READING CONTRACTS AND AGREEMENTS COULD SAVE YOUR CAREER, BUSINESS AND . . . YOUR LIFE!

Contract 2

We begin the year on a legal note. I am doing this because over the Yuletide season, a friend shared with me a bad experience he had in the course of the year based on a contract he had entered into, a contract he never quite understood. As he narrated his ordeal (eventually an out-of-court settlement had to be brokered), I felt I would be a bad friend if I didn’t share with you all the dangers of signing a contract without first reading or understanding the terms of such a contract.

I know that many Nigerians do not take the pains to read or understand contracts or agreements. This behaviour goes all the way up to those who run the affairs of this country. Was it not last year in the thick of the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ strike that a highly-placed Nigerian came out to blame those who signed the agreement with ASUU for not understanding what they signed? I know that such a statement is debatable. He was either right or being mischievous. What is however clear is that it is critically important to understand agreements before signing them.

Now, let me issue a caveat: I am not a lawyer. Like a friend of mine would say, “I was not even beckoned, let alone called”.

But be that as it may, there are things that make sense. And it makes great sense to read a contract before putting pen to paper.

What I really do not understand is why a man would sign a document he does not understand and has not sought legal counsel on. I hear that a lot. “Oh, I didn’t read it at all.” Or, “I didn’t really understand it”. By simply signing the dotted lines indicated, many have made very grave mistakes. Especially in my country, Nigeria.

How do I say this? Never sign a contract you have neither read and understood nor have it explained to you by a lawyer. Any contract at all. That includes an employment contract!

That’s right. Many young graduates, having waited for so long to get a job, do not even bother to read the offer letter before they sign. Difficult times are what they are: difficult times. They should not rob us of our common sense. The reason I’m asking you to make sure you have read and understood every contract before you sign is that your not reading first can come back to haunt you!

Why should you read a contract document before you sign? Well, you should not for the following reasons:

1. ONCE A CONTRACT IS IN FORCE, IT GENERALLY CANNOT BE ALTERED UNLESS ALL THE PARTIES AGREE.

2. AND, WITH VERY FEW EXCEPTIONS, CONTRACTS CANNOT EASILY BE BROKEN.

3. WHEN A CONTRACT IS BREACHED AND RESULTS IN LITIGATION, IT CAN PUT A LOAD OF STRESS ON YOU

4. WHERE THERE IS NO LIABILITY LIMITATION, THE ENSUING CLAIMS AND DAMAGES THAT RESULT COULD CONSTITUTE A DRAIN ON YOUR RESOURCES

By the way, a contract may be broadly defined as a mutually binding and enforceable agreement between two or more parties to do – or not do – something. According to http://www.lawhandbook.org.au, a contract consist of four essential elements:

• There must be “offer and acceptance”

• There must be “intention to create legal relations”

• There must be “consideration”

• The parties must have “legal capacity” to enter into a contract.

On daily basis, there are several contracts we enter without even knowing or recognizing that we have entered into a contract. Signing a receipt after using you credit/debit card is an example. What that simply means is that the bank agrees to pay the vendor and you agree to pay the bank. For many of you that have ever bought an air ticket, how many of you can confidently say that you ever took out time to read the “Conditions of Carriage” attached to the ticket? Not even lawyers do that. Yet, that is a contract, nonetheless. Of course, I am also aware that many sign tenancy agreements without bothering to read them. We are just interested in the keys to the property so we can “move in”.

And oh, I must also not fail to mention that today, we also enter into contracts online when we click on the “I Agee” button. Very often, we do that when we open those free e-mail accounts (yahoo, g-mail, hotmail, etc.), open social network accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) or make purchases online. By clicking on the “I Agree” button, we are bound by the conditions of use of that service.

I know it is not easy reading a contract document. Typically, it contains so much of legalisms and leaves the non-lawyer confused. However, the website http://www.lawyers.com helps us with explanations of some legalisms you’ll most likely find in several contracts:

• Integration (or Entire Agreement) Clause. Basically, it means the contract is the complete agreement between you and the other person. What you sign is what you get, regardless off what you talked about before signing the contracts.

