condo where I live that is open from Mondays to Sundays from 10 AM to 7PM. Because the bank is open until the evening and even on Sundays, I decided that this bank is very convenient for my needs because I can always go there after office hours and on Saturdays or Sundays to deposit my money. So I opened a passbook account there.

Why a passbook account? As I was analyzing my spending patterns, I realized that it is hard to save using an ATM account because it is so convenient for me to go to any ATM and just withdraw money. True, the ATM will give you a printed receipt of how much you withdrew and how much is remaining in your bank account. However, it is really so tempting to withdraw 200…then another 200…then maybe 500…until you realize that your maintaining balance is so dangerously low already and you’re on the brink of losing the account. Because of this, I chose to open a passbook account at China Bank Savings instead.

The value of having a passbook savings account is that you will always know how much exactly you have in your account at any given time – all you have to do is open your passbook and there it is printed out for you. You also get to see how much you keep depositing or withdrawing over time by glancing over the past transactions. It is also harder for a thief to get money from your passbook because he/she would have to present proof of identity, meaning the bank staff won’t allow the thief to just get your money just like that. (With an ATM card the thief can use your PIN to get all your money right away.) A passbook is also a good way to prove capacity to pay for other financial transactions such as when you open a postpaid cellphone account at a telecom service provider.

When I opened my passbook account at China Bank Savings, I had to present 3 valid IDs (in my case I presented my SSS, PWD, and TIN ID cards). This allowed them to see that I have a good record as a citizen of the Philippines. It also helped that I had owned a passbook account at their head office in Ayala Avenue, Makati before (though that account was eventually closed). So they just asked me to sign different documents and within an hour I already had my valid passbook.

I have the habit of going to this bank regularly to deposit my money. For example, after I am done with my tutoring job my student pays me right away so I go to the bank to deposit the payment. That way I am not tempted to spend on anything. Because I did this consistently I was able to accumulate enough money to invest into that Sunlife mutual fund that I opened with help from my Financial Advisor Sasha So Seng Yu. So I know that my system really works because I was able to save a lot of money over time. I conclude then that having a passbook (as far as I’m concerned) is a good way to keep track of your savings, so much so that you can accumulate enough funds that you can then choose to use for big expenses or to invest (depending on what and where you believe your money should go to).

The Difficulties Of Being a Network Marketer

I am part of two network marketing systems. The first is Usana which is a health food supplements company and the second is Sante Barley which also sells some health food supplements. I got into Usana because my close friend Joy Ferrer recruited me. I got into Sante Barley because my sister recruited me. However, I haven’t found it easy to pursue network marketing with either network – and that’s my story for today.

In Usana, I was very happy with the health food supplements I tested. Joy sold me a small amount of the Essentials multivitamin, multiantioxidant, and multimineral products. I found them to be very wholesome and really good for my health, even from the first sample I tried. When I notified my sister about it, she told me to go for it and sign up for a Distributorship under Joy’s network. She even gave me the initial amount to buy-in so that I would qualify for the Distributorship. What convinced my sister that the Usana Distributorship was worth our time was that the Essentials helped lower her BP which has been problematic for her. I found that the Essentials made me feel much better overnight. So we were definitely sold on Usana.

With Sante Barley, I wasn’t really that sold on the products. Maybe it’s because the barley capsules didn’t make me feel better overnight like the Usana products did. However, I held on to my Sante Barley Distributorship because my mother does believe in the barley capsules so every year I buy for her in bulk – and that is how I managed to hold on to my Distributorship even if I don’t promote Sante Barley.

You might be wondering at this point “So what’s the problem? What difficulties did she encounter in network marketing?”

Well, the first difficulty I encountered was that it is very hard to find paying customers for network marketing products. One reason it is difficult is that there are so many products out there competing for the attention of the buying public. Some of these products are endorsed by celebrities which is the company’s way of trying to keep itself visible in a crowded market. The more famous the celebrity, the more famous the product the celebrity endorses becomes. And that makes it easier for the network marketers to sell the product. Even if your product is very good, if you can’t get the attention of the public you will find it hard to sell. And if you don’t sell inevitably the company will go bankrupt and fold.

The second reason I find it difficult to survive as a network marketer is that many people hereabouts in Manila simply cannot afford what I am selling. Usana is a very good source of health food supplements but many people balk at the prospect of paying for the products by the bottle. Yes, there are a lot of people around me who definitely need these Usana products but they don’t have the cash to pay for it. A lucky handful of Distributors are able to thrive because they cater to the A-B-C markets – but if there are already Distributors serving this market, that kind of squeezes out the less lucky Distributors from being able to serve that market as well. So you would have no choice but to serve the D and E markets who cannot afford to buy what you are selling. And that means you go broke because you keep on marketing the Usana products but there is no income coming in.

The third reason I find it hard to be a network marketer is that some people consider health food supplements to be an unnecessary expense. Yes, they know the Usana products are good but they would rather spend on “more necessary” things than on health food supplements. Yes, they know that the Usana products would help make them healthier but they may have other priorities such as the tuition of their children or this month’s electricity bill. That is why rich folk are the favorite market of network marketers – the rich have surplus income that they can funnel towards products that make them healthier. Those who don’t have surplus money would rather not buy health food supplements at all because of this.

The fourth reason I find it difficult to survive in network marketing is that it is a networking business. That means that you are required to recruit more people into your network so that they will become Distributors and also market and sell the same products you do. True, there are financial incentives if you manage to recruit people who are very good at selling and recruiting people themselves. But it is hard to find the right people for this and often, the people you recruit might drop out of contention if they find it difficult to sell through network marketing. Sad, but true.

Lastly, the reason I also find it difficult to survive as a network marketer is that I don’t seem to have the personality for sales. It was my younger brother who pointed this out to me: he said “You’re not a people person so you don’t belong in sales”. I guess he’s right because my Usana and Sante Barley network marketing businesses are stagnant at the moment. I’m so much better at being a writer, a tutor and pursuing academics than being a network marketer. Still, I hold on to my Usana Distributorship because I like the products and can get them at the much lower Distributor’s price for myself. I stay with Sante Barley because my mom likes the products and I can also get them at Distributor’s price for her. So I won’t get into other network marketing distributorships anymore because these two are all I can handle for now – and maybe someday I’ll get that big break and land myself select paying customers who need, want and can afford what I am selling.