“We’ve Never Done That Before”

December 23, 2008

My older son said just last night that it doesn’t feel like Christmastime. I was surprised, because we had been in heavy traffic, looking for parking spaces at busy shopping centers, and waiting in long lines to buy things in crowded stores. Christmas lights are on many homes and businesses, and people have dressed their SUVs and minivans as Rudolph. I asked what he meant.

He said maybe it doesn’t feel like Christmas because it hasn’t snowed yet. It was the second day of winter and we were below freezing! We already had a few days of freezing weather with sleet and drizzly freezing rain at the end of fall, just last week. That’s pretty early for it to be so cold in north Texas.

I reminded him that winter was just beginning and he shouldn’t expect snow yet, especially since snow is pretty rare here. He reminded me that it has snowed every winter for the past several years. My younger son joined in to agree, and asked if we remembered all the snow we got before Christmas last year. I remembered that it snowed in flurries last year on Thanksgiving, but I had forgotten we got heavier snow closer to Christmas.

My sons remember seeing snow before Christmas pretty often, but I remember growing up here and in southern Oklahoma and rarely seeing snow.

I look at the traffic and the number of people in stores and think it’s just as busy and hectic as it is every other year. Retailers look at specific numbers and see they aren’t selling more than last year so they think times are tough.

Business analysts explain that if consumer spending levels off or even drops a little, lots of businesses might fail. They describe a healthy business environment as one where spending is always increasing so businesses make money whether they’re well managed or not. I look at how many businesses can fail because of a small drop in sales and think it’s a really bad plan to have a business that can only succeed as long as people spend more and more each year.

News reports tell us that it’s bad for businesses that they can’t borrow money very easily when they need to pay their bills and don’t have enough cash in the bank. These are supposedly profitable companies that don’t have money to pay their bills. I wonder how long ago it was that businesses regularly planned their cash flow to make sure they could always pay their bills.

It didn’t take long for businesses to get so comfortable using debt for construction and expansion that they started using it to supplement cash flow instead of having a reserve in savings.

It didn’t take long for businesses to get so accustomed to consumer spending increasing regularly that they failed to plan for times when revenue would stay steady, or even decrease, year-to-year.

Just like it didn’t take long for my sons to get used to the idea that it snows every year in north Texas, and that it doesn’t feel like Christmas without snow.

All this reminds me of a time I went into a local ice cream store for the first time in a few years and asked to sample a flavor. The fifteen-year-old behind the counter said that wasn’t possible. I told him I used to get samples on a little white spoon. He said, “We’ve never done that before.” My wife pointed out that he probably wasn’t even born the last time I had gotten a sample of ice cream there.

That story is our symbol for the shortsightedness of those who know only their own experience and eschew the wisdom of others. We still refer to it when we encounter that mindset. The new waiter at the old Mexican restaurant tells our son he can’t substitute beans and rice for fries on a kid’s meal, although he’s done it every time he orders the kid’s meal. The clerk at the store that routinely ships things free of charge if they don’t have them in stock says the store isn’t able to ship anything to our home. We smile and shake our heads, and then one of us whispers to the other, “We’ve never done that before.”

I want to help people see beyond their own experience, or the recent experiences of those around them, and take a longer view. I want to help them use wisdom in their choices about self-employment or starting a business. One of my goals this coming year is to find more ideas and resources for people to start their businesses small and grow with their profits, without debt, or with as little debt as possible. Smaller, leaner companies that don’t rely on debt are more resilient in tough times, and they’re more profitable when things are going well.

I want to become an expert on ways to start and grow a business without debt. And I want to share the ideas I find with as many people as I can.

Using timeless wisdom to bring hope to people who feel stuck in a job, and a way out of the wilderness for people who don’t fit in with cubicle life. I think that will feel like Christmas every day.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey

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