Sometimes it’s a little eye opening to hear how someone else describes your job. I got that little “aha moment” the other day when my daughter explained my business as, “My Mom does taxes for people with weird businesses.” Now that’s not entirely true–I have lots of clients with perfectly “normal” jobs, but it’s also fair to say that I have a higher percentage of clients with “non-traditional” businesses than some of my peers.
My foray into weird businesses started years ago, back when I was the “newbie” at the big tax company. Basically, the way things worked there was that the senior preparers got their choice of the new clients and I got tossed the dregs–anybody they thought was an oddball that they didn’t want to deal with became my client. And they were pretty picky–artists, actors, exotic dancers, magicians–they were mine. When the circus came to town and one of the clowns called up asking if he could get his taxes done while they were in St. Louis– his call got put straight through to me. He shouldn’t have even been my client (all he had was a W2) but the receptionist heard “circus” and “clown” and obviously the call had to go to Jan. I did the return anyway. How could I resist doing a tax return for a real live clown from the circus? Too cool!
And that’s the thing–these business returns that nobody else wanted to work on–I loved. I got to meet really interesting people and solve some interesting problems. Quite frankly, if you can make your bird disappear in front of a live audience, then I’m inclined to write off the birdseed as a business expense. And while the IRS generally frowns upon claiming “make-up” as a business expense deduction, if you’re purchasing eye lash glue by the gallon and using it to glue your costume in place so that you don’t violate local decency ordinances–well then I think it is an ordinary and necessary cost of doing business.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lawyer, you own a flower shop, or you do standup comedy–at the end of the day you want to make enough money to put food on the table and a roof over your head. Business is business and you want to make a profit or you starve.
One of the biggest problems people with non-traditional businesses face is the perception that they’re going to starve if they go forward with that business idea. Let’s face it; if everybody tells you your idea is bad–it kind of puts doubts into your head, doesn’t it? And doubt can kill a business.
What if American Idol was around back in the 60s? Picture Bob Dylan singing his heart out and Simon Cowell saying, “Well Bob, you seem like a nice enough young man and you play the guitar fairly well, but this is a singing competition and you’re just not cut out to be the next American Idol.” (Go ahead, take a minute and insert your own favorite rock icon in there and how they get rejected, it’s kind of fun.) The point is, Bob Dylan didn’t quit and he went on to make an indelible mark on American music. (Okay, if you’re too young to know who Bob Dylan is–check out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Dylan
So what about you? What’s your idea? Is it crazy? I would have thought Facebook was a crazy idea. How much money did Mark Zuckerberg get out of that IPO? Billions! Are you old enough to remember pet rocks? Pet rocks are the gold standard of dumb, yet profitable, ideas. Someone took plain old rocks, stuck them in a box and sold them as pets. Everybody was buying them, it was nuts! It was a totally stupid idea and I’m sure that guy laughed all the way to the bank. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pet_rocks
One of the advantages of having a non-traditional business is that you have to be twice as organized to come across as being half as legitimate. This is an asset. An attorney walks into a bank, says he’s an attorney, and everybody thinks, “Oh, this guy knows something.” While an attorney should know a lot about the law–some of them don’t know diddly squat about business. You walk into a bank, say you’re a professional geese herder and you sure as heck better have your ducks in a row (couldn’t resist the pun) if you’re going to get financing from them. (Yes, I know a professional geese herder–real business. Awesomely cool.) No one will take the geese herder seriously if she doesn’t know her stuff. Sometimes that uphill battle gives you the extra edge you need.
The bottom line is–if your business idea is a little strange, it doesn’t mean it’s not good. It could even be great. But you’ve got to do your homework. Know what it is you’re selling, who’s going to buy it, and how you’re going to get the product to the customer. A lot of new businesses get tripped up in the idea that they are “unique” and they don’t fit the basic mold. Here’s a tip for you–everybody is unique; everybody. Here’s my other tip–if you can’t answer the questions, what do I sell, who do I sell to, and how do I get the product to the customer? Then your business isn’t ready yet.
But if you know what you sell, who you sell it to, and how you get the product to your customer–then you’re in business!