It occurs to me that some of the topics we are writing about may seem like common sense. But, I can assure you, as someone with an MBA and undergrad degrees in business (marketing and management) that running a small business is, first of all, not taught (or taught well) in school and second, until you have tried it, it can’t be common sense. Add to that, running a service, not product, based business and the lack of opportunities to learn about such things in advance of doing it, are very limited, so that common sense is not part of the equation. If running a business (or marketing it, etc.) is taught, it is usually about selling a product. When selling a service, there are many differences. Books like Selling the Invisible are helpful because they provide a focus on selling intangible services. If one is a trial consultant, like us, or a lawyer, like our clients, or an accountant, physician, etc., selling is of a process and to a degree, results. Sometimes, in any of these fields clients are not happy with the actual results, but it is our job to get them the best outcome possible, under the circumstances. And, though one can be highly educated, like my partner/spouse, Melissa, a psychologist, or our clients, lawyers, providing professional services is undertaken with the knowledge that the expertise is only 1 part of the practice or “business” part of the profession. Thus, we do not consider the things we are writing about to be obvious because we have either had to learn them ourselves, or teach them to others (staff and clients), or both. And, as with all things, change is constant and keeping up with the times in terms of staff, technology, regulations, and the competitive environment, present demands, that in hindsight, may appear to be common sense, but are not common sense at the time they first appear.
Most people I know have never, ever owned and operated a business. Having worked for other people for 20 years prior to co-owning Magnus Research Consultants, I am well aware of the numerous and vast differences between working for someone else, collecting a paycheck regardless of the company’s (or government agency’s) financial performance, and working for oneself, in a business solely dependent on one’s ability to bring in sufficient revenue to support oneself, one’s family, and one’s employees, and pay for overhead and other expenses. In contrast to myself, David has been self employed for most of his career. In addition, unlike David, I have never taken a business class or anything close to a business class; there was nothing in my educational experiences to prepare me for business ownership. Tasks such as writing a policy and procedures manual (not to mention updating it on a frequent basis); budgeting for costly computers, video equipment, etc.; managing staff; balancing work and personal lives; juggling multiple clients’ important cases, thereby ensuring all clients’ needs are met without sacrificing one client for another; etc. are just a few examples of things I had to learn because they were not common sense. Over the years, as we have formalized our company’s policies and the manner in which we consult with our clients, operating the business has become more streamlined, but it is still, at least to me, not even close to what I would consider common sense. To the person who thinks my partner and I are walking on “easy street” (or on our beautiful beach sand!), I challenge him/her to spend a day or better, a week, doing what I do, then let me know if “this stuff is all common sense.”