Archive : August 2010

The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Fail, & What You Can Do About It

Posted August 25, 2010

eventprofs blog awards nominee

Tell me if this story sounds familiar.

My friend Tom is a gifted carpenter.  After working for 15 years as the lead project manager for a contractor who built & renovated houses, he decided to go out on his own.  He’d learned everything there was to learn about a building site and managing a construction job, and grew tired of making lots of money for someone else.

Within six months he’d eaten through all the money he’d put aside to start the business, and was now dipping into his 401K.  Within a year he was putting major charges on his credit cards and paying the monthly minimum, incurring debt at 20% interest.

All this and he couldn’t understand why his business was failing.  He’d landed a bunch of jobs early on and they were all going well.  The workmanship was solid, his customers were happy; in short everything about the building of houses was going smoothly.  The business, however, was heading over a cliff.

Feel free to insert any other job into the above scenario, and it’s always the same.  Lawyer, architect, graphic designer, web developer, event producer, etc.  We all know people in our industry who are good at what they do, really good in some cases, and fail miserably when they go out on their own.  We look at their work, and wonder, “how on earth is this guy NOT successful?”

On the flip side, we see people who are mediocre at best at their craft, but who are very successful at running their businesses.  We look at their work and think, “how on earth IS this guy successful?”

The answer to both scenarios is neatly encapsulated in an eye-opening book called “The E-Myth Revisited”, by Michael Gerber.  It’s often one of the first books I recommend to business owners I consult for, as it’s easy to read and never fails to produce a ‘Eureka!’ moment.

Gerber’s tenet is basically this:  There is a big difference between being good at a craft, and being good at the business of selling and providing that craft. Too often people assume that if they’re good at being carpenters, or event planners, they should be able to run a business a carpentry or event planning business.  Sadly, those skills do not run hand-in-hand and are completely unrelated.

The easiest way to see this is in sports.  Pat Riley and Phil Jackson, two of the most successful coaches in NBA history, were mediocre players at best, in their day.  Isaiah Thomas, a hall of fame point guard for the Detroit Pistons, is only one of numerous all star players who failed miserably at running a team.  (I will never forgive him for wrecking my beloved NY Knicks).

What’s the difference in doing something and running a business?  There’s lots; financial planning, personnel management, pricing, marketing, etc.  Probably the most common areas I’ve seen people fall short are:

1)    in managing their pipeline of developing new business.  They get absorbed in producing events for their clients, and put off going after new ones until its too late.

2)    in properly pricing their services to allow for the time it takes to operate the business.  Too often they assume they can do X number of events a year, because that’s what they did when they worked for someone else, and forget to factor in the time it takes to run the business.

The first step is simply the realization that different skill sets are required between doing the craft and running the business, and it’s hard to do both, even if you’re good at both.

One successful example in our industry was Sarah Merians Photography, which for most of its 20 years or so in business was the dominant event photography company in the NYC area.  The firm was a partnership between Sarah Merians, who was the photography expert, and Elizabeth Beskin, who was the business expert.  Though they recently went their separate ways, with Elizabeth focusing on Fifth Avenue Digital (the corporate and online end of the business), and Sarah keeping the social end of the business, their partnership was something I always admired, and stands as a case book example of how a craft expert brought in someone else to focus on the business needs of the company.

At the end of the day, my belief is that a good business person will trump a good craft person, which is why you see people with mediocre event skills sometimes be quite successful in business.  The key is identifying which side of the spectrum you’re good at, and making sure you fill in the other side with someone who complements your skills.

My new iphone app: Super Planner

Posted August 13, 2010

I feel like a proud father who just gave birth to a new child.  Actually I feel more like the mother, because the father doesn’t do anything in childbirth other than pass out cigars.  The mother, on the other hand, carries and nurtures the developing baby and goes through excruciating pain to deliver it to the world, but it’s all worth it in the end when you’ve got a beautiful new baby (or app).  And that’s kind of what I feel like.  I love the app, and am very proud of it, but it was a long journey to get it done, and now it is out in the world for everyone to see, and play with.

