Change Catalyst with Shanna Mann: Strategy & Support for Sane Self-Employment

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The Scourge of Wonder Bread Business Advice

I love this post from Abby Markov. It’s so great that the internet has democratized entrepreneurship. But that very democratization has allowed a LOT of people with misguided notions of what makes a sustainable business to try their hand at it. Abby has a lot of good things to say here!

Shanna and I spend a lot of time talking about what it means to be a business owner. The ass-kicking that goes with it, the trials, and the tribulations. We also spend a LOT of time talking about what we’ve dubbed ‘Wonder Bread Business Advice’ that people in positions of assumed authority seem to enjoy giving, if the volume of it is any indication, and how it causes problems for new business owners.

Wonder Bread Business Advice looks good, tastes good… and contributes exactly nothing healthy or long-term positive to your business. It’s fluffy business-sandwich filler posing as Bread. Hell, it has even been proven to cause long term damage to your business-system if you run off of it often enough.

Wonder Bread Business Advice is the almost polar opposite of that unbleached, whole grain, no preservatives, no bullshit, Whole Grain Bread Business Advice you can really only get if you make your Bread yourself or are given it by someone who knows Bread first hand.

The Scourge of Wonder Bread Business Advice

12 Added Nutrients?

Wonder Bread Business Advice is often accepted and snuck past us as Bread Advice because we’ve been taught that Bread In General is good for our business.

Unfortunately, white Wonder Bread only qualifies as a bread because it once came from a grain (or small business coaching course taught to someone who has never run a business.) As if that wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse. If you try to run your business on Wonder Bread Business Advice – that feel good, fluffy bunnies and butterflies kind of advice – I have some bad news for you.

Your business – your baby, your dream, your life’s manifestation of your heart’s calling – is going to fail. And so will your next business. And possibly the next one. And probably the one after that.

That’s assuming you even make it past your first one. Assuming you manage to pick yourself up off the ground, and brush off the shards of crushed dreams. Assuming you get past a default themed blogger blog, or an Etsy page, or a Twitter account with three tweets, or a Facebook page with only your best friend talking about how great your advice is.

If you want to make it past that initial Newbie Phase, if you care about turning a profit, if you want to make even part of your living from your work, if you want to Run A Business (not just start a Hobby That Involves Money) you are going to need more than Wonder Bread Advice.

Your business cannot run on Wonder Bread Business Advice alone, any more than you can. At some point, you’re going to need whole grains (fiber is good for you, as much as it sucks to digest) and you’ll need some potatoes maybe, and some rice, and maybe some meat or tofu, and a lot blood, sweat, and tears. (Should we call those vegetables, fruit, and beans? Your call.)

Killing MicroBiz Fairytales

Whatever you nickname all the various components of your business (or don’t, it’s all good), you are going to need more than a wish and a dream and an inspiring Pinterest board of quotes about following your dreams. That gets you started, and yes, yes, I know, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. But that single step is just going to dead-end into a rather painful wall if you don’t have a map or a killer sense of direction.

(No, you probably don’t have a killer sense of business direction if you are new to this. You are not a special snowflake in the world of business until you succeed, or fail so spectacularly as to become the premier example of What Not To Do. I wish I was too, but even business has it’s fairytales, y’all. That is one of them; none of us are special snowflakes.)

Homemade Whole Grain Goodness

The good news is that a map (or the start of your own Whole Grain Bread Recipe, if you will) isn’t a rare item. It’s not something you’ll ever have fully filled in, you’ll be forever tweaking it, but you can definitely get a good outline going.

So before you jump into business owning with both feet and both eyes closed, make your map. And in case you don’t know how to start (I didn’t either, the first several times) here are some most excellent questions I learned to ask myself before I committed, questions that hopefully will lead to the answers that will form the whole wheat flour and yeast components of your own Whole Grain Bread Recipe.

  1. Who will buy this? No, not WHY would someone want it. WHO. Not who liked that you gave them one, not who thinks it’s neat you can make it. Who would actually spend money for whatever you are selling.
  2. WHY will those people buy this item from YOU? Why from you, instead of someone else? Does anyone really even need this?
  3. What sets you apart? No, really. And before you go on about how wonderful of a person you are – that isn’t enough.
  4. What is going to draw people to your business? What value do they get from doing business with you over someone else with a similar business?

That’ll get you started.

A few things I’d like to note:

“Because it’s Art!” and “Because I am passionate!” are not good enough of reasons. It works well and good for keeping YOU going, but it’s not enough to draw enough people to you to constitute what you are doing as a Business. (Yeah, the government will require you count it on your income taxes, but they also won’t let you count your expenses for your endeavor if you don’t turn a profit on it in a decent length of time.)

That’s the thing most people I end up talking with don’t get – and I talk with a lot of Artists who want to attain some measure of the same success I did with my painting: business isn’t just about loving what you do.

Being passionate and enthusiastic about whatever your artform is (be it Fine Art, Service, Coaching, Performance, Writing, Craft, standing on the street corner handing out carnations) will make getting through the hard times easier for you, will help keep you going through dark, tight, hungry times. But that’s not business. That’s a passion, and ultimately, that’s a hobby. Business? Business is about other people loving what you do so much that they will pay you to make sure you can keep doing it, and to have a piece of it for themselves.

Meet Me At The Corner

If you want to be a successful, professional, profitable Business Owner – versus ‘just’ an Artist, Artisan, Crafter, Writer, Photographer, Writer, Sometimes Compensated Volunteer, Hobbyist, any other number of things – you need to know why people are going to fall in love with you and what you do. You need to know this because in business, it’s not really about following your heart’s desires and making your world a better place.

Good Business happens when you find the intersection between what you do well, what feeds your sanity and ambition and dreams, and what others need – it’s when you make the world for Others better by meeting their needs.

Good Business isn’t selfless, but it sure as hell isn’t selfish. If you can’t explain what you offer to others right now, the good news is that all hope is not lost. You can still figure it out, you can still create your map, your recipe. You can still grab a pen and work it all out.

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