• Liability Limitation or Waiver. This may work a couple of ways. For one, it may protect either a seller or a buyer if he breaks or breaches the contract. The clause may specify a dollar (naira) amount the person owes the other if the contract isn’t honored. For instance, most employment contracts in Nigeria stipulate that one month’s salary in lieu of notice. That’s a liability limitation.

• Arbitration Clause. Generally, this means that if you and the other side have a disagreement about the contract, you both have to let a neutral third party – an arbitrator – try to settle matter before you may file a lawsuit.

• Force Majeure Clause. This is common in business contracts. It protects both sides from having to pay damages if either is unable to complete the contract because of an act of nature. For instance, if you agree to ship fresh produce to a buyer in another state but an earthquake makes the roads impassable, the buyer can’t hold you liable for damages for not delivering the produce.

• Assignment Clause. This is common in many contracts, such as leases, loans, and business contracts. The clause either bars (or lets) either side of the contract from transferring the contract to someone else.
So, as a rule, Jason Alderman in this article here helps us with what to do before we sign a contract:

• Ensure that everything you were promised verbally appears in writing.

• Make sure all blank spaces are filled in or crossed out before signing any documents –including the tip line on restaurant and hotel bills.

• Don’t be afraid to ask to take a contract home for more careful analysis or to get a second opinion. A lawyer or financial advisor can help.

• Don’t be pressured into signing anything. If salespeople try that tactic, walk away. (Be particularly wary at timeshare rental meetings.)

• Keep copies of every document you sign. This will be especially important for contested rental deposits, damaged merchandise, insurance claims, extended warranties, etc.

• Take along a “wingman” if you’re making an important decision like renting an apartment or buying a car to help ask questions and protect your interests.

• Be wary of “free trial” offers. Read all terms and conditions and pay particular attention to pre-checked boxes in online offers.

So, there you have it people. It’s a new year. And even though it sounds like straight out of a condom advert, be protected.

You can follow me on Twitter @ehissman.

Listen Up, Business Owners – Here’s How To Make Your Employees Productive

I love my job

In the last couple of weeks, I have received several complaints from several entrepreneurs bordering on employee productivity. Many have been full of lamentations. Most of them were very specific. They claimed that many employees are:

  • Lazy
  • Tardy
  • Lack initiative
  • Do not show sufficient commitment to their employers
  • Are unproductive.

This sounds almost like straight out of that Douglas McGregor’s book, The Human Side of Enterprise, where he wrote his famous Theory X and Theory Y article.

One even told me that I was lucky to always have a wonderful set of employees around me.

Well, I admit that I have had tremendous cooperation from a lot of the teams I have worked with over the last 15 years. But raising the right kind of team is a tough job for any entrepreneur or supervisor. I have been an employee and I have also been an employer also. I have worked with very great subordinates and I have I also encountered loafers in the workplace. So, I know what my friends feel.

It is not at all surprising that the complaints that I have received are mostly from small business owners. Most large and structured organizations seem to have successfully devised measures to keep these complaints at a minimum.

So, here’s my list of some key areas that small business owners should focus on to save themselves from curse of poor employee performance.

