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Small business failure rates suck. In any other system a 50% failure rate in the first year would be seen as a reason to recall each car that came out of that factory. Or to fire the teachers. Or to ban the pastime.

I am vexed because we do not see beyond the numbers. This cascade leads to divorces and bankruptcy. Worse, we punish these fallen heroes even though starting up was their only option when they could find no work.

These failure rates are taken for granted by the powers that be. It has been so for the thirty years I have been in this arena. My own closure in 1992 is how I came to know each person I now work with.

Today we have so much more than we ever had. Instant access to any info. Tech that lets us reach across the globe.We can start up almost for free. We should not be failing nearly as often.

I intend to stop it. I think that I can get that failure rate down to 10% with common sense training and peer support. For free. Through the web via mobiles, tablets, and PCs. Before they start. We no longer have excuses.

I don’t know if I am the right person but I will run with it until we get enough traction. I have another million business minutes left and this seems a worthwhile place to invest them.

My target: Train 1,000,000 people to build startups that sail past that first year threshold. Get that closure rate down to 10%, with a parachute that lets people down gently without losing their marriage, their home, their car,…

As we remove risks from starting up we also reduce the risk of it closing early. We make it more robust.

I have grown old waiting for government to help. Their startup advice is akin to me hurling my infant daughter into the deep end with a book on how to swim.

I will devote most of my remaining 1 million business minutes (about 10 years) to nurturing business seedlings.

Tiny problem. I don’t know 1 million people. But I know you. And you know a few people… I can see you get the point so I won’t belabour it. I am asking you for your help, please.

You know some people who want to start up. Maybe they’re fresh out of school, or fresh out of a job, or fresh into motherhood, or have just closed a business. These people need start-up street-smarts fast.

Please do me the courtesy of checking out the free course for start-ups at the new Academy of Small Business. Then ask people to join the free course. Maybe forward this email to them?

I won’t let you down.

Your Business Self Image…

I have worked with 30,000 brave men and women in the past two decades.

Almost all are involuntary entrepreneurs. Hearts of steel, although not one of them would agree. They would tell me how scared they are and how ashamed they are because of it.

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the spirit that nudges each of them out each day to smash their frail egos into the next coalface.

Their business craft was thrust upon them. They lost their job, or their breadwinner, or they couldn’t find work in the first place. These are not people who had time to dream big while working from Mom’s garage as Dad put food on the table.

These are men and women that gritted their teeth and waded into this self employment fray with no shield other than spandex underwear because they had no other way to feed their families. I still meet them every day and they still inspire the heck out of me.

Tungsten carbide balls! Especially the mothers.

But they’re all a little whacko. Not one grasps what they’ve already achieved. I quote an email I got yesterday:

“At core the thing that holds me back is the sense that ‘Oh Gosh, I’m a total failure at business! Every time I start a new system I realise how kak my system really is.'”

Each of these paragons has fed and clothed and loved a family with no help from the formal economy. “Kak systems” or not. Yet they cannot see that for the superb feat it is.

Each tells me they run “my little business”. (Turnover in the “my little business” class ranges from R60,000/year to R60Million.)

It is not about “success”. There is no such thing because there is no shortage of people dripping on you from higher up the pole. Just as the folk below are, well, you get the point.

Worse, even though you might finally be seeing a distant sky past the bottoms above you, that pole is slippery. I have met many fine men and women facing retirement empty-handed after a last-minute reshuffling of their fortunes.

Success is not a destination. It is an aura as you follow your journey. (Hint: If the kids are not too scrawny then you are doing plenty good.)

Success is a thrill to be relished while it caresses you and to be chased when it teases. Success teaches us little more than hubris. Failure, on the other hand, is a hard taskmaster but she sure is a great teacher. You learn faster than you hoped for, which is success in some weird way.

We are misled by the noise about the few folk that make it uber-big. Their fame makes them look better than they really are, and each of us feel so much smaller than we really are. Yet that fame covers just a single facet of their lives.

I acknowledge that my experience is limited to just 30,000 self employed small business owners, 99% of whom have many more facets than perceive themselves as far less talented than they really are.

So, I hereby declare today to be Hug A Business Owner Day. If you own a business, even of you are the only worker, this is your excuse to hug everybody and anybody.

Right now I am throwing my entire life’s work into a large blender and hitting the On switch. Since I have just 1 Million working minutes left in this life, I think going big before I go home is a good path. I will share the details next week.

Edison Days

You know those days when nothing seems to go right? Every single thing that you try does not work out the way you want it to? You go home and take solace in a stiff Shiraz or six while you tell yourself what a hard life this SME thing is?

I had such a day on Tuesday. Finding accounting software that matches my precise need turns out to be a lot more complex than you might expect. (I live in Norway, derive my income online, with clients mostly in SA, and pay tax in Norway) When I got home the govt wineshop had closed so nary a stiff Shiraz in sight.

Nothing had gone right. But, nothing had gone wrong. As I thought about it soberly, as one often finds oneself in Norway, I realised it had been an Edison Day.

We all know how Thomas Edison laboured for years before he found a light bulb filament that lasted more than a micro-second? This turns out to be not 1000% true. He had a team of lab-workers and they did most of the work. But, my point here is that testing 5999 non-working options was, weirdly, progress. Just as finding a bunch of non-accounting options was. My non-progress was a good thing.

Mainly because I woke up yesterday morning feeling rather silly. Who in his right mind wants to mess with accounts anyway? (I say this with respect to members of that august calling.)

Tuesday’s efforts prompted me to find an accountant who could do the work at a fraction of the cost of my time. He can do it all in 30 minutes whereas I joust with it for a day or so.) He is in South Africa because Norwegian accountants are as creative as, and more expensive than, gold-encrusted guana.

We lone business owners tend to view each day as a tussle with the anarchy that seems to make up our cosmos. But the world works just fine. It doesn’t ask us to keep swimming uphill. Taking the simplest option is usually the best one. Just because we can do it all does not mean we should.

Our role is to leverage our time into making lots of money, not to sit in a back room counting the money we owe.