Birth of a Salesman

Every so often I like to offer an update from the realm of the self-employed, partly because I find the challenges of running my own business equal parts surprising and interesting, and I hope that by scribing my experiences I can perhaps inform, even entertain, but more specifically because I am painfully self-involved. Ask all the people who refuse to be my friend, and they'll tell you. It's true. But, instead of simply wallowing in my own narcissistic glory, or perhaps as a thinly veiled conceit to mask that narcissistic wallowing, I thought I might offer a glimpse of the misconceptions I entertained and walked into face first as a heads-up for those with their own entrepreneurial predilictions.

While our business finally seems to be finding direction, and more importantly customers, what I've found noteworthy is how very different the reality of my job is from what I expected it to be at the start. This is at least somewhat related to the fact that when Elysia and I incorporated, I had no idea how I would fit in, or what the hell I would be doing. So aching and potent was my desperation to get the hell out of retail that I was entirely willing to do absolutely whatever, even if that included the job requirement of drinking printing ink or learning the customs and manner of the Inuit. I was ready to tackle that challenge!

I remember clearly what it was like before striking off on our own, leaning against that vomit-yellow EB counter, watching my pride give me the finger as it stormed out to find a new host, and imagining my own business while trying to scam ten-year-olds into "protecting" their copy of Ratchet and Clank and assuring them that we used only the finest water-based lubricant while screwing them over on trade-in values. Or, to be more specific, I remember doing all that while telling my employees to scam and screw (always with lubricant!), because the boss-man calls the shots in these here parts, and if you don't want to do it for $8.50 an hour, I'll find some other slack-jawed clownhole who will. And what I imagined was sitting in a chair, propping my feet, decked out in well tailored money shoes, up on a pile of money, while smoking money made of shredded money wrapped in more money. What I never actually got around to imagining is what I was doing to get all that money paraphanalia.

To my great educational fortune, shortly after starting our business, someone clued me in to an entrepreneurial fact I had before considered. It was that someone, say a graphic designer, who leaves their job to start their own graphic design company with the mentality that they are still a graphic designer will most likely fail. At first, this piece of information sounded, in a word, dumb, but then I realized that, seeing as I had no design knowledge or experience and had co-founded just such a business, this could work to my advantage. But, you may ask, isn't the whole point of starting a graphic design company, or any other company for that matter, supposed to be that you keep being a graphic designer, but instead of giving the money for all your hard work to someone else, you keep it yourself? As it turns out, the answer is: no.

Except the keeping the money part. That you're right about.

The point of creating any kind of for-profit company is, by its very nature, to make a profit, and as the owner of a for-profit company your job is to set the stage for making money. There may be other goals, like providing a needed service, achieving a higher quality, a dedication to customer, or engendering a synergistic flow of paradigm shifting intellectual properties for demographically targeted revenue streams. That you, as an entrepreneur, have chosen to do that by providing the services of a designer, gardener, retailer, consultant, or whatever is relatively irrelevant. The moment you start your own business, you are no longer a designer, gardener, gigolo, or canine psychic. You are a business owner, and your job is to grow your business.

And that, my little chickadees, is a full time job all its own.

And, as it turned out, this was a niche in the company both that I could fill, and one that my partner was not interested in pursuing. Elysia was exclusively interested in the design part of the business, and not the business part of the business, which is nice because my technical capacity for graphic design is similar to my technical capacity for moving cats with my mind.

However, it proved something of a surprise that in leaving my former life of salesmanship, I had stumbled into an entirely new life of salesmanship. Being a business owner, as describing one's profession, means a lot of things, but more than anything else it means going out and convincing people that they want to do business with you, which brings me to my second commonly held misconception, which is that generating business is easy.

It is not.

It takes as much work as the actual jobs that you seek to generate in many cases, and worse it's a slow, frustrating, and occasionally futile effort. There is an art, a strategy to generating business, and it is not as simple as handing people your business card and glaring expectantly at them until they hand over some work. In fact, that turns out to be a really horrible way of generating business, though it is a solid way to get someone to file a restraining order.

One must network, and schmooze, and cajole, and rub elbows, and put on a convincing, if artificial, air of absolute confidence at your own superiority above everyone else in your field, and you must do it without seeming condescending or smug. You must be charming while being professional; successful while being approachable; friendly; confident; humble; and you must know in a second exactly what your potential customer wants and how you can convince them that you can deliver.

What I realize now is that the job of owning a small business has more to do with creating relationships with partners, and clients, and vendors, than it does doing whatever job it is that you thought you'd be doing when you started the damn thing, which, again, works well for me since I didn't know how to do that other thing to begin with. I can't really imagine the level of effort that would be required to do both parts, the ownership part and the actual work, and bow before the superior might of those who've tread that path. I'm grateful to have the partner with the technical proficiency and experience in our field so that I can go to my meetings, and meet new clients, and work with vendors, and visit my networking groups, and follow up on referrals and leads, because as it turns out that's a lot of work all its own.

