Kids in Business: The Insurance Adjuster Wins


Our first Kids in Business meeting—with spur-of-the-moment guest Lyla Lindquist—was awesome. Lyla is an insurance adjuster who runs her own business, and since she wasn't waylaid by any recent disasters, she made time for us on short notice. By the end of our meeting, I said I lost five pounds from all the laughing (and now we are thinking of how we might market Lyla as a weight-loss solution).

Besides hearing stories of old men who pretended to get run over or who lived in sub-zero trailers that got ransacked in the middle of nowhere, we learned about the relativity of correct business attire. (Jeans for burrowing under houses. Khakis for above-ground investigations of floods with left-over mold. Slacks for meetings with distressed parents whose children have been bowled over by rogue domestic animals.)

Pajamas, we learned, could potentially suffice as home office attire if they are t-shirts and sweats, but for reasons of focus and a basic sense of professionalism (and to avoid the overwhelming desire to nap between calls), we were told (and mostly agreed) that it is not a bad practice to actually get dressed every day (especially if you have no curtains on your windows).

Though every business is ultimately unique, and this was so evident in a discussion of insurance adjusting, one of the main takeaways from our time with Lyla was the idea that most businesses will be more profitable if you have:

1. knowledge in your area of interest
2. professional contacts (or an effective way to quickly obtain them)

We also discussed what makes a business different from a hobby:

1. it's not something you can just stop doing, because you are trying to make money from it
2. it's not something you can just stop doing, because you have spent money trying to make money from it

Of course you could walk away from a business. Instagram just did that, right? Okay, yes, for $1 billion from Facebook. 

As for the business of insurance adjustment, we learned that it helps to be:

1. braver than the mailman (German shepherds are not uncommon in the field)
2. faster than the mailman (scary and sometimes dangerous situations occasionally arise)
3. really funny or at least appreciative of found-humor (otherwise cynicism about old men who pretend to get run over might turn you into a grouchy person)

I figure it was a rousing success, because my girls would love to talk to Lyla again—about business or anything else she'd care to share. After all, both girls agreed that as far as story-telling goes, J.K. Rowling has got nothing on Lyla, except maybe a few more movies and a few less German shepherds to her name.

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Anonymous Lyla Lindquist said...

The other thing that could distinguish a business from a hobby is the IRS. If it's a business, they will permit you to deduct expenses from your revenues to determine your taxable income.

But then, of course, they expect you to actually generate an income.

JK and I are actually working on a new claims story project together. I must have forgotten to mention...

Truly good fun to talk to you three. Call me anytime. But I'm still keeping the post-it over my web cam.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Monica Sharman said...

I'm just lovin' this. Thanks for sharing.

"Found-humor"? I was a teeny bit familiar with found poetry, but had to look this one up. Here's what I got:

"Im a big fan of found humor -- the sorts of things that arent meant to be funny but which brighten the day if you take the time to acknowledge them. Its my theory that if you dont laugh at the absurdities of everyday life, youll miss a great deal of fun that the world has to offer.

And lets face it -- most of us need all the fun we can get."

(from here: http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/columnists/barreca/barreca019.shtml )

I would say that you can stop doing what you're doing even though you've already spent money on it. Risk is part of starting a business (says the wife of the toy inventor who has back-up ideas in case this one doesn't fly).

Did I mention I'm lovin' this? Thanks for the photos of their attire, by the way. :)

4:01 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

They dressed up especially for the meeting. Isn't that fun?

They even knew we weren't going to use the webcam. :)

Love that about the found-humor. Lyla finds it everywhere.

And, Lyla, that's great about you and JK. Sure to be a bestseller (at least to my girls ;-)

4:06 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Monica, would you say you can walk away from the business that easily? Or just one idea the business has? How is that decision made?

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Lyla Lindquist said...

I could clarify my comment on not being able to walk away. Yes, I agree you can. And sometimes should.

More that with a hobby you can come and go as it suits you, where as with a business on which your family depends for bread and shoes (or even window drapes) you must think more strategically about staying or going. And if possible, stay long enough to recoup at least your initial investment of blood, sweat and cash.

I'm curious about Monica's thoughts here too. The business of an inventor comes with plenty of risk. And lots of other things.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

Well, and then there is business that finds you, too. I think sometimes we so desperately want to make a hobby a job that we miss the skill set that is much better suited to self-employment- sometimes a hobby should just be a hobby. I watched a gal friend of mine do that and just about make herself miserable.

