a page from It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be> by Paul Arden.
Back when the idea of starting OrangeBeautiful was just a daydream of mine, I started a bit of a “Small Business” library. I was pretty comfortable with my abilities to design letterpress invitations, build a photo album from scratch or make super-cute designs for a greeting card line, but I was (and often still am) extremely anxious about things like filing tax returns, calculating overhead and writing up contractual invoices (among other things) and I needed some advice…
The first book I got my hands on was The Girl’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business by entrepreneurs, Caitlin Friedman & Kimberly Yorio. It’s a pretty easy-to-digest, yet practical look at the stuff behind the glitz & glamour of being your own boss. Friedman & Yorio have since published a 2nd book entitled The Girl’s Guide to Being A Boss (Without Being a Bitch)… given that I hired my first employee this past August, maybe I should pick up a copy!
The 2nd thing I started reading was HOW Magazine… I picked up one of their Business issues at Borders several years back and after reading it cover to cover, I sent in for a subscription. It is focused on the design industry in particular, so if you’re looking to start an auto body shop it might not be your cup of tea – however, there is a great deal about ethics, branding & self-promotion that really applies to all types of businesses.
The December 2007 issue (on newsstands now), in particular, would be a good first issue to pick up if you want to give it a try. The cover stories include Advice on Starting a Firm: From Designers Who’ve Done It, Stylish Desk Accessories (which I read first ;) and a Designer’s Good Business Guide, all about finding the right clients, making products that you can be proud of, and the plusses behind doing pro bono work.
image at right c/o print & pattern blog
I ordered Craft, Inc. by Meg Mateo Ilasco about a week ago after seeing it all over the blogosphere… it’s another relatable collection of tips & resources for starting up your own company, with a specific focus on craft-related businesses (and it’s just a really good-looking book). The review that made me go ahead and grab a copy was this post on not martha. The mention of interviews with Lotta Jansdotter, Jonathan Adler & Jill Bliss (just to name a few) sealed the deal for me…
Out of everything I’ve read over the years, no book has really made me step back and evaluate the way I think about business the way Small Giants, by Bo Burlingham, has… the book focuses on the idea of the small giant: companies that come to a point of growth, where they had to decide whether or not to get bigger (and, conceivably richer) or make a conscious choice to stay small and focus on the importance of being a good company. I’ll include a quote from the author, pulled from the Small Giants blog:
…let me be clear about one thing: In no way do I mean to suggest that a company can’t be great if it grows fast, gets big, goes public, does acquisitions, and so forth. The two companies you cite are prime examples of great, publicly traded companies, although it’s worth noting that they are striking exceptions to the rule. They have been able to resist the pressures to compromise their values only because they have so far managed to deliver consistently great returns to shareholders, who have thus been willing to let the company’s management teams operate as they see fit. Most other companies that have started out with similar values — The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry’s, and People Express come to mind — have eventually been forced to make compromises that have utterly transformed their cultures and ways of doing business.
It’s also important to recognize that there are always trade-offs. Although Southwest and Whole Foods are both great corporate citizens, neither one is rooted in a community anymore, and they’ve both lost some of the workplace intimacy they had when they were smaller, not to mention the intense relationships with customers and suppliers. My point is simply that there are sacrifices — lost opportunities — no matter what you decide to do. Company owners have to choose which opportunities they want to focus on and which pressures they want to deal with.
If you only choose one of these books to get yourself going, I would recommend this last selection. If nothing else, it will at least make you feel like there are a helluva lot of good people in the world… and some of them own their own business.