As it happens, the only thing I didn't have a misconception about going into my business was the sense of satisfaction in reaping the rewards of the work. Where there are professionals around the globe that take a sense of satisfaction in completing or landing the "Big Job" that is, at least partly, muted by the fact that they do not reap the rewards of their work, generating that "Big Job" for your own small business is entirely rewarding.

So, I still wear ordinary shoes, which I prop up not upon a pile of money but a gently used filing cabinet that will someday be overstuffed with client files. I go into meeting with people who usually make a lot more money than I do, and I pretend that my humble and tiny business is exactly the business to which they need to give their money, time, and attention. Sometimes they buy it, and sometimes they don't, but when they do, and when the really solid jobs hit, and when my best clients refer me to their best clients, and things start click-clacking down that line, that's when it makes it all worthwhile. That's where that feeling of accomplishment, self-sufficiency, and success that you dreamed of before starting the business sinks in.

All the rest of the time, however, is a constant, nausea inducing, often paralyzing fear. So, ya know, try to enjoy the good parts.

- Elysium

Comments

Small business owner who used to sell his soul daily but now find his niche with his wife and keeps money in piles to prop his feet up on... this bud's for you!

What they also don't tell you is the staggering amount of patience required to run your own business. I am not a patient person by nature, and the fact that business requires so much of it, so much finesse and waiting--that's the hard part. I don't mind having an idea rejected, but I do mind having to wait a month to hear that it got rejected, you know? I imagine it's much the same for you. You spend alot of effort wooing a particular client, and wait patiently for their response, and then they say, "Thanks, but no thanks". That takes a peculiar kind of patience that I at least didn't know about when I signed up for this whole freelancing thing. For some reason, even though I knew it would take a long time to become successful, I thought the business side itself would be a faster process.

I'm glad to hear the two of you are experiencing some success. Certainly couldn't happen to two better people.

When dealing with salespeople, I always find myself more likely to remember them when they take me to their box seats at the local sports stadium.

Just a suggestion for something to do with all that extra money.

You can move cats with your mind?!? Now I want to be an entrepreneur! Nobody ever told me you'd get that kind of perk...

Thought about shaving the beard? Apparently facial hair makes people look untrustworthy. Pirate hooks and tophats do to, so ditch those if you have them.

I am going to go freelance. It is a scary thought.

Yes, but I'm tall with a beard, which actually makes me looke reliable and strong. I looked this stuff up.

I hope this doesn't get too personal, but I'm curious what it has been like to work with your wife on a daily basis. You guys seem really tight but it must be somewhat taxing not only to work with your wife (and vice versa) but to have the stress of starting a new business be a part of that working relationship.

Elysium wrote:

Yes, but I'm tall with a beard, which actually makes me looke reliable and strong. I looked this stuff up.

Ahh. So you're going for the whole 'lumberjack' pitch. Good idea. You'll certainly get the pink pound. (Noun.)

Depending on the clientele, a lumberjack look might actually work for your advantage. Projects confidence and authority. "When it comes to design, we don't go pussyfooting like some of those pansy-ass big-city shops whose ads you may have seen. VANN SANDS DESIGN: MADE IN U.S.A."

"Can we do your Bar Mitzvah invites? CAN I SPLIT LOGS WITH MY BARE HANDS?"

You know what I didn't plan for? Accounting. What planet do accountants come from? This stuff makes no damn sense at all. I bought this insanely expensive accounting package, theoretically to make my life easier...I'm still on screen three of the setup, two months later, because I have no idea what it's asking me. And I could get support, for 150% of the price of the software, but unless I sign over my first born, Peachtree has no interest in helping me out. Aaaaaaah!

On the plus side, I have a really amazing graphic designer.

1Dgaf wrote:
Elysium wrote:

Yes, but I'm tall with a beard, which actually makes me looke reliable and strong. I looked this stuff up.

Ahh. So you're going for the whole 'lumberjack' pitch. Good idea. You'll certainly get the pink pound. (Noun.)

What the hell does "the pink pound" mean? Good lord, man, you have to be slinging terms like that around a place with as much homo-erotic banter as GWJ... (And there's no way I'm googling that while at work...)

Chumpy_McChump wrote:
1Dgaf wrote:
Elysium wrote:

Yes, but I'm tall with a beard, which actually makes me looke reliable and strong. I looked this stuff up.

Ahh. So you're going for the whole 'lumberjack' pitch. Good idea. You'll certainly get the pink pound. (Noun.)

What the hell does "the pink pound" mean? Good lord, man, you have to be slinging terms like that around a place with as much homo-erotic banter as GWJ... (And there's no way I'm googling that while at work...)

"One class of cash has a very distinct name. In Britain it is often called the Pink Pound, in the US the Dorothy Dollar. It is the huge amount of money spent by those of gay or lesbian sexual orientation."

THe pink pound (£) is the UK term for the spending power of the gay market.

I am in the throes of trying to get my idea/business off of the ground. The problem for me is that my idea is so bloody complicated that getting it translated into marketable reality has been an exercise in haystacks and needles. Finding the right person to help with thing A, making sure we don't do thing C before we do thing B, finding out that thing B isn't as important as thing D (which we were doing but weren't focusing on), and blah blah blah. For every 1 resource that is genuine, there are about 1,000 that want to screw you over.

