We’ve launched Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, most innovative, most successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.
Meet Steve Strauss, a lawyer, speaker, writer, senior business columnist for USA TODAY, best-selling author (of 15 books!) and entrepreneur. You can find Steve’s work all over the Web, including at his site, The SelfEmployed.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Steve Strauss: Well, I wanted to play for the Lakers, except there were two problems with that plan: 1) I was too short. 2) I wasn’t good enough.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Strauss: I started my first business while at UCLA because I grew up in a small business family and it was in my blood. I would drive down to Mexico and buy these ugly hooded sweatshirts and sell them on Venice Beach. They were really quite popular at the time and they sold out each time I did it. I thought I was some sort of business genius, except that when I added in the cost of gas (from my sweet dad’s credit card) I realized I barely broke even.
I started my first “real” business, a law practice, because I really did not like working for other people very much (especially law firm partners!) and I was a pretty mediocre employee, frankly. As I said, entrepreneurship ran in my family so it was always just a matter of time. The funny thing was, I found that I liked the business part of owning my own law firm (marketing, getting clients, etc.) more than the law part. Not surprisingly, today I am a “recovering attorney.”
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Strauss: You bet. Aside from owning my own business, I long wanted to be a writer. I spent most of my 20s sending query letters and getting rejections back (remember, this was before the Internet when you could publish yourself). I actually went to law school as a Plan B. Then, a year after my last batch of queries, after I started working at the big law firm, I received a letter back from a publisher in New York. They offered me a four-book book deal. This became the first thing I ever published, the Ask a Lawyer series. At that time, I had not even had a letter to the editor published.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Strauss: In her great book, Making a Living Without a Job, Barbara Winter advises entrepreneurs to create “multiple profit centers.” I still live by that, and preach it. Starbucks started by selling coffee, and then slushy Frappuccinos, and then food, and then CDs, etc. When coffee sales are down, maybe CD sales are up. Having multiple profit centers evens out the inevitable business cycle.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Strauss: Become a bit of a techno-geek. The thing about being in small business these days is that it is always changing, especially because of technology. You simply have to stay up with the times. When I first wrote The Small Business Bible in 2003, my hot tip was “Get a website.” When I wrote the second edition in 2007, the only social media sites I mentioned were YouTube and MySpace. Times change quickly, so you need to follow your customers. Go where they are. Today that means mobile. Tomorrow? Who knows? But by being at least a little geeky, wherever it is, it won’t intimidate you.
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2014 small business prediction?
Strauss: Every January I do a Top 10 Trends in my small business column for USA TODAY. This year, No. 2 was Mobile Mania, and No. 1 was Have it Your Way. Between mobility, BYOD, more relaxed attitudes and the cloud, people are increasingly working when, where, and how they want. That trend is only growing, as is mobility.
Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?
Strauss: Aside from The Small Business Bible, you mean? (Ha!) I really love A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. It’s hilarious, and the story of how it came to be is amazing and worth finding out about. I am also partial to The Cider House Rules by John Irving. I just read One Summer (about the amazing summer of 1927) by Bill Bryson and think I found a new, favorite author.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Strauss: “Be bold, for boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.” – Goethe
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