Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thinking about writing a Small Business book.

I'm thinking about writing a small business book. The subtitle would be, "How to Survive a Small Business."

I went on a day long walk yesterday. Drove out past Millican to the old highway to Prineville, and pulled off on one of the trails. Very much in the middle of nowhere.

Anyway, I was thinking of how I'd do a business book, and it occurred to me that I could pick topic headings, and then sort of riff on each topic.

Right away, I rattled off 27 topics, which is a small proportion of what I'd could come up with after 37 years of doing this. In fact, I was thinking of one every few minutes and purposely cut off the flow.

Then, as an experiment, I picked one of the topics and wrote about it, just off the top of my head.

So the fact is, this book would be extremely easy to do. I have a whole set of ideas I've expounded over the years, and I have examples for all of them. 

So I may do this.  Does this look interesting to anyone?

Here is the first draft of the first topic, and a list of the other topics.

"YOU'RE STILL HERE?!" "How to Survive a Small Business"

1.) Remember--most "small business" books...aren't

This isn't your usual business book.

After some early success, I went through what I call my "young entrepreneur" phase.  I devoured magazines like Inc. and Entrepreneur. I even wore a coat and carried a briefcase; albeit with blue jeans and without a tie. (Never a tie!)

Most books I read back then seemed to think "small" businesses were places with 50 or more employees, but I tried to glean from them what I could.

It took some brutal missteps but I finally realized that business books and magazines exist mainly to sell more business books and magazines. 

More often than not, the advice in these publications is disastrous to mortal humans. For example, when I opened a store in the local mall, I tried to create an "Incentive" program for my manager based on a gung ho article I read. It was a complete failure. I made the mistake of rewarding gross sales without enforcing profit margins. It never occurred to me that my manager would sell everything cheaply. (He didn't stick around once the "Incentive" was removed...)

This one mistake almost brought down my little empire. (The word "empire" is my "young entrepreneur" talking, not the grizzled veteran I am now. I carry a backpack these days, not a briefcase.)

Stupid, yes. But that is sort of the point. I should have been sticking to basics, not trying to get fancy. I forgot who and what I was.

So be forewarned. Many of the observations I'll make in this book are going to contradict common wisdom, and more often than not be counter-intuitive.  Notice I say "observations" rather than advice, because I think every store is different, every owner is different, and so giving advice is pretty risky. And yet, some things I've noticed over the years might prove useful.

What this book isn't is a Get Rich Quick scheme. The focus here is on making a decent living, working in a pleasant place, being your own boss.

33 years ago, I bought a very small business that I'd worked in for the previous 4 years, called Pegasus Books; in downtown Bend, Oregon. I'm still there. Somehow I survived, and I'm finally ready to say thrived. (By my standards, and that's what counts.)

This book is written with small retail businesses in mind, with a few employees.  Though some of the observations might be useful for service businesses, or restaurants and bars, it isn't specifically designed for that.

There are very few books that really address the needs of Mom and Pop style businesses. Why? I think because the Powers That Be have decided there is no money in it. And yet, a large percentage of small businesses are like mine. An owner and perhaps the spouse and a few employees, in a single location.

I won't be using business jargon. For one thing, I don't know any business jargon. I didn't go to business school. I'm not going to address technology or accounting or taxes or anything like that. This is more a book about how I survived, and after a long struggle, finally thrived.

I went up to the local community college once for business advice. The advisor told me I had a "primitive sophistication." No doubt, he was damning me with faint praise, but I embrace that description. I believe, in fact, that I survived and thrived because I didn't pay too much attention to what the business community said. I resisted writing this for a long time despite the urging of others because I didn't feel I was successful enough.  I've made a bunch of mistakes and it took some time to finally reach real profitability.

Ironically, it is these very same mistakes that make whatever observations I make useful.

This is the only time I'm going to qualify my observations. Obviously, what I say may not apply to your own experience. Obviously there are exceptions.

But that said, I'm going to try to be as honest and forthright as possible.

Stick to your original goal.
Decide if you want to be a shopkeeper or a wheeler dealer.
A lifestyle store, but a store: not a hobby and not a charity.
Start small; don't throw money at it.
Follow the herd...right over the cliff.
Where did all my neighbors go?
Competition: can't live with them, but you have to live with them.
Turnover. What does it matter?
Inventory, inventory, inventory.
Location is your store, your store is your location.
I have some quirks. So do you.
Burn out. Only thing worse than not making money.
Advertising is a scam.
Don't quit your corporate job to open a small business.
Know your town, live in it. Then open a business.
No one cares if your fixtures are used.
Bootstrap or borrow?
Don't wear the clown suit unless you're a clown.
Analyze your business. Doesn't everyone? Nope.
Fads and bubbles, a deadly opportunity.
Cagey gets you nowhere.
Selling isn't everything.
If the customer is always right, does that mean you're always wrong?
and so on and on and on. I can come up with many more.

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