If there's one thing entrepreneurs share, it's a sense of what it feels like to put it all on the line. Whether you run a large or small enterprise, you make critical decisions everyday. You assess the facts, look inside yourself, and make the best call you can. There's a four-letter word for what you're dealing with, and it's R-I-S-K. Entrepreneurs live and die with their ability to balance risk and reward.
Those entrepreneurs who are successful and manage to build a business and a nest egg often manage to heap on even more risk when they decide how they're going to invest that nest egg. While building a successful business and managing your investment portfolio both require handling risk intelligently, they are very different activities. Entrepreneurs often fare worse than the average investor when it comes to making investments because many of the traits that make one a successful entrepreneur are precisely the traits that make one a disaster as an investor -- starting with an eagerness to put it all on the line.
I'm both an entrepreneur and a financial consultant: I've built a successful business advising some of the most successful wealth-builders in the world on how to make smart decisions with their money. I believe that stock market investing can play a crucial role in your financial strategy so long as you leave the gambling out of it. As business owners, you take enough risk in your day jobs. Of course, you can't eliminate risk completely, but you can manage it smartly, and that's why, along with Inc.com, I've created The Only Guide to Investing an Entrepreneur Will Ever Need. Not only will this blog show you how to create a complete investing program that will help you reach critical goals in your life -- buying a home, saving for a college education, funding a retirement plan -- it will also take into consideration the risks you take as an entrepreneur every day. We set out to design a roadmap for the entrepreneur that will leverage the best of what the stock market has to offer while keeping things simple and effective. This plan is designed for the hardest working men and women in business today, the business owners.
Complicated Doesn't Mean Better
If you read the financial magazines or go to an investing seminar, you're likely to come away with the notion that smart investing has to be complicated. That's not true. Successful entrepreneurs know that complicated doesn't mean better. And easy to understand doesn't mean unsophisticated, either. What's the hardest part about The Only Investing Guide an Entrepreneur Will Ever Need? Making the decision to get started. After that, it's extremely easy. When we sought to establish an investing guide, we identified seven points upon which any investing advice had to deliver:
The strategy must be easy to start. We looked for an investing method that anyone could implement quite simply, with any amount of money, from $50 to $5 million.
The strategy must be easy to maintain. Once you're up and running with your portfolio, it shouldn't require hours of work each day, or each week, or even each month. You shouldn't need to spend all your free time researching the markets and keeping up with your investments.
The strategy must be inexpensive to implement and maintain. In this instance, we're not talking about the amount of money you actually invest -- we're referring to the fees, commissions, and expenses investment plans require that can act to slow down the growth of your investment.
The strategy must be tax-smart. Taxes, like fees, can slow down the growth of your investment. A smart investing strategy doesn't expose you to additional or unexpected taxes.
The strategy must work in all of your accounts. What good is an investing plan that you can't implement in your 401(k) as easily as in your IRA or your regular taxable account? Not all investment companies offer exactly the same investment choices but your strategy must be simple enough to replicate across all your accounts.
The strategy must have a long history from which to judge it. If you're investing for the long term, you'll want a plan that's been tested against the ups and downs of past decades. While the past is no indicator of the future, you'll want to have a feel for how your strategy fared in famously difficult and booming parts of the '70s, '80s, and '90s.
The strategy must make money. After all, what's the value of an easy, understandable, inexpensive, tax-efficient, widely available investing plan with a long history if it doesn't generate a good rate of return?
Here's How to Get Started:
Step One: Take at least 10 percent of your take-home pay each month and put it into an investment account. (If you have a lump sump -- such as a bonus or inheritance, we'll cover that later in the blog).
Step Two: Divide that money into thirds.
Step Three: Invest each third into an index mutual fund that can be found at many of the best known financial firms in America (such as Vanguard). Pick one that is based on the S&P 500, the large U.S. company stock index. Pick one that is based on the Russell 2000, the small U.S. company stock index. Pick one that is based on the Morgan Stanley EAFE, the large international company index.
Index funds are funds that passively invest in a fixed index. Unlike actively managed mutual funds, index funds hold the stocks that are published in the index. These are the very same kinds of funds used by the biggest pension fund and university endowments in the world. Every year, these funds outperform 80 percent of mutual fund managers and more than 90 percent of individual investors.
Yes, you can try to pick one of those fund managers in the 20 percent who beat the indexes; the problem is that it tends to be a different 20 percent every year. Over time, almost no one beats the indexes. How is that possible? It's actually very simple: Betting on individual stocks is risky. Betting on lots of stocks or large swaths of the market -- through the index funds -- allows you to reduce that risk. If you follow this strategy, you're not going to dramatically outperform the market, but very few people do anyway, and you're also not going to dramatically underperform it. Again, the way we see it, you've already got enough risk in your lives as an entrepreneur. And your time is better spent managing your business.
Beyond implementing The Only Investing Guide an Entrepreneur Will Ever Need, this blog will also offer a wide array of advice that any entrepreneur can benefit from. For example, we'll explore:
- The smart way to play the market by creating a "fun fund" outside of your long-term investing account -- for those of you who just can't resist.
- How to leverage your retirement account's tax advantages in innovative ways.
- How to create a "life-stage" approach to wealth-building so you can turn all your hard work into a life-long income stream.
And we'll cover the crucial relationship between your personal financial life and your business's financial life. For example:
- How you and your partners can find capital in unlikely places.
- How to turn your business into an asset your family can benefit from for generations to come.
- Smart ways to reward key employees with creative wealth-building benefits.
My name is Lewis Schiff, and I'll be your guide on this important journey. The Only Investing Guide an Entrepreneur Will Ever Need will tap into the best minds in entrepreneurial and personal finance to bring you powerful and actionable insights. If you have questions about your financial life (either personal or business-related), you can post them on the blog or -- if you prefer a private response -- you can email me at InvestingGuide@inc.com.