On Business

I am a business owner. I started my business, almost 3 years ago, to give me more flexibility in my life and to apply some of my values to the world. I have described this The Simpsons scene elsewhere, where Moe is about to list his new company, Makers Moe bourbon, on the NASDAQ, and he is told by some libertarian friends to enjoy his last night as a democrat. As though his new fortune will inevitably change his political leaning and personal values. This too has been an expectation thrust upon me. I find myself discussing ideas on Twitter and as soon as the topic of business or economics is other tweeters assume that I am not a business owner. For my views where business is concerned are unconventional for a business owner. Here’s a few observations I have made as a business owner about business:

Many businesses fail because their managers are incompetent or a lack passion or a mix of both.

One could be forgiven for thinking that every business owner or manager knows every thing there is to know about business and has tried every technique to achieve business success. When a business fails, it’s always somebody else’s fault. How many stories have you heard about a business collapsing because of an incompetent CEO or proprietor or that they have lost their passion and know that it has impacted on their ability to manage? No, instead it’s the trade union or carbon tax or regulation or economy or lack of consumer confidence or some new development down the street that has caused a decline in foot traffic or the loony socialists. Somebody or something else is to blame. This bothers me. Take some responsibility.

 Growth isn’t the be-all-to-end-all for me.

I am happy where things are at with my business at the moment and see no need to grow for the sake of growing. “But what if your customer base takes a slide?” That’s always a possibility, of course. But I have a steady enough flow of new business and a nice little waiting list to consult if need be. And I am confident that with little adjustments to marketing here and there, the flow will increase. It’s exciting when your business is a part of a community rather than against one. I have no fixation on growing for the sake of it. In doing so, one increases their vulnerability–the more you grow, the more you have to lose. Slow and small, and understandable and human, is how I like it.

I don’t spend a cent of marketing.

Not one cent. I have done, in the past. And will do, in the future. But at the moment social media, Google and word-of-mouth are proving effective enough. This is another element that relates to permaculture. One form of permaculture, rests on the yields of perennials. It goes, that you put the hard work in early on–building infrastructure and soil, planting trees and plants, and then, later on, you can just sit back and enjoy the spoils. Well, I put the hard work in early on and it’s paying off. That said, I have no intention of becoming complacent.

It’s all good and well to say do what your passionate about but eventually your passion will become a job.

My business is in the cleaning industry. I am not passionate about cleaning. What I am passionate about is the environment and what I love about my business is the opportunity it gives me to talk about the environment and how we can ensure that our households don’t impact on it disproportionately. I am in the cleaning industry but my conversations range wider than that and I find myself talking to my clients about transportation, waste management, and all aspects of our carbon footprints. I have no problems broaching these topics as my clients range from hardened environmental warriors to the curious. It’s a conversation they enjoy having, if not instigate.

Back to the header: keep in mind that you might turn something you love into something you hate by following the cliche of doing something your passionate about. Or not, who knows?

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2 thoughts on “On Business

  1. Some good points here;especially about growth not being the ultimate goal of a business and that a business is party of an ecology. In any ecology there are inevitably failures, but those failures often clear the way and change the micro-climate for other species, and it is the same for business. The ‘do what you are passionate about’ thing has always been good to me (since I decided to take it on as a philosophy of life) but I think people get trapped when they believe that passions are permanent. I have had many passions that I have followed until they were no longer my passion, but a related passion has always led me onward from there.
    To illustrate both points, I have a story; I started a micro-business at one stage, making vegetable oil soaps and herbal ointments. I sold enough to keep the business afloat and worked hard at educating people in my area about the benefits of using these products. Eventually I was offered a job as a TAFE teacher, teaching people to make their own soaps and ointments. This led me to teaching a particular woman to make soap, she started up her own micro-business in my area and I provided her with my contacts and advice (I’m not very competitive). I found that I loved teaching so much that I have moved on to teaching children and am gaining qualifications to become a primary school teacher. This short and skimpy story illustrates the gradual changes in my passions and how they have led me onward and that the work I put into educating my community about the benefits of using natural products had prepared the way for my friend to build her business.

    • Talk about evolution, Jude. Many would have expected the climax of the story to be that you created a soap making empire or some such. Instead, you set-up the competition! No, your interests shifted and you gained pleasure from the process of passing another interest down to the new. That lead to your new passion. That’s great.

      I think there is another business element to your story that I shall expand on a little if I may. How does one handle the competition? Well, I impose limitations on my service–because we operate by bicycle, we have limited our geographical reach, and because we have a certain approach, there is certain jobs we won’t do. (Green cleaning products and really filthy houses don’t really mix. We’re in the business of nurturing houses–keeping them safe and comfortable, not making squallers good.) Because of that, we have to turn a lot of business away. It’s nice to make a suggestion, though, as to who may be able to help them. So we have established a little network of “preferred providers” that we can refer clients to that we can’t service.

      I spoke to people about this idea in the early stages and they thought it was a dreadful idea. “But it’s the competition!” As though the competition was going to walk all over me, or steal the secrets! (What secrets!) No, instead, it has created a friendly, helpful, collaborative eco-system that works both ways. We do a bit of window cleaning work. Hooning around the city on a bike is a tremendous way of getting from shopfront to shopfront. No parking hassles, the ability to zoom right past traffic jams. It’s the best way to get around the city. Another window cleaning company appreciated this so hit me up. I was receiving requests for quotes from big clients to clean the windows of multistory buildings and buildings that were quite out of my geographical reach. I swapped some of these opportunities for the small shopfront jobs this other company was receiving. This other company ran a team of guys and found it pointless heading into the city to clean the front window of a cafe. He wanted the meatier stuff. I didn’t. So we struck a mutually beneficial partnership.

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