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Mike Brice
Business Consultant, Strategic and Value Planning, Executive Coaching, Effective Management through Organized Financials
Redmond, Washington
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I Want to Be in Business!

Learn important lessons that must be part of your decision to start and operate a business successfully.
Written Mar 25, 2010, read 1112 times since then.


Recently I met a business owner who, upon finding out that I was a business consultant, wanted to meet and discuss how their business could benefit from working with me. The objective of the business was to produce a specialty item for sale in grocery stores. This was a home manufactured product and family members were the production and delivery team.

The business had been operating for a year and when I asked if it was profitable I got a suspicious answer. After some wrangling it was revealed that another family member (brother-in-law) did the books for the business but no monthly reports were provided until the end of the year when they discovered they were not making a profit.

I asked what their profit goals were and again received a weak answer. So I backed into the answer by asking what the shelf price of the product was and the cost to distribute it. Subtracting distribution costs from the shelf price left a small number to accommodate per unit production costs and also produce an operating margin. When I multiplied the budgeted margin times the annual volume I asked if this was a good result for their effort prior to covering overhead expenses. A got a very disappointed look.

The end result of the conversation was that they needed to reassess their reasons for being in business because the model as currently operating was not going to lead them toward a profitable experience. The passion and desire to be in business was apparent but they had no idea of what it took operate the business toward a profit goal.

What are some of the basic lessons from this experience that should have been addressed before business operations began?

  • In addition to a business plan a financial model of the business should have been developed that would have allowed them to understand the sensitivity of the model to volume, distribution costs, etc. and the level of effort necessary to meet a minimum business goal.
  • There was no regular reporting of financial information to understand what costs were being incurred compared to the revenue that they were generating.
  • They engaged in a market where there were barriers to doing distribution themselves and or successfully negotiating more competitive distribution costs per unit that ultimately represented a significant part of the unit cost that they could not control.
  • Be careful relying on family members for performing significant roles in your business particularly if it is not an important focus for them. Once assigned it is difficult to reorganize without creating hurt feelings and conflict in the family.

While this was a micro-company the issues that affected their success also occur in larger business endeavors. If you want to be in business do your due diligence, develop a detail business plan, and get outside input which will be difficult to take but it is better to get objective perspective on the issues that will affect your success before you start rather than after investing valuable time and money only to fall short of your objectives.

Learn more about the author, Mike Brice.

Comment on this article

  • Relational-Centric Marketing - Independent Consultants - Business Improvement Experts 
Bellevue, Washington 
Berry Zimmerman
    Posted by Berry Zimmerman, Bellevue, Washington | Apr 10, 2010

    Mike, Thanks for reinforcing the need for a sound financial plan in business, even in micro businesses. I love that you point out how simple it is to calculate gross and net profits starting with the sales price of a single unit.

  • Author and Business Collaboration and Operations Experts-Seattle 
Edmonds, Washington 
Robert Nitschke
    Posted by Robert Nitschke, Edmonds, Washington | Apr 19, 2010

    Mike; you are right on point. Most small or early stage companies are so focused on finding customers and getting product into the market that they neglect the simplest of business practices, either from not knowing what to do or being to busy to do the right thing.

    Nice job.

  • Management and International consultant 
Tokyo Japan 
Shigeo Sunahara
    Posted by Shigeo Sunahara, Tokyo Japan | May 20, 2010

    Thank you for your instructive article. Every business owner should realize the difference between family business and business enterprise. Planning may not be necessary to manage family business as long as family members enjoy a happy life, but it is indispensable to manage business enterprise because management has to make every employee happy.