Book Review November 2008

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My biggest mistakeMy Biggest Mistake…And How I Fixed It: Lessons from the Entrepreneurial Front Lines
Author: Marcia Pledger
Publisher: Orange Frazer Press
ISBN: 978-1-933197-50-0
Pages: 272

In the Foreword of My Biggest Mistake…And How I Fixed It, Michael Feuer, co-founder of OfficeMax, writes, “There are no magic formulas to make a business successful. Reality is: Success requires laser focus, sustained hard work, a bit of luck and a hefty dose of knowledge.”

This highly resourceful small-business book from journalist Marcia Pledger is filled with first-person narratives from entrepreneurs about the mistakes they made in their business endeavors. With practical tips that small-business owners can use immediately, it provides readers the “hefty dose of knowledge” portion of Feuer’s equation. Pledger, a journalist for more than 20 years, is a business columnist for The Plain Dealer in Ohio and a correspondent for Money magazine.

Business mistakes can occur during any phase, including the start-up, initial growth, high growth and decline phases. In her ten-chapter book, Pledger reveals to readers the critical steps required to increase success during these phases of business. This is not a step-by-step instructional book on how to start and run a great small business. Rather, entrepreneurs reveal the steps they took to overcome a challenge and move forward. Chapters cover such topics as start-up, growth, finances, marketing, technology, customers, employees, family, education and passion.

Pledger begins the Start-Up chapter with a general introduction about this phase that includes advice on having a business plan, access to capital, a lawyer and a mentor before even “hanging a shingle.” Entrepreneurs then share mistakes they made during this cycle. Readers hear from businessowners who were not prepared for early business boom, did not dress appropriately, ignored the importance of a contract and opted to skip the vital business-plan development. In each narrative, the entrepreneurs not only explain how they made their mistakes, but they also spell out what steps were needed to recover and stay in business.

The remaining chapters follow a similar pattern, with a general introduction and several narratives from business-owners that reveal both missteps and correct steps that kept them in business. Making the wrong financial decisions like limiting the business to one revenue track, charging too little and buying on faith can be detrimental. In the third chapter readers learn about entrepreneurs who made these mistakes and more. Subsequent chapters illustrate mistakes such as spending advertising money on the wrong media; rushing to embrace new technology; trying too hard to please customers; assuming employees are completely satisfied; failing to separate work and home; neglecting to conduct proper research; and forgetting to believe in one’s abilities among other things.
The businessowners who share their mistakes range from small service and retail businesses to technology and manufacturing firms. The book includes narratives from sole proprietors and from businessowners with 150 employees.

Reviewed by Janelle Gordon


A MercyA Mercy
By Toni Morrison
Knopf, November 2008
$23.95, pp.167

In this short yet forceful story, Morrison once again explores the complexities of slavery in America. This time, the period is during the late 1600s. “I really wanted to get to a place before slavery was equated with race,” Morrison said in New York magazine. Sixteen-year-old Florens, who was offered by her mother as partial payment for a debt owed by her master, introduces herself by saying, “The beginning begins with the shoes. When I was a child, I am never able to abide being barefoot and always beg for shoes, anybody’s shoes.” Not long after settling at the estate of Jacob Vaark, a compassionate white trader and farmer, Florens is sent on a life-saving errand. It’s from here that the majesty of Morrison is on display as she weaves together — in her inimitable style — the voices of the characters connected with Florens’s journey.

 

In the Night of the heat In the Night of the Heat:
A Tennyson Hardwick Mystery

By Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due
and Steven Barnes
Atria Books, September 2008
$25, pp. 320

The dynamic team that introduced readers to the former gigolo and struggling actor-turned-private eye Tennyson Hardwick in Casanegra returns with a follow-up adventure to their high-energy debut. Ten’s acting career has been rebooted since a guest appearance on a TV series has turned into a regular gig.  With a steady job, a steady girlfriend and his father recovering from a stroke, Ten’s life is looking up. But things take an unexpected turn when T.D. Jackson, a one-time football star and a former college acquaintance, is found dead. Ten is persuaded to help solve the case but soon discovers there are many layers to uncover. Sharp dialogue and fast-paced storytelling keep the action moving.

Reviewed by Clarence V. Reynolds