"Man is by nature a political animal." - Aristotle
"Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it's important." - Eugene McCarthy
A friend of mine posted something I found fairly silly the other day on Facebook. Granted, my friends post silly stuff all the time, as do I. This one, though, struck me as illogically silly. It was a graphic that claimed that there were millions of American businesses who wouldn't hire an additional employee after the 49th, thanks to the act most of us refer to as Obamacare.
Alright, lookit, I'm really not here to talk about the positives or the negatives of that legislation. I've done that plenty in some of the forums I'm in, and of course I'm right and everybody who disagrees with me is wrong. Right? But please, this blog isn't about politics. I'm all about success, whether that be writing success or business success or just life success.
Seriously, this one disturbed me. I've had my own business before. I do now too, though as an authorpreneur I guarantee you it'll be a while before I ever get close to 49 employees (it's in my business plan, by the way--but that's the future plan). But try as I might sometimes to stay away, I keep getting thrust into management roles at work, and my current day job is no real exception. I'm in management. In fact, I'm by most estimations the second in charge of the campus, with somewhere around two-thirds of the employees of the company's location here reporting either directly or indirectly to me.
That's why the post was so absolutely foreign to me. I would never, ever make a decision on whether or not to hire someone based on my emotional stance regarding a political issue. Never. I take my business and its operations way too seriously.
I'm acutely aware of the issues regarding the current legislation, by the way. I know where the 49-50 employee barrier comes from; there is more expense required with hiring the 50th employee, and for all employees, if you haven't already begun offering health insurance before that point. That expense is a valid business concern and has to be taken into account. I'm also aware that there is some risk involved in setting yourself into compliance with the current law when nobody really knows who's going to be making decisions come January, and one side is saying they'll keep it going while the other is saying they'll do away with it and replace it with--um, something.
You know what? Business is risk. Business has been about risk-taking since before Thomas Jefferson built Monticello. You measure the risk and decide if you want to go after it, and if you win, you get the reward. Writing is no different; the risk for a writer who keeps his or her "day job" is pretty minimal, but it's also really tough to get anything going toward a reward. Up the risk by leaving your day job and you now have much greater risk, but you're also suddenly in a much better position, time-management-wise.
So anyway--whether you are for or agin' the ACA (aka Obamacare), don't don't don't don't make business decisions based on that. Make them based on a risk assessment, make them based on a cost-to-benefits analysis, make them based on needs assessment. But don't run a business on emotion.
Now I come to what really spurred this post--I got into it over on Publisher's Weekly's web site. Specifically, there was an article that outlined booksellers' overall reluctance to stock the books published by the physical book arm that Amazon recently purchased. I--and you can probably already see why--said this was dumb.
Lookit, if there's no demand for a book, then don't stock it. If you're not going to make any money off of the sale of the book regardless of demand, then don't stock it. If your patrons will be offended by a book, then--well, that one's kinda up to you. They're your customers, but not necessarily your moral compasses.
But don't, don't, don't, don't, please, for the love of God, don't decide what books to offer your customers based on your opinion (no matter how widely agreed-upon) of who makes them.
Many people disagreed with me. After all, what do I know about running a bookstore? What do I know about stocking? (I do, incidentally, have a couple of years of running a significant stocking/shipping/receiving concern in Phoenix on my resume, but I chose not to trot that out) What do I know about the evil exploits of that spawn of Satan itself, Amazon?
Oh, c'mon. Whether I'm a fan of Amazon, myself, is irrelevant. I finally gave in to the argument, though. I said okay, let's assume you're right. Let's assume that every employee at Amazon has on their secret desires list to put the physical bookstores--all of 'em--out of business. Let's assume, while we're playing around, that Jeff Bezos got picked on constantly on the bus by the guys who eventually ran a bookstore, and as a result he swore he'd have their hides, and that when he goes home every evening he says hi to his father by referring to him as "The Dark Lord of Hell" or just "Satan." Okay? Feel better? Amazon is evil, Bezos is evil, everything they do is for the purpose of eradicating you from the face of the planet, book sellers.
So I come in to your bookstore looking for one of the books I've heard about that they publish. Does that make me evil, as your customer?
How much do you really care about what your customers want?
If you're going to let your own opinions about what your customers should be reading, based solely on where they are sourced, decide what you offer to sell, you're going to lose. And, frankly, you deserve to lose.
"Oh, but we will be happy to order them," some booksellers cried in defense of the accusation of censoring their customers. Yeah, fine, but consider this. The only advantage you have, folks, over the online retailers is that customers can find something they want and take it home to be read that evening. You don't have automatically-updated peer ratings of the books I'm looking at. You don't have a "look inside" option for books that aren't on the shelf. You may have "staff picks" but I don't know your staff nearly as well as I know the online reviewer I've been following for a year or two. You don't even have frickin' free shipping. Yes, you'll order it to the store, but I have to go pick it up when it gets there. For cities like Richmond, and some bookstores in the more popular areas, that's more annoying than paying a shipping fee.
You do have a customer experience to speak about. Unfortunately, for the most part, it's bad. I've done laps around my local Barnes & Noble without being addressed as a person by the kid--any of 'em--wearing the employee badge and studying the computer screen. I went into a locally-owned store a couple of weeks ago and, despite the fact that there were a grand total of three human beings in the place (my wife, the attendant, and me), I tried and failed to engage the attendant in conversation.
Good grief. And you want to censor what I have available to buy, too?
Bottom line: please, for the love of all that's holy, if you run a business, focus on making your customers the happiest customers on the planet. If you're an author, that means writing a great book. If you're a bookseller, that means stocking what your customers want you to stock. If you're anything else, that means staffing as needed to meet your demand. No matter, in all cases, whether or not you like it.
Is it really that hard?