Medium 9781523094806

The Magic of Tiny Business

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“This is a powerful book—tiny is mighty. Sharon Rowe's simple shift in thinking is a profound idea, precisely what we need to hear.”
—Seth Godin, author of Linchpin

Too many of us feel trapped by work that keeps us from living our purpose. We fantasize about starting our own business, yet we're warned against falling into debt, working eighty hours a week, and coping with the pressure to grow. Eco-Bags Products founder Sharon Rowe says there's another way: go tiny.

Like a tiny house, a tiny business is built on maintaining a laser focus on what is essential by living an intentional life. As an entrepreneur and mother, Rowe is most concerned with putting family first, maintaining financial security, and doing something that makes an impact in the world. Using the success story of Eco-Bags Products, Rowe distills the step-by-step process of building a profitable, right-scaled, sustainable venture that doesn't compromise your values. She shows you how to test your concept, manage your money and priorities, and more, while staying true to the "tiny" ethos.

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8 Chapters

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Chapter One: What Is a Tiny Business?

ePub

Go big or go home is a prevailing but tired and misleading cultural myth.

Risk everything. Don’t even bother to try otherwise.

Fight your way to the top.

Be aggressive.

You’re done.

You’re ruined.

You lose.

You’ll never be successful.

No one wants to be your friend (aww).

Have I scared you? Going big is not for everyone. It wasn’t for me—not like that.

But what if someone asked you: What sparks, excites, invigorates, or inspires you?

And what if I showed you a way to be different in business that also led to success? A way that allowed you to take one step at a time instead of risking everything all at once while leaping into the unknown? A way that lets you intentionally build what you want, going slow and steady, and only picking up the pace when you’re ready?

You can have your cake and eat it too. With a Tiny Business, you can make a good living and have a great life.

 

Chapter Two: Work with What You’ve Got and Make It Work

ePub

I didn’t know everything I wanted, but I knew what I was unwilling to live with.

One day after a nonstop morning of working from home for the job I had before I started my business, I stepped away from my desk to take a much-needed bio break. The phone rang and the answering machine picked it up.

Imagine hearing your manager’s voice coming at you over the tiny speaker of your answering machine screaming how irresponsible you are because you are not exactly where he expects to find you at an exact moment in time. I had a newborn son, had coordinated day care so I could work from home, and took my responsibility for making a living and contributing to my new family’s financial health and well-being seriously. I was one of his top-performing salespeople and the only woman on the team.

What I did next wasn’t responsible or logical. I needed this job. I had been an actor and knew that wouldn’t pay my bills on a regular basis. I had no backup plan and only a teensy bit of savings. Nevertheless, I called my supervisor back and told him I quit. He told me I couldn’t. I did anyway.

 

Chapter Three: Taking Tiny Steps

ePub

Cold and more than a little uncomfortable, I hit the streets to talk to people about my idea.

When hiking, “starting off cold” means, literally, starting off chilly, allowing for a little initial discomfort by not wearing all your layers because you’ll warm up soon enough. A new concept may not feel right or ready, and the best way to find out if it has legs is simply to get started, even if you’re cold, to take that first tiny step.

I had a tight three-month time window to see if I could make my Tiny Business idea work before I would have to look for a job-job. And so, without a business name, a business plan, or even a product to sell, I took my first step. I didn’t know it then, but what I was doing was looking for people like me.

I was looking for a pulse.

I was curious if anyone else had traveled abroad and brought their own bags to the market. I wondered if I was the only person to notice the accumulating and, in my opinion, unacceptable single-use plastic bag trash. I shared the problem I had with plastic bag pollution and suggested a solution.

 

Chapter Four: Listen to Your Tiny Voice

ePub

I can’t say I was a perfect Tiny Business entrepreneur when I started.

I can say, however, that I grew more focused with practice over time and that the advice I’m sharing will save you time and money.

When you start a business, you are journeying into a marketplace. You need to listen to your “why” to choose your path. What I had from the very beginning was a deep connection to why I was doing what I was doing. And as an actor, I was trained to listen.

