Business Success Strategies Q&A with Barbara Weltman: “Smooth Failing” and the Future of U.S. Entrepreneurship

By at 13 November, 2013, 6:52 am

Barbara Weltman knows small business America. Her years of experience working alongside small businesses and the self-employed is complimented by a vast array of informational books and content she has produced to help entrepreneurs through the joys, challenges and minutiae of business ownership.  Weltman is the author of a dozen books focusing on how to do things right in business including J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Home-Based Business, and now Smooth Failing – a new e-book that takes an inspired look at the hard lessons learned when things go wrong.

Through extensive interviews with entrepreneurs whose ventures fail for a variety of reasons – some stunningly unexpected, some painfully inevitable – Weltman gleans valuable insights about the small mistakes that can lead to large-scale catastrophe. Smooth Failing seeks to save many readers from similar disasters – while empowering those who are learning from failures and adversity to bounce back stronger and wiser on the often-rocky road to success.  An interview with SBE Council president & CEO Karen Kerrigan is featured in the book.

Barbara Weltman

Barbara Weltman, small business expert and a prolific author, says no matter how smart someone is “it’s easy to make dumb mistakes.” Smooth Failing shares the lessons learned from life’s fumbles.

Weltman is a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and is a member of SBE Council’s Advisory Committee. For three years in a row she has been named a top 100 Small Business Influencer in the United States.

In this edition of Business Success Strategies Q&A, Weltman talks with Karen Kerrigan about the future of small business America, the policy environment for entrepreneurs, what needs to get done to improve conditions and business confidence, and the purpose of her new book Smooth Failing.


KERRIGAN: First of all Barbara, since you have such a terrific pulse on small business America, what is your general assessment about its general condition right now. That is, how are small business owners and entrepreneurs doing right now, more than five years after the financial crises?

WELTMAN:  Small business owners I talk to are still in a holding pattern because of continued and ongoing uncertainty about so many issues, including taxes, health care, and other regulations. The fact that there’s been low interest rates and a pool of talented workers to choose from have not helped businesses grow. Unless and until consumers have the confidence to spend, small businesses won’t be out of the woods.

KERRIGAN: With regard to policies from Washington, is there anything that you are specifically concerned about that is holding back the growth and success of small businesses?

WELTMAN: I have to confess that for the first time in my life, I’m seriously concerned about the future of small business in large part because of Obamacare. If the reported stories about rising costs of premiums, co-pays, and deductibles are true, then consumers will have substantially less to spend on things other than health care; this will directly impact small businesses. And add to this the fact that we now have a growing number of “29ers” (workers who are limited to 29 hours so that larger employers don’t have to provide health coverage for them) who will be struggling to pay their basic necessities. Where will the buyers come from? I don’t see an easy way out.  I’m hoping that things will change after the mid-term elections next year.

KERRIGAN:  As you can imagine Barbara, SBE Council members are not only watching the Obamacare rollout failure, but also experiencing the consequences of many of the specific requirements in the law. How significant of a problem is Obamacare to the self-employed and small businesses?

WELTMAN: Self-employed individuals, who must use the government exchange to find health coverage if they don’t already have it through a government program (e.g., Medicare) or a spouse’s employer, are at risk for their coverage. Even if the federal exchange website is fixed, the choices for coverage through the exchange (or a state exchange) seem dismal and the costs daunting. I heard one self-employed person say that paying for health coverage means cutting back on other things, such as buying equipment, hiring workers, advertising, actions that would otherwise have helps spur the economy.

Small businesses may no longer be able to afford coverage for staff, even if they’ve been paying some or all of it to date. This likely will cause serious morale problems in many companies where employees will be forced to use the exchanges. And there’s more compliance (e.g., giving notices to employees about the health care mandate even if the companies aren’t required to provide it).

KERRIGAN:  Speaking of failure, where did the idea of your new book come from?

WELTMAN:  Believe it or not, I got the idea for Smooth Failing from a fortune cookie, which said, “mistakes show us what we need to learn.” This got me thinking about all of the mistakes I had made in business and what I did about them. If I could share my mistakes, then maybe others who are starting or running businesses can avoid them. Then I thought I’d tap the experiences of some very successful people I know to share their mistakes and solutions as well.

KERRIGAN:  What was the most surprising thing you learned in writing the book?

WELTMAN:  As I interviewed very successful people, a universal theme emerged: no matter how smart someone is, it’s easy to make dumb mistakes. The people I interviewed for the book graciously shared some pretty personal and amazing stories about their experiences.  Each time I heard one story, I couldn’t believe there could be any other, but there was, and always is.

Barbara Weltman got the idea to write Smooth Failing from a message in a chinese cookie - "mistakes show us what we need to learn."

Barbara Weltman got the idea to write Smooth Failing from a fortune cookie – “mistakes show us what we need to learn.”

KERRIGAN:  What are some of the lessons you want small business readers to remember?

WELTMAN:  I learned many things and I’m sure the reader will too. Some key lessons:

Trust people, but be sure to check them out and keep an eye on them.

Dot your t’s and cross your i’s by following formalities, putting things is writing, and knowing the rules.

Know what your true goals really are so you can work to achieve them.

KERRIGAN:  I understand that you co-published the book. Can you explain what this is all about?

WELTMAN:  I’ve worked with most of the major publishers and found their marketing efforts for a small book such as mine to be very limited. On the other hand, I didn’t want to self-publish because then all of the production and marketing would fall on me. I opted to co-publish with a small publishing company, which means it cost me a little up front but was guaranteed some marketing activities. Let’s see if this arrangement works!

KERRIGAN:  What is your outlook for small business and entrepreneurship in America?

WELTMAN:  I’m an optimist at heart but I have to share some dark thoughts at this time. Unless the health care mess is straightened out, it will sap capital and prevent companies from doing what they do best: doing business. What’s more, there’s an insidious new tax burden that successful entrepreneurs will encounter for the first time when they file their 2013 income tax returns (most small business owners pay tax on their share of profits on their personal returns). A temporary delay would be helpful, but the uncertainty isn’t really a fix. There needs to be consensus in Washington to put politics aside and seriously address the needs of small businesses.

KERRIGAN:  In your opinion, what is the one thing Washington can do right now to boost the confidence and health of America’s small businesses?

WELTMAN:  Get out of the way:

• Undo the harm from Obamacare (eliminate the mandate and repeal the taxes that were enacted to pay for it)

• Reform taxes. Cut the tax rate on small business owners in tandem with any cuts to the federal corporate tax rate and simplify tax rules.

• Reduce regulations so that small business owners don’t have to live in fear of noncompliance with rules they may not even be aware of.

Weltman provides complimentary resources to small business owners and entrepreneurs through various platforms.  She is the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® at  Newsletter sign up: Click Here. Idea of the Day® sign up: Click Here. She also co-hosts Business Leaders radio. Follow Weltman on Twitter @BarbaraWeltman.



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