Since I’ve been driving a lot lately, I’ve been listening to a recorded book. I chose it largely at random, but it has been eye opening. The book is The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, a book about a different way to think about doing business.

If you’ve been reading my blog for years and have total recall, then you may know that I used to manage a bookstore, that I lost my job a few years ago and ended up, by a set of curious chances, owning a successful little business.

I think that some people have found this encouraging. Reading of my bumbling progress toward this goal, they think, “OMG, if she can do it, then I sure can!” People teaching courses in entrepreneurial skills probably read out bits of my adventures in class saying, “See, class, what happens when you have no proper plan? See how she slowed down the growth of her business with her irrational, unbusinesslike actions?”

The E-myth isn’t exactly the story of my business. This book says that people are good at doing something (technicians) and then they have a fit of entrepreneurship and decide to go into business. This was not true of me. If it hadn’t been for The Computer Guy, I would never have gone into business at all, and the turning points in my progress from successful freelance web content writer to business owner are so peculiar and disjointed (…my unreasonable degree of loyalty… meeting the Web People… my brother’s death… being written up in the Wall Street Journal… my son’s decision to attend a really expensive school… my daughter’s romantic complications… ) that they wouldn’t even make good theater.

But I definitely recognized my business issues in the Describing the Problem section of the book. I’ve met with a couple of business counselors, and they look at my business and say that it’s doing fine and we should raise our prices. This book does what I had hoped the counselors would do: it says, “Okay, here’s where you’re making your mistake.”

I can see where the bookstore I managed went astray. I saw some of the problems at the time, and I could see the rest after I’m been in business myself for a little while. It seemed to me that my business wasn’t perfect, but the counselors saw nothing wrong (except needing to raise prices) and had little advice for me.

I’ve also read a number of business books that said to make a business plan and — well, I don’t really know what you’re supposed to do after that, because my reaction was always, “Nope. If I have to do that, I would rather not be in business.” I just went ahead and continued doing work and getting paid and hoping I was doing roughly the right things.

This book says: Start your business differently and do these things. I don’t know that I could have followed its advice from the beginning, what with having no plans to go into business, but it certainly is what I need at this point in my journey.

I think that if I had picked this book up in a bookstore and leafed through it (and I might have done so, for all I know), I would have been put off by the “Your spirit is a wild horse” and “The curtain lifted” kind of stuff and put it back down. I have little patience for mysticism. Since I was stuck listening to it while driving, I got through those parts and found many very useful parts. You might have a wild horse for your spirit, for all I know, and be utterly charmed by the part about curtains lifting.

I will say, though, that if you happen to be in business, you should go ahead and get this book. It gives practical steps the same way I give practical steps in my Freshman Comp classes for writing a research paper. If my students do those things, and have even the least little bit of ability, then they will end up with a research paper when they finish. I think this is true for the E-myth plan.

It does begin with some figuring out what you want from life. Once you’ve got that sorted, you make an organizational chart for your company. We did that, actually, in #2 daughter’s apartment last summer, getting crosser by the minute as we tried to figure it out. We determined that we needed 15 people, recognized that we had three, and figured that meant that we had a lot of empty spaces to fill in the future.

That’s wrong. You are actually supposed to put your people — even if it’s just you — into all those boxes. You do the work, and as you do, you figure out and document exactly what you’re doing. That is, I as a skilled web content writer figure out and document just what I’m doing so someone else could do it. When I get it all figured out, I can hire someone to apprentice and then to replace me in that position. You do this will all of your positions till you get them all figured out, documented, and filled. You keep one position for yourself, and “owner” is not a position in a business.

When you finish, you can sell the business because there will be something besides yourself and your own work to sell, or you can retire and know your business will continue successfully, or you can just keep your business humming along getting better and better with you as CEO.

There’s more, of course, but that’s the part I’m working on right now. It’s exciting, actually. I think it’ll be a big improvement for my customers and my workers, including me.

It’s also a glorious day out there. Once I finish my tea, I’m going to go out and enjoy it until it gets too cold and I’m driven back indoors.