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A Boss’ Life – Surviving A Small Business

Boss Life Book Review - Small Business

[Book Review of ‘Boss Life, Surviving My Own Small Business’]

So I am a big fan of business and marketing books. I read one or two books per month as a way of staying up on the latest trends, maybe improve my own businesses process and systems, or simply a way to up my game in life.

I can say that after receiving my Master’s Degree and then working toward an associate’s degree in Information Technology that I crave specifics and homework. I looks for books that offer ideas and concepts that I can use right away. Most of these books can really propel me or at a minimum get me thinking that there might be a different way to do something.

So this book was a surprise.

Boss Life is a one year diary by Paul Downs, the owner of a small custom furniture company. It is a book that I could not put down until I found out whether he was going to survive the year. It had a slow beginning but it sucked me into his daily drama.

If anyone owns or runs a small business, you’ll appreciate this book. Whether you have one employee or 50, it’s a struggle to keep it all afloat and Paul goes into detail about this struggle.

He runs through his highs and lows from January through December. Each chapter begins with his profit, cash on hand, and bank balance. Just like any story, there is an arc and mystery and cliff hangers to boot. Does he get the big European job? Will his new shop manager step up and take charge? Can he make his payroll this month or will he have close his doors? Can his sales staff learn new techniques?

I was hooked.

But, even still, I learned a lot about how one person runs his business which was gold for me.

Here are some takeaways for the small business owner, namely me.

1. Every business owner struggles with making the right decision for their employees, their family, and the business. Some are more about the profit and can be harsh but there are some that have a heart and want be a part of their employees’ livliehood. It’s not that they don’t want to succeed and grow the business, it’s that their priorities are different. It’s a balance. If you don’t care enough about making a profit, then the business fails and employees are out of a job. So hard decisions have to be made. Do you fire the new, young shop cleaner who had potential? Do you promote the craftsman who shows ingenuity over the long term shop manager who does not communicate?

2. Marketing is very, very important. Nothing coming in? Nothing goes out. It was so interesting to read his mistakes as well as his success. He journaled his sales process and incoming dollars as compared to the prior month. He tracked each lead and knew what each salesperson brought in. He debated commissions versus salaries. It was great to read the change in his strategy.

3. Know your numbers. He was so meticulous and knew every number that drove his shop. He was able to tell you the dollar amount for each process, the cost for each day, the cost for each employee, and more. Costs should be the first number you look at every day. Then look at your revenue. It can drive your decisions. Mr. Downs watched carefully each dollar. He was painfully aware of each stage of a table’s build from sales, to material, to construction, to delivery. Each stage had a price and he knew it.

4. Getting a partner is not always a good thing. We all would like to share the burden. In his case the partner brought a cash influx but it did not last long. He looked for business advice that he lacked and thought the partner could fill that void. He is a craftsman by trade. He did not go to business school but rather learned on his own. The partner was supposed to bring ideas and coaching but it did not go as planned. He talks about these struggles and what he learned.

5. Seek out other business owners. It seemed that as soon as he joined a group of other business owners is when things started turning around. After visiting a similar shop and hiring a sales consultant that the group recommended, he was able to make some decisions in his sales strategy that made a big difference. He also found that what he does is unique and hard duplicate. His employees are his biggest asset and, through his contacts, learned more about delegating and communicating with his staff.


6. Those big companies with the big wallets are not always your saving grace. He traveled far and wide, spent a lot of money and time on connections abroad hoping it would bring in millions. You’ll have to read the book on this one but it is a lessons learned. You can’t count your chickens until they are hatched or assume the bigger guys have it figured out. They are struggling as much as you are.

So to keep in sync with my own internet marketing services, what were the marketing changes?

1. Stop being an unpaid consultant. What you do is valuable. Even a custom conference table carpenter has ideas and engineering that is worth something before it is built and delivered. His team would spend hours drawing plans, creating 3D schematics that were delivered to prospects who promptly thanked him and used them as a tool to hire a cheaper person. He lost of business and hours. Not to mention the frustration for his sales team.

2. Get a decision before you get off the phone. His sales staff, after taking classes, learned different techniques in getting some kind of date to expect a decision. Get commitment. This helped determine when they should follow-up and when to move on.

3. Watch your Adwords carefully. He found that grouping keywords and target markets into their own campaigns is important. He watched his numbers carefully, which seemed to be theme of his book, and monitored clicks and conversions. He noticed that one group of keywords would stop running at a certain time. He found if he separated his grouped keywords into its own campaign he could make sure both ran during his schedule hours.

4. Practice your sales pitch. Before getting on the call or the meeting, make sure everyone is on the same page. Brief them on what you plan to talk about. You’ll find what their agenda might be and how it might differ from yours.



Paul Down New York Times Blog:
Buy the book on Amazon: Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business (affiliate link)
Paul’s Own Website:

This book was a bit enlightening for me. It was able to show me a side that I thought I only had to deal with. It showed me how the challenges I have with contractors, clients, marketing my own business, and the growth issues that come with that happen for everyone.

As all of the small business consultant gurus out there, with well-intentioned courses and advice, nothing is as good as the guy that not only lives it but continues to live it.

Thank you Mr. Down.

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