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Dodging Bullets in Small Business

Updated on January 1, 2019

The Panther Computers Story

After high school there were several jobs, the military, my first small business, then years with major corporations. Then the layoff came, leaving me to finish my degree while searching for another career opportunity. A month later 9/11 occurred sending the economy into a tailspin. Even after graduating Cum Laude and submitting over 1200 resumes I was left with three interviews, delivering pizza, and a growing demand for my computer expertise.

Before the lay off from IBM a friend would call for work related computer help when I was in town. Afterward, I got a business license and convinced her boss to utilize my services. Working from home the business grew slow and steady until a location for a storefront was found.

Even with the right place, rent, and a growing demand, taking out a substantial cash advance against an established credit line to spend on a building I didn't own was risky. So I worked the math, then negotiated a five year lease to protect the remodeling investment I was about to undertake.

Low risk metes out little reward, however opening Panther Computers was a huge leap of faith. There are many pitfalls that can cause delays in remodeling projects; inspections, permits, and the reliability of workers, availability of contractors, and delivery of supplies. If any number of these fall outside your project plan you will risk running out of capital even before you open your doors.

Once the doors open, risk can hit a small business person in the face. If your location, marketing, and offerings don't find a quick following, the cash flow will crush you. Luckily our area was in need of an honest computer shop with fair pricing.

This need plus an innovative radio ad that brought in nearly 30% of our business helped us survive many major unforeseen obstacles. You must have the right marketing plan focused on a pain, a need, or a desire that you help to ease, meet, or fulfill.

Chambers of Commerce are as clicky as high school. Businesses often snobbishly only use the offerings of their own members. You are missing a great networking opportunity and a large in swell of business by not joining. We joined and benefited from the experience.

Risk is a constant in small business. We opened in April 2004, and five months later, Hurricane Ivan hit NW Florida, leaving us without electricity for three weeks. Ever tried to fix a computer without electricity? Luckily, many new and existing customers had electricity and needed help on site, but it wasn't long before we acquired a generator.

Hurricane Dennis

Hurricane Dennis hit in July 2005, less than ten months later, taking half of the roof and the remodeling efforts that were underway. Even without a natural disaster, there are other risks that can cost you your business. The right coverage and amount of business insurance can keep you from losing it all.

Having the right person doing the right job can be paramount. We went through seven bookkeepers before it was apparent that they didn't know what they were doing. Instead of a bookkeeper, we needed a technician to allow me to do the books. Resumes can be filled with half truths and lies, so vet them carefully and check all references.

The economy can be planned for by staying vigilant on your expenses and by saving a cushion in good times. The Great Recession of 2008 resulted in many businesses closing, and more disappear every day. Cutting expenses in these times were crucial, but maintaining or increasing your advertising, though counter intuitive, is the best strategy to survive a downturn. If your competition cuts advertising while you maintain or increase, who are customers going to come to?

I've joked that I thought I was going out for leisure canoe ride on a lake, but quickly found myself in the rapids. Success or the threat of failure will both cause sleepless nights. But in the end if you are doing a good job, and provide an honest reliable offering, the few hours of sleep will be well rested. Small business is not for everyone, but for many it is well worth the ride.

For nine years I spent nearly $40K on someone else's building because it was cheaper than paying rent elsewhere. In business we call that sunk costs, however after years of hard work paid off in 2013 when I was able to acquire a commercial building of my own to move Panther Computers to.

The move was fraught with peril, because even with copious advertising and signs on the old building, business waned at the new location. Things were made worse by Google Maps, that allowed anyone to declare a business permanently closed. Google had no good process in place to help business owners to reverse this designation, and we felt the pain for nearly a year before it leveled out.

Panther Computers survived for three more years and in 2017 I had to take a full time job elsewhere as an IT Manager. I still help some old customers by appointment, but the business is all but closed at this point. It was a fourteen year journey with lots of ups and downs and many a lesson learned and well worth it in the end.

I've joked that I thought I was going out for leisure canoe ride on a lake, but quickly found myself in the rapids. Success or the threat of failure will both cause sleepless nights. But in the end if you are doing a good job, and provide an honest reliable offering, the few hours of sleep will be well rested. Small business is not for everyone, but for many it is well worth the ride.


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