  1. Get Your Staffing Right – That’s The Foundation: This is all so obvious. However, it is usually overlooked by many business owners. Maybe not deliberately. The rule is that if you do not get the right person to fit the right role, you are in for a very frustrating experience. To get this right, you will need to have an effective recruitment process in place. Not many small businesses have processes in place. Not many can afford to. Not many small business owners even understand that selection, recruitment and placement are specialist functions. So, every business owner thus thinks he can decide on whom to recruit.  Now, if your business is too small to have a specialist HR function, there are two things you can do. You can undertake a 3-day course on HR Selection, Recruitment and Selection or you can ask a consultant for help.
  2. Set and Communicate Clear Goals: I have found out that many employers ask employees to assume roles without a clear set of deliverables from the roles and without communicating the expectations. Employees are more likely to perform better when they have a clear idea of what is expected of them. That’s the whole essence of a Job Description. Beyond the job description, however, it is important for an employer to continuously talk to his employees.
  3. Provide Appropriate Work Tools: It breaks my heart when I see or hear employers complain that an employee is unproductive only to find out that the employee has not been provided with the appropriate tool or equipment required for the job. There is nothing an employee finds more frustrating than not having the he tools or equipment to do their job well. What is required could be a chair, a table, a computer or some personal protective equipment. And dear Sir, the employee does not have to pay for the tools he needs to work for you! I was aghast when someone mentioned a particular organisation that gives employees laptops to be able to do the jobs they were employed to do and deducts the cost of the laptops from the employees’ pay!
  4. Train, Coach and Mentor: Quite often, I hear employers telling nearly-recruited employees that they must “hit the ground running”. My take on this is that even when you expect a top-level employee to “hit the ground running”, you must give him the right “coordinates”.  Part of the process of giving the right “coordinates” is the induction or on-boarding process. Many will require some structured trainings before they settle fully into their roles while other will require some “hand-holding” for a while. The message is that you must invest in your people and provide coaching and mentoring for most productive outputs.
  5. Monitor Performance and Provide Feedback: Every employer should have a performance management and feedback system that lets employees know how well or badly they are performing. It is equally important for the feedback to be specific about what they are doing or not doing well. Such appraisal must be objective, constructive and timely.
  6. Reward Your Employees: Rewarding your employees can be a great motivation factor. Truth is, everyone likes to be appreciated. When you do reward people excellence, chances are that they will keep striving for excellence. Rewards often take several forms. Know which is appropriate and commensurate with the effort and apply it.
  7. Pay Your Employees Adequately: I was going to lump this up with the last point but thought to treat it distinctly because of its importance. Many years ago, while still doing my mandatory national service, I came across an advert that read: “Any company that pay’s peanuts will end up with monkeys”. That is so very correct. Many business owners pay their employees very poorly but live very loud lifestyles. Your employees are not dumb. Believe me, they know when the business is going through a rough patch and when business is good. Sometimes, the pay in some organizations is just not up to scratch. Compensate them well. You can have 3 well-paid and motivated employees instead of 10 poorly-paid and consequently unproductive employees!
  8. Lead By Example: The work ethics of an employer or a supervisor will eventually rub-off on the employee or subordinate.  A disciplined employer who works hard is always a great motivating force for his team. Many on his team would begin to mirror him. The reverse is also the case.
  9. Engage Your Employees: It is always very important to continually engage your employees and to communicate with them. Where appropriate, it would be proper to consult them, share the company’s goals and successes with them and make them have a sense of belonging.
  10. “Loose Him and Let Him Go”: Most employers I know hire to retain. It is hardly ever the intention of a rational employer to hire someone just to fire him. Sometimes, however, it does not work out and at such times, an employer requires courage to cut such an employee loose for the sake of workplace harmony or peace of mind. No employer should have any qualms firing an unproductive employee who has been given all that he requires for the job. And once the decision is made, it must be executed without delay.

So, over to you.

You can follow this writer on Twitter @ehissman

Rev Up Your Life – Read This And Get Your Mind Working!

“Dream lofty dreams, and as you. dream, so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.

The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg. And in the highest vision of a soul a waking angle stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.”

Hello folks. It’s been a while.

Where did I go? Well, a man cannot spend all his time online (even if his business is an online business). I needed to look inwards. That is, do some introspection. And of course, I also needed to practice a bit of what I came across recently, courtesy, Tim Ferriss. Yea, it was from Tim Ferriss I first heard of cultivating selective ignorance. By the way, Tim Ferris is the best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek. I hope to discuss this concept on this blog sometime in the near future. It’s interesting, I tell you.

Pally, to cut the long story short, I’ve been reading. I recently took delivery of several potentially life-changing books (and I’m really hoping they change my life for good). But I have to read them first. Abi no be so?

