Review: WSJ’s Complete Small Business Guidebook
Colleen DeBaise has written a helpful book, The Wall Street Journal Complete Small Business Guidebook, for aspiring and newly-minted small business owners, although I would not call it ‘complete.’ No guide of 250 pages can possibly cover all aspects of small business ownership in a comprehensive manner. Indeed, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) and National Federation of Independent Business’s (NFIB), while offering tremendous resources, do not address all aspects of starting, managing and growing a small business. While Ms. DeBaise’s book has holes, she does a nice job of covering most of the key topics, at least in a basic way.
She starts in a smart place – asking readers to assess whether they really want to own, run and manage a small business. This question needs asking, and required careful consideration and honest reflection by aspiring small business owners. Not everyone is cut out to take on a small business. It can involve enormous risk and near-superhuman time and effort commitments. When I served at SBA, I came to appreciate this aspect of its services — its education partners often asked would-be entrepreneurs if they really knew what running a small business involved. If the person did not, they would go into extensive detail as to what a small business requires. So many aspiring small business owners possess a technical expertise and want to make money from that, but do not understand the financial wherewithal required or the risks they might face.
After this introduction, she goes into the numerous facets of starting and running a business. Prominent topics include: writing a business plan; funding sources; legal structures; tracking finances; marketing; and the many dimensions of human resources. Readers should pay attention to her counsel to prepare for the unexpected, in terms of backing up files and have an emergency response plan. Writing down policies early and revising them over time also makes a lot of sense, but few small businesses do these critical activities. Of particular value, she includes examples of a business plan, income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, sales forecast, and a sheet to estimate start-up costs. These examples offer valuable insights for aspiring and starting-out entrepreneurs.
Ms. DeBaise does a nice job of offering other resources: the SBA and various websites, among others. She has a section on support for minority and women entrepreneurs, too. These sections complement her generally high-level overview on most topics; readers can then explore them for topics of special interest to them.
The book does not cover all aspects of small business ownership, as noted above. It lacks any information on franchising, for instance. It dedicates two chapters to angel investing and venture capital, sources of funding for a small minority of small businesses. In an overview book like this, it would have made more sense to combine those chapters and trim the content. She also does not offer any of the small business magazines as resources: Inc. or Entrepreneur, for example.
However, on the whole, she does an excellent job of covering the basics of small business ownership. This book offers sage advice, usable templates and a solid overview of most considerations facing owners. It would make a welcome addition to any aspiring or starting-out entrepreneur’s library.