Business Maven

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My friend Julie Snyder arranged for me to be invited to a SCORE roundtable this week. SCORE is an organization set up to provide support and education to small business entrepreneurs, and today Cara Mae, a young woman who makes Potters’ Skin Butter in Asheville, and I were asked to be interviewed about our businesses at this event.

I was perplexed. If you were to ask me my level of business acumen, the answer would be zero. How about my business plan? Nonexistent. My understanding of how to make a profit? Let me say I don’t even know which is desirable: to be “in the red” or “in the black.” My bookkeeping software? Annette Buckner of A&R Accounting. So what exactly could I tell a group of women entrepreneurs who all know more about business than I ever will? Not much.

But as I am a screaming extrovert and am never at a loss for words, I agreed to take part in the roundtable. About twenty-five of us were seated around the perimeter of a meeting room at the AB Tech Small Business Incubator in Enka. Cara and I were seated at one end of the table with the moderator who had prepared questions for us to answer. The attenders started things rolling by providing a thirty second elevator speech about their businesses, and then it was our turn to be in the hot seat.

Cara was up first. She is young and looks even younger than a person who has operated a start-up business for the past twelve years should look. She has really done her homework and knows her stuff! She talked about the classes she has attended, the history of her business plan, the classes she intends to take soon, and the percent of time she spends on marketing versus production and distribution. I learned a lot from her interview, but mainly I learned that I had no business sitting at that table, let alone being a presenter.

My turn in the spotlight came next. Luckily my first question was, “Can you tell us about your shop?” Yes, I can do that! And I did. That was the only question I was asked. I talked for forty-five minutes about my Intuitive method of doing business without any concrete facts or training. (My daughter Abby disagrees on that point. She says since I was successful in selling Shakespeare to juvenile delinquents, I know plenty about sales!)

I started out by giving them my Enneagram number: seven. Sevens are creative, joyful, and playful, but we refuse to pay attention to anything negative. This is the secret of my success in business. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt for beautiful objects, the fun in meeting artists and craftspeople, the network of interesting people who drop by the shop and chat with me and each other in the conversation area at the front of the shop. I love arranging the unusual objects I sell in the shop, and in rearranging them when I get bored. I enjoy holding evening events and art openings, and I love writing my newsletter. And I laugh like a loon when I meet someone outside the shop whom I do not recognize, and yet they know everything about me from reading the newsletter. “How are the grandkids?” they ask.

The annoying stuff that I cannot seem to remember or even pay attention to is anything connected with numbers. This starts with making change when a customer pays in cash and runs all the way through questions of profit and loss. I am stunned when a fellow shopkeeper tells me “I made less today than I made on this day last year.” Yikes! Why would that matter? There is nothing we can do about getting a customer to spend money. My earnings fluctuate wildly based on Who walks through the door, not on the day of the week. When a good customer comes in, I know she or he will buy something and maybe even several things. Similarly, On days when only a few people but who are good customers come in, I can do very well, but on days when armies of women here for a religious retreat crowd the shop in large groups, I often strike out. Frequently, even if one member of the group considers buying something, the rest of the crowd talks her out of it. “You don’t need that!” they insist. So why get hung up on numbers?

Rebecca Williams was at the event in her role of videographer, and it was fun seeing her run around the room getting her camera angles and looking very cool and professional. She reassured me that I did fine with my presentation and asked to come by and film me doing shop-stuff the next day. A couple of the attenders were also complimentary and asked if I would come back again. My guess is that they were comforted by seeing someone who has been in business for years and who still has no idea what she is doing. I’m happy to be of service.