We Need to Stop Telling Everyone to Start a Small Business
Disclaimer: There’s nothing political about this post. If you extract such, that’s on you.
Read any blog, pick up any paper, watch any cable news show, listen to any speech and there’s a good chance you’ll hear the phrase “start a small business.” And that makes sense: entrepreneurship is sexy. Bootstraps are emotionally stirring. Small businesses are the backbone of the economy. The road to recovery is lined by them.
And that’s because it’s simple to start a small business and make it successful, right? Anybody can do it! All you need is a storefront or a computer or a “love of [dogs, people, logistics, code, cupcakes, clothes, money, etc.].”
Wrong. Simply wrong.
Starting a small business is not easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things someone can ever decide to undertake. It’s the epitome of risk. There is no seamless transition from a steady paycheck job to entrepreneurship. Becoming an entrepreneur means that you are now responsible for everything, including but not limited to entity formation, accounting, marketing, finance, sales, technology, business development, retail space (if necessary), vehicles, hiring, equipment, travel, budgets, negotiating, staff management, benefits, retirement, payroll, more sales, bills, taxes, filings, vendors, customers, more business development… Ev. Ree. Thin. Guh.
And the most daunting part? Paying yourself is often the last priority. Your business can survive if you don’t pay yourself. It can’t survive if you don’t, say, pay the rent on your retail location or your accountant to tell you how much your business has to pay in taxes. There is a significant likelihood that you personally won’t see a dime out of the business for months. Maybe years. Are the millions we’re encouraging to “follow that dream and start a small business” prepared for that?
This isn’t intended to be negative, but rather realistic. It’s naive to think that everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, small business owner, whatever you want to call it. Small business failure rates vary depending on the source, but 60 percent within the first two years isn’t extreme. THAT’S A LOT. And that’s reality.
But we shouldn’t tell them no. We shouldn’t tell people not to give it a shot. Entrepreneurship can be one of the most life-changing journeys you can take, for better and for worse. It should not be discouraged. What we need to do is stop being so casual in our collective encouragement that anyone can do it; that it’s easy and the surefire solution to a crappy job. We also need to stop using “so that someone can start a small business” as a rationale for anything. Because if starting a small business is one single thing, it’s really, really hard.
One hundred percent accurate.
Some shots from Thursday’s Bay Area Fintech Startups Meetup where folks from Foundation Capital, Juntos Finanzas, PayNearMe, Nexxo Financial, and FinCapDev talked underserved.
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Media Databases Breed Bad PR
In the world of PR agency land, one of the first things a newbie encounters is a media database. It’s a service that the agency pays for. It provides contact and bio information for literally everyone that’s “in the media.” Beat reporters, producers, feature writers, anchors, assignment desks, bloggers, pundits, you name it. Our aforementioned newbie is often charged with logging into a media database and compiling media lists: rosters that, in theory, align with a client, campaign, project, etc. They pass this to their higher up, get a glance of approval and then “pitch” against it. However, true pitching (aka, personal, relevant outreach that has some actual context and true relevance) isn’t what usually happens. Said list (which often numbers into the hundreds or thousands and are developed by simple keyword searches) is fed into a mail merge and every “recipient” gets the same thing. In a way, it’s sort of like spam.
So put yourself in the shoes of those recipients. Would you want to get and will you even care about a mass-blast? Of course not. It is apparent that the sender cares just enough about you, what you’re working on and what your audience cares about to lop you in with four digits worth of “peers.”
But jumping back to how these list are created, to say they are less then scrubbed is an understatement. As mentioned, they’re often created by keyword searches with a few filters. Example: anyone who covers “business” at a daily anywhere in the U.S. Can you imagine how many people that might be? And can you imagine how many are likely poorly targeted since “business” is such a catchall that lots of media cover? Does building a media list in this way save time? Sure. But it’s likely at the cost of quality.
If media databases and the lists the spawn are bad for PR, what’s the alternative? As mentioned before, start by listening. Actually absorb the relevant media and its content. Make a Twitter list. Build your list by hand. (Can’t find the email addresses and contact info you need, you say? Bull. If someone even remotely works in the digital realm, you can find their email address. Stop making excuses.) Start small. Make soft intros. Be useful to the media you seek.
Folks in the media make it beyond apparent what they cover, what they care about and what their audience wants. All you have to do is go get it.
When scheduling a call in which you want something from someone, ALWAYS know and stick to THEIR time zone. Don’t make them count.
PR Tip: When you read an article you like by an writer you maybe one day want to connect with, tweet it and actually mention the writer. They likely won’t reply. But then again, they might. And everyone likes getting mentioned.
Fast Company did an interesting piece this morning that looks at how Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes uses canned email responses to gain an extra 30 minutes of productivity per day. And given that we’re mildly obsessed with the art and science of email, it elicited a few thoughts…
Holmes states that he uses canned emails to auto-respond to inbound requests such as speaking and sponsorship requests. If you try to picture his inbox, this seems like a smart strategy. And for the Ryan Holmes’ of the world (tech company CEO, social influencer, etc.), it undoubtedly works. But here’s the thing: we’re not all Ryan Holmes.
For those in business development, marketing, PR—anything in which your job is to make things happen out of scratch—canned responses likely don’t fly. Imagine a biz devver at a fledgling startup. He or she is hustling, making connections, showing value and opportunity. Almost everything they do is outbound. But inbound does happen, usually via email. And inbound equals pre-qualified. Would you really want an auto response for an inbound query? Not only could it create an immediate hurdle, but it could also come across as smug: "Sorry bud, I get so much email I have to set up auto-responses for emails just like yours. Will get to it when I can." It goes back to the whole humble brag. On top of that, you have to wonder how much time (from the time saved) it takes to search for those emails that received auto-responses when you actually “have the time” to engage.
Part of the blame also falls to the sender. If you’re organizing a new conference that has no street cred (i.e., you’re not Web Summit or SXSW) and you want Ryan Holmes to speak, is he even the right person to email? Probably not. Hate to say it, but he’s got people for that. Identify those people. (A quick search on LinkedIn turned up Sandy Pell, Hootsuite’s PR and Communications Manager. EMAIL HER FIRST! Part of her job might even be to vet inbound queries like these. And if you win her over, you’ve got a voice on the inside.) Bottom line, be a smarter sender.
For elite dudes like Ryan Holmes, who must get pestered with tons of trivial crap, auto-responses work. For the rest of us, tread carefully. Auto-responses can be the same thing as immediately slamming the door on someone when they knock.