Web Design sort of found me...I wasn't looking for it, but yet, started making a (little) money. I'm thinking about developing it further.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Jeanne Damoff said...

How fun is this? And I love their outfits. That belly-dancing scarf pretty much made my day. Also, I'm a big fan of found humor and agree that it's the antidote to cynicism. Today I found a laugh when I walked into a truck stop restroom stall and was greeted by a large, painted sign on the wall declaring, "You Are Amazing." Oh, the implications.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you can't get much better than lyla. good idea.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Monica Sharman said...

I wouldn't (and don't!) walk away from the business very easily. That's definitely a big difference between business and hobby. I meant that there may come a time, after sweating and pouring out all that you possibly can and more, that it may be wisest to recognize the point where it would no longer be profitable to continue in that same direction. My husband generally thinks of obstacles as opportunities (for example, a great idea can be born because of an obstacle, or a better business connection can be made when the one we thought was "it" falls through). At the same time, it's okay to stop pursuing that particular idea at some point. But I don't know the formula for deciding when that point is. :) It could be as simple as, we ran out of money, or we came to a head with something that was inconsistent with our (highly atypical) business model or guiding principles. (Oh yeah, so it's good to have core principles beforehand to help with decisions like that.)

The fact that we've spent money on it shouldn't shackle me to that idea if it doesn't end up working. And if I've spent money on something that failed, that doesn't mean I've failed. I imagine VC's and angel investors would agree. :) Milton Hershey is a good example. Last time we were in PA, I was greatly encouraged by the sign at the beginning of the Hershey's Chocolate World tour. He failed twice (the first attempt lasting six years!) before something finally took off. And look what happened---he built a city (not to mention all the philanthropy). I took a picture of it because I thought it would encourage me if things got tough. (This photo was taken one year into our bold foray into this toy thing.)

I put the photo on my flickr account so you can read it:

I don't mean walking away from the business, just from that one idea that didn't work. I'm pretty committed to the business, but not so married to one idea. And the walking away can happen even after we've put out large amounts of money. So that's why I commented on the #2 which mentions you have to keep going even after you've spent money on it.

I could go on and on... (Oh wait, I already have!)

So...are you going to do what Lyla says and get a headset? And do you give chocolate prizes for the longest comment? :)

11:01 PM  
Anonymous Monica Sharman said...

P.S. Random trivia: Hershey was supposed to be on the Titanic but cancelled last-minute.

11:06 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Love the random trivia. It goes well with our random silly question idea :)

And I really enjoyed your comment, even though it could win a chocolate-length prize ;-)

I think I am walking away from ideas all the time. I tend to walk sooner rather than later if I sense that something isn't a "hit" or even if I quickly get bored by it or can't see how it might grow larger. That said, I probably hold on to a larger idea that strings together both successful and "failed" ideas (what is that idea? Hmmm. Right now, it's that words can nurture lives—especially poetic words).

Much like your husband, I think in terms of obstacles as being doors. Maybe that's a business requirement? :)

I just read (most of) The Chocolate Wars!! :) In fact, I was toying with whether that should be part of our reading material (but it might be too dense for the girls).

It shows that people can come at these things differently and still end up building a city. Cadbury stuck with chocolate right from the start, through long years of relative "failure," while Hershey experimented with a few different types of ventures before really settling.

Maybe the thread here is persistence and almost a *need* to make something work. For whatever reason.

7:41 AM  
Blogger diana said...

I completely missed the belly dancing scarf! So fun to see that my lovely friend Jeanne D has a slightly edgy sense of humor. I really like that in a person.

What a fun interview and article - and I can surely attest to the dangers of trying to make a hobby a business. For 7 years - from the wedding of daughter #1 until the wedding of daughter #2, I had a floral business out of my home. My husband and father-in-law (who was doing our taxes in those years) kept telling me, "THIS IS JUST A HOBBY, DIANA. You're supposed to make money at a business." I could never charge people enough to cover the copious amounts of blooms I chose to work with for parties and weddings. Some of us are not cut our for self-employment, I guess.

Although...come to think of it...as a hired staff pastor, with a salary and benefits - I was STILL self-employed for IRS purposes. Go figure.

Lovin' the post-it over the computer cam, Lyla. That would be my choice, too. :>)

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Monica Sharman said...

Yes, yes, yes---there's that *need*. And if we don't keep pursuing, there may be an explosion (or implosion)!

4:28 PM  

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