Separating Business from Hobby

Hirst's Shark Tank by the Little Artists
Hirst’s Shark Tank by the Little Artists (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What separates a business from a hobby? My husband and I watch a fair bit of the show, Shark Tank, and often one of the investors will explain the difference to wannabe entrepreneurs. It is one thing to have an idea, and I am in no way diminishing the importance of that crucial element, but there is more to building a business than just having something to sell.

In order to transform a hobby into a business yes, you need a product or service. But you also need a path to market, a sales strategy, a plan for what to do with revenue once it is received, a plan for what to do when the money doesn’t flow as it should, and a plan for what to do when faced with an outright threat. There is so much to do that having the actual innovative spark is almost more window dressing than requirement. That is a minimum of five parts plan to one part innovation!

While at my day job, I usually deal with established companies releasing their next big product offering, but occasionally I get the opportunity to meet with the independent idea person. Typically these are people fresh from one of the nearby university technology incubators. These people a fun to meet with because they are so incredibly passionate about their product, but really have no idea how much they don’t know about the challenges of bringing an invention out of their garage.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the biggest mistakes they make in their plan is forgetting that though they might have a great rapport with the person at the other side of the table, at the end of the day, “its nothing personal, just business.” I have to watch as they are forced to question their own faith in their product and their existing partners. For example, patents are only as good as they are enforceable and established companies usually have much deeper pockets along with capable supply chains and effective sales channels.

The reaction varies. Sometimes the innovator’s ego doesn’t allow him or her to accept these questions. They get angry and defensive. Of course their product will sell itself and they will become overnight millionaires. They are such geniuses that no one could possibly find a way to build it cheaper, quicker, or in a way that gets around their patent. The public will never accept a lower quality solution at a cheaper price – they will demand the real thing. All of their suppliers will deliver and all their customers will pay on time just because they have put some words together on a piece of paper and called it a contract.

Some throw their hands up in despair. They give up on their dream the moment they are asked to answer tough questions. Others listen with open minds. They are humble enough to realize that they don’t know all the answers and that their product may not be ready for the mass market. Perhaps it is not in their best interest today to accept that large purchase order with all its many zeros. These are the people who will buckle down and return to pitch their idea another day. They leave even more committed, but with their eyes wide open.

English: Figure 10: SWOT-Analysis of the organ...
English: Figure 10: SWOT-Analysis of the organic business idea. Belongs to The Organic Business Guide. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As much as my novels are the children of my imagination, I have to treat my writing as a business, and books as its product. While so far I have found there to be quite a bit of cross over, I recognize that I am new to this industry. I recognize that I can’t rely entirely on instinct alone. What I believe is my best strategy may well be wrong.

In fact as I near the final weeks of writing the first draft, there are a number of things that I intend to do differently this second time around. I enjoyed the speed to market that self publishing offered, but I do think that this time I am going to at least query a few other channels. Yes, I will likely get rejected, as that seems to be a recurring pattern in the industry, but I’ll never know for sure that I picked the course best suited for my own business needs and personal style if I don’t at least ask for other opinions from time to time.


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Leadership and Management – is it so easy a caveman could do it?

My kids recently discovered the movie, the Croods, which is about a family of cavemen who have to leave the safety of their cave due to a series of earthquakes and other eruptions. Mid way through the father, quite bewildered by his family’s behavior, tells his daughter, I kept you safe. To which his daughter replied, we weren’t living, we just weren’t dying, there is a difference.

The Croods8
The Croods8 (Photo credit: TheCroodsGame)

It is very easy to confuse leadership with management. In the case above, the father was a great family manager. He was able to assess each of their strengths and weaknesses and as a result they were able to hunt for food as a team. They all shared in each other’s success and when the food supply ran short, the father did the noble thing by skimping on his ration so that his children could grow stronger. He also went out of his way to protect them from dangerous threats such as sabre toothed tigers and other weird creatures I am glad aren’t around today.

But he was a terrible leader. Why? Because he was so focused on ensuring that all were aware of the near certain danger, his family wasn’t able to rally around an image of a better future. Without the ability to visualize the future, the family accepted the threats at face value and never tried to find ways around them. They were well-managed, but they were stuck in a dark cave, ignorant of the larger world, and would have remained there as the land collapsed around them had it not been for an injection of fresh ideas in the form of a stranger.

Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That same stranger never showed whether or not he had managerial chops. He cared about the teenage girl, and eventually bonded with the father, but never went out of his way to really get to know the others. He gave them some nice tools and shared innovative survival strategies, but really in the end only made them more like himself rather than try to capitalize on their individual potential. He had no assurance that there would actually be a better tomorrow, and could just as easily placed the group in an even riskier situation like a Pied Piper. He proved you can be a great leader, but also be lousy manager.

Great leaders are champions of change and not afraid to take risks, they pull their teams along with them. They are the hunters. Great managers are efficiency experts and nurturing by nature, they minimize risk and push their teams into situations where success is achievable. They are the gatherers. Whether you are a great leader or a great manager you are going to get a workout.

