The Luv Doc: A Better Business Plan
If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride
Dear Luv Doc,
I am struggling with feelings of hurt and resentment. After many years working for a large tech company, I decided to strike out on my own and start a small business. Unfortunately this move coincided with the COVID pandemic and my business has been struggling greatly as a result. Over the last year I've reached out to friends – many of whom I have supported in lots of ways over the years, and the response has been very disappointing. Only a few have patronized my business or shared my social media posts, which cost them nothing but a few clicks! I can't believe the lack of support I've received from certain (I thought) good friends. It feels really awkward to be around them in social situations. I want to ask them why they aren't supporting me but I am afraid I might get too emotional and blow up. Can you suggest a nonconfrontational way I can share my disappointment that won't alienate them as friends?
– Sad Entrepreneur
First of all, I want to begin by saying that I can definitely sympathize with your disappointment at the lack of support your friends have shown for your new business. It's tough putting your heart and soul into something only to find out that people – even your closest friends – don't share your enthusiasm. I myself have had a serial dalliance with capitalism since a very early age, and it has taught me, if nothing else, to constantly check my assumptions about human nature.
P.T. Barnum may or may not have said, "There's a sucker born every minute," but it's equally true that a business failure is born every minute as well, and that failure is usually due to a naive adherence to the general gist of that Barnum quote. Yes, people are dumb, but they're not dumb forever – especially when their stupidity is costing them money. If you want to make someone pay for their stupidity over the long haul, you need to get them on a contract with an affordable installment plan. That shit ain't easy. I know. I used to sell encyclopedias door to door, but fortunately I got out of that knowledge-is-power grift before Google Fiber jumped into it.
The most fundamental baseline for being successful in business is this: If you want to take people's money, you damn sure better be offering something of value in return. Seems simple, right? But it isn't. Why? Because that "value" thing can be a bit of a chimera. It turns out that different people value things differently, and it's a bitch trying to figure out the things people value enough to pay money for. And once you figure out that valuable thing you can offer people in return for their hard-earned money, you still have to figure out which people want it and how you can provide it to them faster, better, and more economically than everyone else. Capitalism is a beast. It's essentially Darwinism with a spreadsheet, and it will break your fucking heart. It will also ruin friendships if you let it, but I'm betting you're smarter than that. I'm betting you aren't one of those suckers P.T. Barnum was talking about.
Here's the deal (or maybe The Art of the Deal?): No matter how deeply enthused you are about your business, you shouldn't expect your friends to share that enthusiasm unless they're your actual business partners. You also shouldn't expect them to post about it on social media, wear the T-shirt, hang fliers, etc., unless you're paying them for it. They're your friends, not your business associates. Furthermore, if your business plan relies heavily on the patronage of friends and acquaintances through some sense of loyalty or guilt, it's probably not a business plan at all. It's really more of a wish, and in the words of the recently departed songsmith Kenny Rogers, "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride." Don't be a beggar. No one wants to be friends with a beggar, and more importantly, no one wants to be shamed by a beggar, so if you're feeling resentful and disappointed with your friends, instead, maybe you should be feeling disappointed with yourself for not having a better business plan. The good news is that you have the rest of your life to come up with one.