June 3, 2021

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Oh, hello.

We meet again, denizens of On the Margins. It’s been a while, so you’ll have to forgive me if it takes a week or two to get back to fighting shape. That means, in addition to shallow dives into accounting-related topics, there may be an extra helping or two of non sequiturs. Do you mind? No, you don’t mind. That may be, in fact, exactly why you’re here. Anyway, it’s good to be back.

Starting a business

As we previously discussedlots of people are starting businesses right now, but whether or not they should is an important question. That isn’t meant to discourage anyone; it’s more of a practical matter. An article in the Wall Street Journal has a list of questions that would-be business owners should ask themselves. You know, the stuff that’s plastered on the walls of co-working spaces. Do I have the idea, the grit, etc.

And while all of the above is important, I think the ultimate factor is a bit more crude:

[Drexel University] Prof. [Charles] Sacco says that too many entrepreneurs are focused on the product—what it does, how cool it is and what it looks like. He pushes them to focus on what drives the purchase decision.

In other words
: Will people spend their money on your thing? If people will hand over their money, then it doesn’t even matter if your idea is widely considered to be bad.

If you advise entrepreneurs, especially first-time entrepreneurs, your answer to this one question might give them the most objective guidance: Would you, accountant advisor person and potential customer of this yet-to-exist business, buy this thing? Or even if you wouldn’t, would other people spend their money on it? My hunch is that some of you have strong negative feelings about Crocs. Despite those strong negative feelings, Crocs is a successful business. A very successful business.

When people think and talk about starting businesses, the focus seems to be on whether they have the idea, the business model, or the grit or the passion for doing the thing. And those are important! But understanding that other people—potential customers—must want or need to spend their money on the product is arguably far more important. “Will people pay for our thing?” won’t make for a great poster, but it may be the one refrain every person starting a business should always be asking themselves.

Unsolicited professional advice, part one: Don’t overthink writing

Here’s a 2,000-word article in Accounting Today on “getting started with writing.” It’s about 2,000 words too long. Don’t misunderstand: There is good advice in the column, but it’s the type of advice that is good for people who are already writing. In my experience, people who are thinking about writing something are unlikely to write anything. At best, they won’t write much, and it probably won’t be much good.

The easiest way to get started writing is to start writing. You don’t have to overthink it. You probably know the topic you want to write about, so you don’t have to think too much about that. You probably know what you want to say, so say it. You probably know the audience you’re writing for, so while you should think about them, don’t overthink about them.

If you’re getting started with writing, don’t worry about your writing being bad. It will be. But if you keep writing, your writing will get better. I’ve been writing for a living for a dozen years, and I can still serve up some garbage here and there. The trick is to recognize garbage and then sift through it to find the gems. Usually that means having someone else read it. And when they offer you feedback, don’t take it personally. They’re trying to help you make your writing better.

So that’s a couple hundred words on getting started writing. But honestly it’s about 200 words too many. If you want to get started writing: just write something.

Unsolicited professional advice, part two: Don’t make a parody rap video

I can’t believe I have to say this in 2021, but: Don’t make a parody rap video. Especially an accounting-themed one. Despite the false claim made here of “the first-ever accounting rap,” there’s a long, sordid history of accounting-themed rap parody videos, none of which are good.

Sigh. So, once again, if you’re having a marketing brainstorming sesh and someone suggests a rap parody, immediately reject the idea and eject them from the meeting. We’ll revisit this if necessary.

Unsolicited life advice: Eat banana peels (one way or another)

Last fall, I suggested that you start eating the whole apple. For those of you who took this advice, you’re welcome. It’s good to have you aboard. If you ignored this advice because you’ve heard that apple seeds contain cyanide and will poison you, well, then you’re half right. Contain cyanide: Yes. Poison you: No. Not even close.

In this edition of food waste reconsidered: the banana peel. I confess that I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s common enough in other parts of the world that it’s not even that unusual. Not to mention that during lockdown, people were willing to do just about anything:

British culinary television star and cookbook author, Nadiya Hussain […] appeared on a “Good Morning Britain” segment on cooking during lockdown. “Everyone’s making banana bread,” she explained, offering resourceful tips on using scraps to avoid food waste. “Don’t chuck the peel away. Cook it up with some garlic and onions and barbecue sauce, stick it in a burger, and you’ve got, like, pulled pork, pulled chicken.”

Ok, sure.
 I can’t promise that banana peels will be the feature of my next barbecue, though. I’ll probably just try the curry.

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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