The only thing that I've done irrevocably right thus far is involving a few trusted partners in getting things launched. In my case, having two other people shoveling coal into the boiler has kept the idea steaming ahead (even when I am mentally stalled), and having two other sets of eyeballs (and access to two other sets of friends/connections/ideas/pocketbooks) has only helped.

That said, we're still a long way from Happyland, home to the Profit Palace. But we're moving, and that's upholding the only promise I made to myself when I started this thing - that every day I would make progress, even if it only amounted to inches, toward my goal.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:

You can move cats with your mind?!? Now I want to be an entrepreneur! Nobody ever told me you'd get that kind of perk...

I can move parakeets with my mind, but cats are a different matter. All the fur creates a disruptive amount of static electricity.

On a more serious note, kudos on yet another insighful and entertaining article Elysium. It kind of makes me happy to be "just another programmer" and let someone else worry about sales and finance though; that stuff is most certainly not my cup of tea.

A beard can make you taller? I can see wider, itchier, heavier, etc., but taller?

Nice one, Ely, but I'm not buying it. You can pretend that this enterprise of yours is but a fledgling graphic design shop, but I think we all know what Vann Sands Design really stands for, and I will not rest until I get my News Corp parking space, dammit!

Elysium wrote:

Yes, but I'm tall with a beard, which actually makes me looke reliable and strong. I looked this stuff up.

The honest Abe look.

Is 6'3" too short for a beard?

Ah, my little Elysium is growing up. What a proud day.

Soon he will be bemoaning high taxes and wondering why he doesn't get to keep more of the money that he worked so hard to make. It's like watching him ride a bike for the first time. Scratch that....that would actually be kind of creepy...

Copingsaw wrote:

I hope this doesn't get too personal, but I'm curious what it has been like to work with your wife on a daily basis. You guys seem really tight but it must be somewhat taxing not only to work with your wife (and vice versa) but to have the stress of starting a new business be a part of that working relationship.

Taxing, are you kidding? This is the perfect opportunity to bring more spanking into the home. So when the sales force fails to meet projected expectations, Elysia and can step up and administer a good, solid paddling to motivate the troops. It's a win-win!

Copingsaw wrote:

I hope this doesn't get too personal, but I'm curious what it has been like to work with your wife on a daily basis. You guys seem really tight but it must be somewhat taxing not only to work with your wife (and vice versa) but to have the stress of starting a new business be a part of that working relationship.

It was stressful at first, but it's worked out pretty well for us. One thing we have going for us is that we've always enjoyed spending an inordinate amount of time together. That's good - I have a feeling that if we were like a lot of couples, we'd be snatching each other baldheaded by now. Too much togetherness can be rough if you're not up for it.

slambie wrote:

Taxing, are you kidding? This is the perfect opportunity to bring more spanking into the home. So when the sales force fails to meet projected expectations, Elysia and can step up and administer a good, solid paddling to motivate the troops. It's a win-win!

Yep! Fail to land a good account? That's a paddlin'. Spend more on promotional materials than we make? That's a paddlin'. Leave the sink full of dirty dishes? You better believe that's a paddlin'.

duckideva wrote:

You know what I didn't plan for? Accounting. What planet do accountants come from? This stuff makes no damn sense at all. I bought this insanely expensive accounting package, theoretically to make my life easier...I'm still on screen three of the setup, two months later, because I have no idea what it's asking me. And I could get support, for 150% of the price of the software, but unless I sign over my first born, Peachtree has no interest in helping me out. Aaaaaaah!

On the plus side, I have a really amazing graphic designer.

Thank you, thank you - we try to please!

That's why we bit the bullet and hired an accountant. He trained us to use our accounting software and we upload files to him on a regular basis to check over. That's just one of the ways he helps us make sure we're doing everything nice and legal, so we never get in any trouble over what we earn/owe/give birth to.

slambie wrote:

Taxing, are you kidding? This is the perfect opportunity to bring more spanking into the home. So when the sales force fails to meet projected expectations, Elysia and can step up and administer a good, solid paddling to motivate the troops. It's a win-win!

I love you so much! When my business is ready to rise through the ranks to take over Johnson and Johnson and any others who stand in my way...I'm so making you the director of HR.

Elysia wrote:

That's why we bit the bullet and hired an accountant. He trained us to use our accounting software and we upload files to him on a regular basis to check over. That's just one of the ways he helps us make sure we're doing everything nice and legal, so we never get in any trouble over what we earn/owe/give birth to. :)

Yeah, I've come to that decision also. Now I just have to figure out how to find a good one, since I don't know any. I'm sort of thinking about looking into a manufacturing/retail space...and I'm gonna need to get a lot more ducks in a row before I can start talking to capitalists. (One of those ducks will need to be packaging...I've got to get together with you about that soon. You, of course, being the bomb at that.)

Bean75 is a accountnt. Is there like a certified organization that accountants join so you know the good, the bad, and the ugly?