Succeeding at Business: Selling Socks and Taking Punches

By Barry Maher

A lot of us dream of starting our own business. It’s not easy. It’s not safe. That’s why so many of us do little more than dream. But:

A number of years ago, 45 cab drivers in Madison, Wisconsin were “tired of being ripped off” by the cab companies they worked for. They pooled every penny they could scrape together, got a bank loan and started a co-op, Union Cab of Madison. It’s now a 100 vehicle, $5 million a year business. And while some of the member/owners might be able to make more money elsewhere, at Union they have a voice in the business. They don’t have to make compromises in their lifestyles, self-respect or work environment that they don’t chose to make. Their boss, the general manager, works for them.

A co-op of home health care aides, Cooperative Home Care Associates, is comprised largely of women who used to be on welfare. Few competitors can match their training program, and they pay themselves 20 percent more than the industry average.

People have built businesses out of walking dogs or waiting for repairmen or hawking newspapers, flowers or even fresh brewed coffee to motorists stuck in traffic. In Japan, a former boxer charged $9 a minute to let passers-by work off their stress by treating him as a human punching bag.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like much of a job to you. Maybe it sounds better than the job you’ve got right now.

For true entrepreneurial courage it’s hard to beat single mom, Theresa Gladden. Unemployed, she had $50 to last her 45 days. Instead of trying to stretch the money, she invested it in socks. Not stocks, socks. Then she decorated a cart, pushed her fears aside and sold the socks on the street in the middle of Harlem. It got her through the crunch and today she’s part of the co-op of home health care aides I mentioned earlier. Whenever I hear myself or anyone else with a full stomach, a fat paycheck and money in the bank pontificating about risk taking, I think of Theresa.

Starting a business is not for everyone. It’s seldom easy.  It’s never a sure thing. But as a great marketing man once said, “Every crowd has a silver lining.” The opportunities are always there.

Tactic: Look for a problem, a frustration, an annoyance, a want, a hope or a dream: a need you can fulfill. If enough people have that need you’re in business.
Tip: Your biggest weakness could turn out to be your most marketable quality.

Maybe you’re a detail freak or maybe you’re strictly big picture; a compulsive organizer or compulsively disorganized; anti-social or overly social; lethargic or so full of energy you can’t sit still. Why find not a career that turns your potential negatives into positives rather than one that makes them liabilities?


Just Sit Down and Consult

Tactic: Perhaps like myself and so many other otherwise unemployable entrepreneurs, you can go into consulting. A consultant, Eric Severeid said, is simply “an ordinary guy more than 50 miles from home.” Still, you might be amazed at how many people or companies are willing to pay for the hard-earned knowledge you’ve acquired over the years. What are your strongest skills? Who out there might benefit from them?

If nothing else perhaps you’ve got a special talent for sitting down that you could pass on to others. A while back, the Seattle Police Department required 26 employees to attend a training class on how to sit in a chair: this coming after chairs rolled out from under two workers and a third hurt her back when her adjustable seat abruptly slipped. If time permitted, the instructor was also going to cover dealing with other office terrors, like open cabinet drawers.

You could do that.


© Copyright 2013, Barry Maher, Las Vegas, Nevada


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