With thirty new books, deciding which one to start with required divine guidance. By some “phronesis” (Greek: practical wisdom), I decided to start with As A Man Thinketh, a timeless classic by James Allen circa 1902. And boy, this book is a masterpiece! It had nuggets upon nuggets of deep wisdom. The message in the book is simple: we move in the direction of our deepest thoughts. Put another way, we become what we think about.

By the time I got to Section VI, I knew it would be selfish not to share.

So, without further ado, here are the unedited words from that section. It is titled “Visions and Ideals”.

“The dreamers are the saviors of the world. As the visible world is sustained by the invisible, so men, through all their trials and sins and sordid vocations, are nourished by the beautiful visions of their solitary dreamers. Humanity cannot forget its dreamers; it cannot let their ideals fade and die; it lives in them; it knows them as the realities which it shall one day see and know. Composer, sculptor, painter, poet, prophet, sage–these are the makers of the after-world, the architects of heaven. The world is beautiful because they have lived. Without them, laboring humanity would perish.

He who cherishes a beautiful vision, a lofty ideal in his heart, will one day realize it. Columbus cherished a vision of another world and he discovered it. Copernicus fostered the vision of a multiplicity of worlds and a wider universe, and he revealed it. Buddha beheld the vision of a spiritual world of stainless beauty and perfect peace, and he entered into it. Cherish your visions; cherish your ideals. Cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts. For out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these, if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.

To desire is to obtain; to aspire is to achieve. Shall man’s basest desires receive the fullest measure of gratification, and his purest aspirations starve for lack of sustenance? Such is not the Law. Such a condition can never obtain, “Ask and receive.”

Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.

The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg. And in the highest vision of a soul a waking angle stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.

Your circumstances may be uncongenial, but they shall not remain so if you only perceive an ideal and strive to reach it. You cannot travel within and stand still without.

Here is a youth hard pressed by poverty and labor. Confined long hours in an unhealthy workshop; unschooled and lacking all the arts of refinement. But he dreams of better things. He thinks of intelligence, or refinement, of grace and beauty. He conceives of, mentally builds up, an ideal condition of life. The wider liberty and a larger scope take possession of him; unrest urges him to action, and he uses all his spare times and means to the development of his latent powers and resources.

Very soon so altered has his mind become that the workshop can no longer hold him. It has become so out of harmony with his mind-set that it falls out of his life as a garment is cast aside. And with the growth of opportunities that fit the scope of his expanding powers, he passes out of it altogether.

Years later we see this youth as a grown man. We find him a master of certain forces of the mind that he wields with worldwide influence and almost unequaled power. In his hands he holds the cords of gigantic responsibilities; he speaks and lives are changed; men and women hang upon his words and remold their characters. Sun-like, he becomes the fixed and luminous center around which innumerable destinies revolve. He has realized the vision of his youth. He has become one with his ideal.

And you, too, will realize the vision (not just the idle wish) of your heart, be it base or beautiful, or a mixture of both; for you will always gravitate toward that which you secretly love most. Into your hands will be placed the exact results of your own thoughts. You will receive that which you earn; no more, no less.

Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts–your vision, your ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire, as great as your dominant aspiration.

The thoughtless, the ignorant, and the indolent, seeing only the apparent effects of things and not the things themselves, talk of luck, of fortune, and chance. Seeing a man grow rich, they say, “How lucky he is!” Observing another become skilled intellectually, they exclaim, “How highly favored he is!” And noting the saintly character and wide influence of another, they remark, “How chance helps him at every turn!” They do not see the trials and failures and struggles which these men have encountered in order to gain their experience. They have no knowledge of the sacrifices they have made, of the undaunted efforts they have put forth, of the faith they have exercised so that they might overcome the apparently insurmountable and realize the vision of their heart. They do not know the darkness and the heartaches; they only see the light and joy, and call it “luck.” Do not see the long, arduous journey, but only behold the pleasant goal and call it “good fortune.” Do not understand the process, but only perceive the result, and call it “chance.”

