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Friday, May 18th, 2007

Time Event
12:03p
Hurry from Twenty-One to the Tarrytown PTA

There are over nine ways to operate a small business. The quickest to start is to locate some large business that nobody's paying particular attention to, and hit them with the full might of your shrink ray. If you then have a large enough bottle you can keep the business in your home as a convenient profit-generating center. If you do this make sure to poke some holes in the lid to let fresh air in. But this approach, while it skips many of the harder parts of getting set up, does have its lasting costs, not to mention the trouble of dropping in needed business supplies like shrunken lunches and miniature dry-erase markers and ISO 9.001 certification. Plus if they develop superpowers in the shrinking you're in for all sorts of headaches.

Taking a medium-size business and shrinking it a little bit is generally safer, but ironically requires a larger floor plan to fit the appropriate scale. This has its advantages, as putting the businesses close enough to HO scale means the disparity will be noticed only by the most exacting train enthusiasts. In fact, three-quarters of all model railroad layouts are former commercial districts plucked out of their original communities by train enthusiasts running their own businesses. Utica, New York, was formerly a bustling megalopolis of over two million people before it was dispersed into thousands of model sets, and there are concerns the city will disappear by 2014. Its residents have suggested they could swipe Rochester, but they haven't worked up the energy for it.

When it comes to starting a small business of your own the basic idea is to provide some goods and, or, or services. Goods, though, are right out, because the problem with them is you need to either extract them from wherever they come -- the ground, probably -- which is a lot of digging and hard work for stuff that turns out to be worth as much as stuff found in the ground around your home would be. There is a market for moldy leaves and sun-faded empty cans of Diet Dr Pepper Cherry Vanilla, but it's not one that pays generously and unless you expand your resource-gathering territory vastly it just won't bring you that much money.

Services, then, look a lot more promising. In services you don't necessarily find or make anything that can be definitely traced back to you; instead you simply do something, and trust that someone else will realize they need to pay you for it. Where this breaks down is that you need to convince someone who has money that they should give it to you for that. But there are already plenty of people earning a living by rhetorically asking the television whether the people who make the News at Noon understand how they look, or engaging convenience store cashiers in elaborate stories about how much change they have, and there's no need for more of them. What you need is your own niche.

A niche is a little spot where your project can thrive, kind of like Mrs Frisby's cinder block home, in the vast farmer's field of capitalism. A good niche should be several paces from one side to the other, be reasonably dry, close to good sources of food, and should come with a team of genetically modified super-intelligent rats who can put together a block-and-tackle system to move it from peril. You can carry on without them for a while, but the crash will come. Many observers credit the collapse of Pacific Electric Railway and the disappearance of Pan Am to newer ``humane'' style traps that saw their resident rats relocated to the American Broadcasting Company and to Cisco, respectively.

If you can't stand the rats you might make do with a couple of guinea pigs with master's degrees, but that's really only appropriate if you regard your business as a bit of a lark (not the bird) and don't mind if it comes to a sudden tragic end as the guinea pigs look on indifferently and squeak. The lesson is clear, and should really be made plain by someone or other.

Trivia: In May 1947 the World Bank approved its first reconstruction and development loan, half of a $500 million request from France. Source: The World's Banker, Sebastian Mallaby.

Currently Reading: The Old Post Road: The Story Of The Boston Post Road, Stewart H Holbrook.

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