Super Planner Home

Super Planner App

What the App Does

Super Planner has lots of fun and cool stuff including calculators for room capacity, dance floor size, catering and staffing numbers, projection distances, place setting and staging diagrams, and more.  It was designed for someone who makes their living in the event industry.  You can see a full set of screen shots and a video demo here.  It works on the iphone and the ipad, and I’ve already started thinking of what the next generation of this app will have.  I encourage you to take a look and play around with it, and please shoot me your feedback.

Creating An App = Passing A Kidney Stone

Back in December I started mapping out what I wanted the app to do, designing the formulas, screen layouts, navigation, etc.  I made very clear and detailed plans for the developer, who would translate my vision into iphone code.  I loved my developer, right up until the moment they filed for bankruptcy.  I’d already paid them a chunk of change, 50% of the contract fee to be exact, for which they created a site map and a series of screen shots, which, they assured me, represented much more than 50% of the work.  I scrambled to find a replacement developer to pick up the files and take me to the finish line, and found a very resourceful young Ukranian developer who manages a team of programmers overseas.  Upon reviewing the files, he pointed out that, unfortunately, the previous developer did not exactly do 50% of the work.  No matter, Alexey shepherded me through the remainder of the development stages, including the labyrinthian submission process to get it approved by Apple.

What Apple has built in terms of iphone developer kits and tools is nothing short of an entire universe.  A universe in which you don’t speak the language.  Picture the first time a tourist or immigrant lands at JFK airport, without the benefit of reading or speaking English, which is pretty much the only way the airport communicates anything.  Your first reaction is “wow!”, but only slightly behind is your second reaction, which is “huh?”.  Without Alexey I would have been lost.  It really makes you wonder how it is that someone neanderthal enough to want to build an app that simulates fart noises, or one of the other numerous mindless apps out there, can at the same time be smart enough to navigate Apple’s submission process on their own.

But alas, that is all in the past.  Now the highlight of my day is clicking on the Apple Developer sales report and looking up the country codes to see how far away people are buying the app from.  IN stands for India, by the way, and ID stands for Indonesia (both of whom have citizens who have purchased my app!), or is it the other way around.  I know that US is America (I’m so smart).

If I Had A Million Dollars (for your business) . . .

Posted August 4, 2010

So goes the song by Barenaked Ladies, but I’ve also found it’s a great tool to use in diagnosing an event company, or any small business for that matter.  Here’s how it works.

ABC event company says to me, “We’re doing ok, but we can’t seem to get over this hump.  How do we get to the next level?”

Upon which I say to them, “If I gave you one million dollars today to invest in your business, or start a completely new one in the event industry, where and how would you spend it?”

Boy would you be amazed at some of the responses.  But in particular, it’s rare that someone answers the question by saying, “I’d do things exactly as I’m doing them now, only faster / bigger, etc.”  Anyone who says that believes firmly in their current business model, and deserves a pat on the back for their confidence.  (Whether their bus. model is correct is another matter.)bare naked ladies

Usually, however, people respond with surprising insight on their own business.  They would re-brand themselves differently, go after a different type of customer, offer a new service, overhaul the way they compensate their staff, etc.  And a fair amount say they would simply not invest in their business at all, but go into the industry in a completely different capacity.

Business owners are smart enough to know that the landscape in which they started their companies 5, 10 or 20 years ago is now very different.  There’s more competition, margins are tighter, clients are smarter, etc.  At the same time they see opportunities opening up in new areas in the event world.

This helps me to bring them to their come-to-jesus moment.  “If you would not invest that million dollars into your business the way it is today,” I say to them, “then why are you clinging to doing business that way at all?”  It’s really a fantastic moment of truth for an owner or manager to be confronted with their own business logic.

To be sure, making any significant change in the way we do business is time consuming and involves a degree of risk.   Our employees and customers may resist, and we may take a hit for a year or two during the transition.  But without making the changes we know we should make, I can virtually guarantee we’ll still be wishing for that next level for years to come.

And if you’re interested in what the Barenaked Ladies would do with $1 million, click here to read/listen.