Listen to listen Compassion and empathy What’s needed will be

—Tiny Business haiku

After two years, ECOBAGS were still being met with curiosity. Our product and concept were still relatively new, and they were sparking conversations. We were embraced by a small group of people who shared our passion of “cleaning up the planet one bag at a time.” They wanted to share our concept too! That’s when I learned the value of having a good story and listening to where and how it lands.

 

Chapter Five: Be Ready for Takeoff

ePub

I didn’t watch The Oprah Winfrey Show.

In the mid-2000s, Oprah was the number one afternoon talk show host on one of the most famous television shows in the United States (and possibly the world), but she just wasn’t on my radar. I became aware, however, that there were lots of women who stopped everything to watch her; among them was my close friend and neighbor, April, and my mother-in-law, Ales. Almost every day my neighbor would relay stories from the show to me.

I can actually pinpoint when it occurred to me that my brand ECOBAGS had to be featured on Oprah. It was 2006. Al Gore was talking about climate change on the national stage; hormone-free milk, Whole Foods Market, and organic everything were getting ink; and my pioneering concept of reusable bags was being warmly adopted by the fringe. I was confident Oprah was my ticket to the mainstream with her huge, devoted audience who listened to her like a god.

 

Chapter Six: Tiny Business Is Lean Business

ePub

I don’t care if you think you’re a math person or not.

As a business owner, you need to be intimate with your numbers. Even if you have a bookkeeper, an accountant, and a CFO.

Generally, the bookkeeper keeps it all organized, the accountant makes sure you’re in compliance with taxes and helps with strategies, and your CFO does forecasting and budgets. Despite all that capable backup, you still need to know the numbers like the back of your hand.

With almost three decades in business, I still speak entrepreneur more than I do numbers. But I know my numbers. That is because the lifeblood of my business is cash flow.

Cash is the log in the campfire and the gas (or electricity) in the car. Without cash, you can’t do what you need. Too much cash and you may do things you don’t need. I’ve been in both positions and you’ll likely find yourself in both too. Let me just say that having too much cash isn’t a real problem until you run out and don’t have a reserve. But having too little cash will exhaust and stress you out.

 

Chapter Seven: Walk to Work (Even If You Work from Home)

ePub

Being an entrepreneur is an endurance sport.

You need to always be in training so that you can improve on the past and be prepared for the future. You are accountable to you 100 percent of the time. Your job is to bring your best self forward every day.

As an entrepreneur and business owner, you make a lot of decisions and keep a lot of balls in the air. It’s important you don’t get stuck in a rut, attempting to fix a new problem with an old approach. Staying out of ruts takes training. As someone asked at a retreat I attended:

“How can you create the future if you are referencing the past? You will only re-create the past in the future.”

I’m not suggesting you forget the past. There are lessons to be learned from it, of course. The future, however, has the possibility to look different, to be something we haven’t thought of yet, to become something new. Staying fresh and open to new ideas is part of being on top of your game.

 

Chapter Eight: Share Your Tiny Story

ePub

When you do what you do for a period of time, keeping true to your Tiny values and achieving some success along the way, you will eventually get noticed—especially if you keep up with relationships. That’s when it’s important to share your story.

As an entrepreneur, you will always have stories to tell and there will always be someone who can benefit. We live in a world where we think everyone knows, or owns, more than we do. Some do. Some don’t.

Share what you’ve learned. It is an act of generosity, and it is as simple as sending the elevator back down or holding the door open for the next person.

“Send the elevator back down.”

—Lee Eiferman, LeeWords

Speak whenever you are invited. Look for opportunities to share and mentor. Regularly schedule time in your week to guide or coach someone who requests help. This is you making a donation, helping to shape the future.

A Brownie Girl Scout troop came to visit my office recently. They were doing an eco-project and one of the moms is married to Joe, our UPS delivery guy. Into our quiet office came eighteen boisterous Brownies more interested in talking than listening. I talked about business and the environment. It was a forty-five-minute whirlwind and I had no idea what they got out of it or didn’t.

 

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