In all human affairs there are efforts, and there are results. The strength of the effort is the measure of the result. Change is not. Gifts, powers, material, intellectual, and spiritual possessions are the fruits of effort. They are thoughts completed, objectives accomplished, visions realized.

The vision that you glorify in your mind, the ideal that you enthrone in your heart — this you will build your life by; this you will become.”

How To Secure Your ATM Cards and Transactions

How To Secure Your ATM Cards and Transactions

Cards have become commonplace. Credit cards, Debit cards, E-Wallets, you name it.

With advances in the modern business resulting from increased use of technology, banks and financial institutions have had to open up multiple delivery channels for their customers. One of such delivery channels is the Automated Teller Machine (ATM).

Basically, an ATM or a Cash machine is a computerized telecommunications device that enables a bank client to perform transactions without the need for a cashier, clerk or teller. The simple process is as follows: Once you have your active card, you insert it in the ATM, key in your Personal Identification Number (PIN) and if your bank is on that network, you can process your transaction.

The process I have described above is very simple. But in that simplicity is a huge risk. If the security of your debit card is compromised, your money may just grow wings. If your account is funded, that is.

Without sounding alarmist, I need you to know that thieves find a debit (ATM) card more attractive than a credit card. That’s because your debit card is cash. So, here are some tips to help you secure you ATM cards . . . and your money.

Sign Your Card
Your ATM card has a provision for “authorised signatory” at the back of the card. That space is for your signature. Sign it as soon as you receive the card. The reason is that in case your card is “trapped” by a machine, your signature identifies you as the owner when it is recovered by your bank. I’m sure you are wondering whether signing that portion will not expose your signature to forgery. It will take someone very close to you to do that. For one, your account number is not on the card. Besides, most identification cards like driver’s licence and passport have your signature.

Memorise Your CVV
Note your CVV number and memorise it. CVV stands for Card Verification Value. It is usually a 3-digit number at the back of your ATM card. It is also known as Card Security Code (CSC). It’s very useful when you are carrying out an online transaction with your card. It simply lets the online merchant know that you actually have the physical card with you as at the time of the transaction as thus helps reduce fraud on your account. Experts recommend that you memorise it and then blacken it so as not to be easily visible to onlookers. Please note that the CVV is not your PIN!

Select You PIN Carefully
Your PIN (Personal Identification Number) is a secret password between you and the system (through the ATM) that enables you authorise transactions on the machine. It is more like your electronic signature. So, the PIN is critical and must be chosen carefully.

This link (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/-the-10-most-easily-stolen-atm-pins–184658424.html) lets you know the 10 most easily guessed PINs. I know that many people use their anniversaries, spouses; birthdays or children’s birthday. This is too cheap and risky. Any who steals your ATM card can guess your PIN without stress if he knows you well. The same goes for your phone number or home address.

So, what’s the best way to choose your PIN? WTOP notes that the best PIN numbers are those “with no special significance.” According to http://www.wikihow.com/Keep-Your-Debit-Card-Number-(PIN)-Safe, “one technique that works for PINs is to divide them into two groups of two digits and treat each as a year – so that, say 8367 becomes 1983 and 1967 – and then find some event that corresponds to each year. Each event should be something personal, known only to you, or something historical but relatively obscure. From these, devise an amusing and odd phrase linking the two events, from which the events themselves, and thus the dates, cannot be easily deduced. Note this phrase down rather than the PIN itself”.

Phew! That seems like writing a computer program. The way out? I’ll rather just choose a set of digits without sequence and commit them to memory. Just make sure you can remember the PIN.

Don’t Disclose or Share Your PIN
Some people have such very busy (or lazy) schedules that they sometimes find themselves sending someone to the ATM with their card and PIN! This is very unsafe. It doesn’t matter if the person is a trusted friend, a family member or even a bank staff. Circumstances change and people change. Someone you trust might find himself in a compromising position with a third party and reveal your PIN under harassment or seduction.

