Letter Re: The Year In Review of Starting a Small Business(es), by T&BR

I’ve owned and operated a painting contracting business in the American Redoubt for the last 30+ or so years. Something that stands out about T&BR’s experiences is their start up and the dollar amount of their losses. With all do respect and absolutely no disrespect intended, they need to hear some words. Those numbers don’t reflect a small business startup failure. They reflect the flawed thinking that throwing enough money at your problems can fix them. The problems they experienced weren’t a result of the size of their equipment. It was the job out-sizing their ability, their experience, and their knowledge of the sandblasting business, not to mention that their lack of focus is evident in their post (ranging from biofuel to sandblasting to sunflowers). I’m not trying to be disrespectful or rude, but they are all over the map. Their hearts weren’t really into making it work the first time, and they want to repeat it again only this time with 50K of other people’s money, and no track record of success? Again, I am not trying to hurt feelings here, but it must be said– people got into the biofuel business for around 3K. Some pulled it off for less. Learning as they went, some made it and some didn’t. TB&R are talking 200K gallons and a quarter Mil bucks as a start-up. Are you following me here? Money isn’t their problem.

Again, at the risk of hurting feelings, which I am not trying to do, they need to hear it. TB&R are again talking about dollar amounts (50K) for a startup that is absolutely unreasonable, in light of their described track record.

A highly respected Christian and past president of a major airline company sat me down and said, “God will never bless a man with large sums of money, if he doesn’t understand the way in which he came about the small amounts first.” He said “small amounts.” If you have no money and banks won’t loan you money, you have no job, then “small amount” is whatever you have in your pocket. This was me when I was living in a rain-drenched tent at Fernan Lake 33 years ago, and I was about to enroll at the University of Jesus Christ for my education.

Startups take more prayer, guts, courage, and faith than money, going heavy on prayer when your faith gets shaky. “Startup” means you nurture a seed not a plant. $9,000 isn’t a seed or a plant; that’s the whole garden! In your case, the seed would have been profiling small metal parts for paint or powder coating. A blast rig from Harbor Freight would have done this. It’s certainly not as glamorous as rolling up on projects with big showy, expensive, equipment, but a 9K loss is 9K lost. It’s gone. As the owner of a painting company, I have my finger on the pulse. I know what’s needed in my neck of the woods. (Hint Hint, fellow Redoubters, are you paying attention? Sandblasted small metal parts can be done at home and shipped regionally.) UPS, USPS, Fedex, Nickels worth, Nickel Nick, and other shippers are your friend. Start-ups require guerrilla tactics. Before the age of the Internet and cell phones, I walked neighborhoods putting fliers on doors, because I couldn’t risk the cost of mailings landing in the bottom of the birdcage. I needed people to read what I had to offer, making it a coupon for discounts and making sure my flier wasn’t used to fire up the wood stove or line the cat box. I needed every flier I paid for to reach a homeowner.

Dial back your lofty thinking. “Fake it until you make it” is for people who keep digging themselves holes and refuse to stop digging.

When I started my business, I started out with a putty knife, a knife, brush, a bucket, and $15 to rent an airless sprayer for four hours. Plus, I did a lot of praying. That’s it. I didn’t have money (thank you, Jesus!) or knowledge enough about the paint industry to paint much more than a very small house, and I didn’t have a job to fall back on if things didn’t work out, (CDA in the 1980’s) let alone money to cushion the fall. It was back to Fernan Lake for me, homeless, living in a tent, wet, broke, with no hope if I didn’t pull this off. But I’ll save that story for another time. Failure was not an option.

I’d like to put this rhetorical question to people who are looking at becoming self-employed as a way of life. If all you had in your life was the thousand bucks (seed money) you saved, won, or were awarded, with no chance at getting another thousand, how serious would you take your plans of what to do with it? How well thought out would your plans be? This is the state of mind you need to be in. This is where you need to focus. Money is just the byproduct of success.

Humbly walk with the Lord, and do it with humility. You will never find a better business partner.