Once, years ago, I toyed with the idea of starting a brick & mortar retail shop. In the process of thinking about it, I read a book (I think it might have been Small Business for Dummies or something along those lines) in which the author talked about how hard most small business owners work, many more hours than the average employee. I remember being intimidated; I loved to work, even then, but all the time? Then I met Ursula and she asked me to be a partner in modaspia and I threw myself into the business with a passion unmatched by anything I’ve done professionally before or since. And I loved it.
I worked hard: 7 days a week, 10-14 hours a day. When I wasn’t working on the business, I was working my side job as building manager of the apartment we lived in. When I wasn’t doing that, I was thinking and talking about the business. Modaspia was thriving, but after 4 years, predictably, I burnt out.
I recently started reading a book with the uninspiring title: The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It.
The premise of the book as I understand it so far, is that most small businesses are started by people who have a skill and want to make a living from that skill. Because of that, they tend to focus on the work or the product that the business sells, rather than the enterprise itself, leading to the demise of the venture. As the author puts it, they are Technicians rather than Entrepreneurs & Managers:
The Entrepreneurial Perspective asks the question: “how must the business work?” The Technician’s Perspective asks: “What work has to be done?”
The Entrepreneurial Perspective envisions the business in its entirety, from which is derived its parts. The Technician’s Perspective envisions the business in it’s parts, from which is constructed the whole.
And the Manager figures out how to make the Entrepreneur’s vision come to pass.
The author proposes that to succeed one must bring all these elements of one’s personality into balance rather than letting the Technician dominate. He also describes with eerie accuracy the arc leading to my burn out years ago.
I’ve always laughed about never having written a business plan. The truth is that I’ve been so caught up in the day to day work that I haven’t really thought enough about the future of my current business, Judah Ross. I haven’t completely committed to it. I’ve been unsure, and scared too. There’s a lot on the line, financially and personally.
But it’s also true that I still love what I do. There’s nothing more rewarding than watching a woman try on a garment I’ve designed, and to see her eyes light up.
So while I’ve been busy over the last eight weeks doing the Technician’s work of cutting, and dying, and sewing, of prepping and mailing and organizing, I’ve also been making a little time to dream. What do I want the shape of this business to be? What will my role in it be? How can I do the work that I love without it consuming me? What is it that is truly meaningful to me about the work that I do? Can I get help with it without losing that? Will expanding the business make it more meaningful?
As I meditate on these questions, I can see a shape emerging. It’s still scary, but exciting too. Producing beautifully constructed quality garments with integrity and the help of other hands, building a community as much as a business, selling those clothes directly to the women who enjoy & appreciate them.
Now I’ll need to get to the hard work of figuring out how to get there. A work in progress.