I am sure some of you have at some point received unsolicited mails asking you to follow some link to your account and perform an update. Many of such e-mails are usually disguised as customer-service messages from you bank to trick you into giving up personal financial information. In online security terminology, that’s called phising. In a typical phishing scam e-mail, the mail will ask you to type your account number and PIN into an official-looking website. Never respond to such mails. Once you do, fraudsters can embed your account details in a phony debit card and fleece you of your money.

Never Write Down Your PIN!
You should never write down your PIN anywhere. Not on the card, not on a piece of paper in your wallet, not in your diary. Just imagine that you lost your wallet containing your ATM card and your PIN written on a piece of paper in the wallet also. That’s kasala. Your PIN is meant to be in your memory.

Change Your PIN From Time To Time
Most debit cards issued in Nigeria have a life of two years. In many cases, users never get to change their PINs except for that first time immediately after issuance. This is not good enough. You are advised to change your PIN from time-to-time especially if you suspect that someone has come to know your PIN. That’s being proactive.

Vary Your PIN If You Use Multiple Cards
Some of us have several cards often from different banks. In a country where the telecommunications infrastructure is usually “down”, nobody wants to be left stranded. This explains why people hold different cards. If you do hold more than one card, experts advise that you should not use the same PIN for all your cards. The reason is that if a fraudster has your cards, he should not have easy access to all your accounts.

Use A Regular ATM
For security reasons, you are advised to use ATMs in surroundings you are familiar with. Always scan the environment before you approach the ATM. Be cautious – watch for suspicious people loitering nearby. These few tips will help while at an ATM:

– Make sure that the ATM is one that’s frequently used.
– If it’s your turn at the ATM and someone is too close to you, insist that the person gives you some distance.
– Examine the machine for “card skimmers”. In “skimming” schemes, criminals place scanners over ATM card slots to lift account information from debit cards. They also use hidden cameras or old-fashioned shoulder surfing to get PINs. If it looks like someone has tampered with the equipment, don’t use it.
– Protect your PIN from the view of others, either at an ATM or at a store.
– NEVER count your cash at the ATM! Even if a machine underpays you, it cannot reimburse you. If you must, count your cash in a safe place away from the machine.
– Remember to take your card out of the machine!
– Put your money and your card away before you leave the ATM.
– Shred (not squeeze), and destroy, your ATM receipt before you throw it away.

When Shopping
When shopping, or paying for services with your ATM card at a POS terminal, be sure you get your card back after every payment. Always collect your purchase receipt and examine it to make sure that the receipts are for the correct purchase amount.

Report a Lost or Stolen Card Immediately!
If you ever lose of misplace your card, report your bank immediately and report. It is therefore very important that you know the customer care line of your bank. Who knows, you may need to call them on a weekend. Inform them immediately if you think that there is anything that may compromise your PIN, such as an easy PIN, other ID in your wallet making it easy to work out or, horror of all horrors, the PIN being written down somewhere in the wallet or on the card. Get the bank to de-activate/cancel the card immediately (http://www.wikihow.com/Keep-Your-Debit-Card-Number-(PIN)-Safe ). You should follow this up with an e-mail or a visit to the bank the next working day.

Keep Your Cards Away From Magnets
Your information is stored on the ATM card using a magnetic strip. Sustained exposure to strong magnetic fields could demagnetize the card. You are therefore advised to keep your cards away from strong magnetic fields.

Review Your Account Statement Regularly
It is in your best interest to call for and review your bank statement regularly. Even if you are not a finance guru, you should be able to spot a transaction that was not done by you. If you need help, talk to an accountant.

Enjoy your (secured) money!

You can follow the author on twitter @ehissman

Further readings:
1. http://www.wikihow.com/Keep-Your-Debit-Card-Number-(PIN)-Safe
2. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/perfi/columnist/block/2005-05-09-debit-cards_x.htm
3. http://www.handsonbanking.org/htdocs/en/a/py/sas/apysasaac.html
4. http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/-the-10-most-easily-stolen-atm-pins–184658424.html

Tags: ATM, Debit Cards, Money, Security, Personal Finance