Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Small and Special

This afternoon was spent amongst a hundred or so fellow small business owners and budding entrepreneurs at the first Small and Special conference. The event was organized and hosted by Jackson Fish Market, which oddly enough has nothing to do with fish. They are a small group of ex-Microsofter's who banded together to do their own thing, and from what I gather they are still in the techie industry, however creating their own brands of consumer software solutions. That is lifted entirely from their, site, I don't really understand what it all means, but they guys were very nice and put together a fantastic panel of speakers from various areas of small business-dom.

I must say that this small business venture is incredibly isolating, as I'm sure anyone who has stuck their neck out as an entrepreneur can relate. In my particular situation, some of that inherent loneliness will become assuaged when I actually open my doors, and have daily contact with fellow cheese lovers. But for now, it's all me and just me, and any opportunity to mingle with a group of like-minded businessfolks is always welcome. I chatted with a few of the people around me; unfortunately the group was far too large to do any considerable conversational networking, but it was still good to meet people who were in their own various stages of business development, research, whathaveyou.

I always make notes of what I think I'm going to take away from an interview or event like this, and then look at them again in a couple of days and see how they jive with my thoughts after a few dozen hours of marinating in my head. So who knows if I'll agree with myself this weekend, but leaving this event I felt a little snowed. Speakers' professions ranged across the board, from flower shops to children's book publishing, to the groovy sex toy shop that has become a pride and joy of Seattle. All but one of them sang the praises of not making any concrete plans to start the business; of somehow just falling into it like they tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and suddenly poof! There's a business with my name on it!
I absolutely cannot deny the romance that these stories lend to small business ownership, but I had to sit on my own hands to keep myself from pumping a fist in the air for the sake of research and business plans and not rushing in!

I know that everyone does it their own way, and I know that no matter how much I plan, edit, re-edit my business plan, pick away at my financials, there are going to be many, many surprises along the way. Hell, I've already encountered so many little wrenches tossed into the mix that I can't even count them, but I always stop and think back to the very first conversation I had with anyone regarding my beloved cheese shop dream. Back in January of 2008, I sat down with friend and fellow small business owner Jason Legat of Model Remodel. I literally sat on the edge of my seat as I regaled him with my romantic version of opening a little cheese shop in less than six months, just in time to meet the holiday rush, it was a brilliant plan in my mind. He sat and listened patiently, and then very kindly advised me to take a few steps back and look at the bigger picture. He illustrated scenarios of starting with a bang and then falling short very quickly, of not having the proper funding to really head into a retail situation and what about working with cheese, of all basic things? Naturally my exuberant inner child was a little crushed at hearing this, but I knew I had to be open to the advice, after all, he had built his business from the ground up, made his share of mistakes along the way, and is now a very successful business owner. He spun a wise yarn about building the proper foundation (to use a contracting metaphor), and how that foundation will inevitably dictate the imminent success or failure of your budding business. I still hold onto that with every step I make, and also to his sage words to never stick to a rigid timeline, be flexible and always open to opportunities that may not be in your original plan but will make you more informed, experienced, and ever more ready to take the plunge when it does happen.

I thought of all that a lot today, listening to these panelists tell their tales of living on no income and barely breaking even after a full year. More than one person poo-pooed the notion of a loan, or even seed money for that matter. The idea of an organic transition into success was laid on thick, but to me it's like an incredibly hygenic Frenchman; it's a great idea but it is the extremely rare exception to the rule. The people who made it without money, marketing, small business loans, seemingly by the good nature of our community, they should consider themselves touched by angels. But me, I'm an atheist through and through. I'm not counting on anything but myself, my anal-retentive tendencies towards fine tuning my beloved P&L reports, my horse-like work ethic, and my deep, deep love of cheese to see me through this venture.

/rant.

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