A word of caution though. There is a reason that there is usually a trusty sidekick in every hero story. It is nearly impossible to be both the leader and the manager at the same time. The mentality is just too different.

So breathe. You don’t have to be both. It’s actually a lot less stressful for everyone if you simply pick one role and be the best possible version of that singular role you can be. Look in the mirror long and hard and figure out which route is best for you. Then go out and find your compliment. Recruit or train up. You can also still find your leadership or management balance in the form of a trusted business advisor. Self employed or other team of one? It’s still worth recognizing your strength and building up on those skills, with any luck they will come in handy before you know it.

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What would you do differently if you knew others were watching?

The sun sets over a set of "Big Eyes"...

My husband didn’t jump into entrepreneurship overnight. No, like an illness, the bug went through an incubation period prior to maturing to the point of full outbreak. During this period, he started taking classes on how to better understand the nuances of the stock market. How to recognize the patterns in price that might indicate a trading event, how to interpret industry jargon, and how to take control of our own portfolio.

Learning (Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360)

He drug me along to a few of these classes, and to this day I am not sure exactly how he managed to do that. They always followed a long work day and the very last thing I wanted to do after a day in front of the computer screen was listen to an instructor drone on about the importance of line charts.

I must not have been the only one to feel this way. While there remained a number of students in the room, there was not quite as many midway through the course as had been there on day one. The instructor must have sensed that those of us in the room were feeling worn out and a little overwhelmed. He went off topic.

He told us about one of his prior students. She had come in and sat quietly night after night, hardly noteworthy. After the end of the class she had written him. She wrote that she was a mother in an abusive relationship. She had signed up for the class almost on a whim. Each night she watched as those around her scribbled notes and listened to her neighbors dream of a better future. She realized that she too had a chance for that future. She gained the courage to remove herself and her child from a dangerous situation.

He mentioned this particular story only to illustrate how each of us have the ability to inspire others whether or not we are aware of their interest. It was his way of motivating us to buckle down and see the course through.

My mother-in-law cross stitched a poem that at one time hung in my husband’s room and now hangs in our son’s.

A careful man I ought to be,
A little fellow follows me.
I dare not go astray,
For fear he’ll go the self-same way.

I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whatever he see me do, he tries.
Like me, he says, he’s going to be,
The little chap who follows me.

He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine.
The base in me he must not see,
That little fellow who follows me.

I must remember as I go,
Thru summers’ sun and winters’ snow.
I am building for the years to be,
In the little chap who follows me.

by Rev. Claude Wisdom White, Sr

There are days when being in business for yourself (or trying to establish yourself as a writer) isn’t easy. Days filled with such negativity that I know my husband is tempted to shut his doors for good, or for me to completely walk away from the computer. At least for now, we’ve chosen to continue on.

I like to believe that as a result, our children will grow to be even more determined, less likely to accept the status quo, and more willing to chase after their own dreams. But I do sometimes wonder who else might be watching and hope that the decisions we make are worth it.

Inspiration can have a domino effect, but what is amazing is that most people don’t realize how many pieces in the chain they have touched. Sometimes even when you think you are teaching one thing, there is a far greater lesson being learned.

The woman didn’t have to share her story, but I am glad she did. I occasionally think back on that woman who was able to learn how to take control of her life when the rest of us were just trying to learn how to take control of our finances and hope that she remained strong.

Original caption: I decided to see if I could ...
Original caption: I decided to see if I could catch the motion of Dominos falling. It took me ages to get the timing right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Searchability In Amazon

As previously mentioned, my recently published debut novel entitled, An Uncertain Faith, was recently picked up by and Barnes & Noble. I was understandably excited and wanted to promote this event within my network of family and friends. When they went to search for it by title, however, it didn’t appear in the results. I also conducted the same search with similar results, however searching by author’s name found my novel instantly. I thought surely there must be a mistake somewhere and contacted Amazon’s customer service. I was told that there is more to their search algorithm than merely matching keywords word for word and that even though I was looking up a specific title verbatim the search might return results it thinks I want more and hide the direct match. I would have thought the word for word match would have at least appeared towards the bottom of my search results rather than stripped out altogether. Now I am wondering if there might be a whole world of other products and services I am unaware of just because a computer came to the conclusion that it knows better than me what I want. This is not necessarily a complaint, just an observation, and I was able to search by book by title shortly after my discussion with customer service.

I would like to repost an article on the subject as I do not seem to be the first who learned the hard way that there are ways to optimize searches on platforms other than the big search engines

How did I get here?

A few years ago, my husband learned of his faciliy’s imminent closing when a co-worker happened to notice that their site was no longer showing on the corporate website’s locations. Determined to be more in control of our own destiny we decided to enter into the world of small business ownership. I’ve often joked since that I could write several books on the various mistakes we’ve made since then. Eventually though I decided to stop joking and wrote An Uncertain Faith, loosely inspired by those ‘learning experiences’ now available through and Barnes &