In my first on the topic of starting a small business, a reader offered the following comment:
“Being an entrepreneur is incredibly challenging and rewarding. Enjoy the highs and shrug off the lows!”
Since that time several other people have mentioned this idea of the highs and lows in small business. It doesn’t surprise me that not every day of business ownership is full of rainbows and sunshine, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the highs and lows were not meted out in a more orderly and timely fashion. You know, like one high week, then maybe a low for a couple days, followed by a high for a few days and then a low weekend ... and so on. Not quite consistent or predictable highs and lows, but a randomized schedule that kind of averaged out into a reasonable ebb and flow.
I haven’t even opened yet, and already I see that my assessment of this ebb and flow was entirely wrong. It’s not an ebb and flow at all – it’s more like a roiling tide of highs and lows all occurring simultaneously. During the course of a single phone call, email or text the mood of the day can shift wildly from positive to negative and points in between. To-do lists rise and fall just like the prices I'm driving around town to compare, and seemingly simple sentences of promotional copy take on monumental importance the moment before handing the credit card to the printer.
In Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” he talks about the “dip” as this point in business where you face an obstacle or setback. He relates that at this dip people either give up and walk away from an idea, or lean into it and persevere. It was such a simple, cute premise when I first read it – like a cheerful little warning.
It’s all starting to make sense now.
I spent this past weekend crunching on the cost of goods, fixed expenses and variable costs in order to come up with a pricing structure. I priced out butter (variable), rent (fixed) and I fretted over the yearly rainfall in Georgia (they’re in a drought so peanuts are now very, very variable). I compared the price of popcorn from New York, Chicago and Seattle and finally settled into the the fact that profit margins only exist if it’s priced so that people buy it. No pressure there at all.
When AT&T accidentally assigned my business account (and pin number) to some unsuspecting customer in Michigan, I was feeling the dip. Time Warner said they would install cable for my cash register for 40 percent more than I budgeted, but it will take 8 to 10 weeks. I was beginning to imagine how cozy and pleasant an underground bunker in an undisclosed location sounded – that’s a low, low, dip.
Looking back a year ago, before I had retail space or equipment, I was roiling around with a lot of unanswered questions. It’s good to finally have sorted things out enough to know what needs to be done so that I can open. It does feel exhilerating to be so close even if the things that still have to be done are now over-budget and past due. If the devil is in the details you can imagine where I am right now – writing and rewriting a single sentence on a frequent buyer card in the middle of the night.
The advice from my reader was right on target and I appreciate him sharing it with me. As for Seth Godin, despite his cheerful warning, he also seems to think all the effort spent trying to make a business perfect is worth it. In his popular blog on the business of small business he recently wrote the key to a successful business is not just persevering through the dip but plunging headfirst into the details.
“The scarcity happens because so many businesses don't care enough or are too scared to invest the energy in so many seemingly meaningless little bits of being extraordinary.”