Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Review: Start Me Up!, by Ebong Eka

Book Review: The No-business-plan Business Plan, Start Me Up!, by Ebong Eka, Career Press, Pompton Plains, New Jersey, copyright Ebong Eka, 2014.

I know it sounds strange, but I am truly excited each time I hold a new how-to-start-a-business book in my hands, almost like a baseball fan waiting for first pitch.  What wonderful tidbits of sage advice will I find?  What insights that will make a new entrepreneur’s life better?  What strategies and tactics a beginner can adopt that will help them on the road to success?  What understanding of business processes will they gain?

And then I read the line: “Most businesses fail,” on page eight.  This is followed on page 19 by, ”There are millions of new businesses every year and more than half of them won’t make it to their second year.  For every successful start-up like (omitted), there are exponentially more failures littering the start-up landscape.”  No footnote to explain or define his statement, no reference to any study or source of data upon which his statement is based, simply a string of declarative sentences.
Compare Mr. Eka’s statements with information on new business survival from these sources:
From the Marion Kauffman Institute in Kansas City, a leading authorities on entrepreneurial activity:       
  • "By 2011, just over 55 percent of firms in the sample that started in 2004 had permanently closed. The overall survival rate for the 2004 start-ups was 44.6 percent by the end of 2011, compared with 49.3 percent for year end 2010, which is comparable to survival rates noted by the Small Business Administration and other government agencies.
    • An Overview of the Kauffman Firm Survey: Results from 2011 Business Activities, Prepared By: Alicia Robb and Joseph Farhat, June 2013. 
From the U.S. Small Business Administration, referencing other sources within the federal government:
  • “Seven out of 10 new employer firms survive at least 2 years, half at least 5 years, a third at least 10 years, and a quarter stay in business 15 years or more.
  • "Census data report that 69 percent of new employer establishments born to new firms in 2000 survived at least 2 years, and 51 percent survived 5 or more years. Survival rates were similar across states and major industries. 
  • "Bureau of Labor Statistics data on establishment age show that 49 percent of establishments survive 5 years or more; 34 percent survive 10 years or more; and 26 percent survive 15 years or more."
    • U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Census Bureau, Business Dynamics Statistics; U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BED.
Quite a difference between the two positions on small business survival, aren’t there?  My gut response was to wonder if the rest of the book was as poorly researched.  The doom and gloom outlook the author presents is sure to discourage many, even though the author promises that if you follow his program, your business will survive.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusion. 

My other issue with Start Me Up! is the author’s assertion that a prospective small business owner doesn’t need to research and write a business plan.  Had Mr. Eka explained that the typical funding business plan is generally accepted to be a waste of time, fine.  But to state, categorically, that all business plans are “bullshit” flies in the face of accepted practice and even common sense.   I agree, for the vast majority of start-ups, a funding business plan is pointless.  Bullshit, even.  To not differentiate between a business plan written to obtain outside funding and a functional business plan in which a prospective business owner documents his or her thinking about a business concept is a disservice to anyone wanting to start a business.  As the maxim states, “failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Even though lack of a business plan has never been incriminated in a business failure, a lack of the information and documentation contained within a functional plan, has.

Despite my overall disappointment, I read Mr. Eka’s book cover to cover, and find much in its pages worthwhile and potentially helpful to a prospective small business owner, especially when Mr. Eka, who is a CPA, deals with accounting issues.  The author’s overview of the tax issues and the financial reports a business owner should work with is straight forward and informative.  This is especially important as according to the old Dun & Bradstreet Business Failure Reports, over 50% of business failures are due to poor financial practices.  His chapter Small Business Pitfalls is filled with opinion and little substantiated fact, his explanation of establishing a niche is based on accepted technique and useful, and his chapters on using social media both informative and easy to follow.

His review of marketing and the new marketing reality is good, but Mr. Eka’s overview of the sales process is short, sweet and useless, referencing research certainly of interest to trained, experienced sales professionals.  How much use his section on sales would be to someone with little knowledge of the sales process is questionable.

Is the book, Start Me Up!, a guide to starting a business?  By its title, it is positioned as such.  As an overall guide to starting a business, it is lacking.  Given that, at best I can give the book, Start Me Up! by Ebong Eka, a grade of C+.

As a read for any entrepreneur who is already in the fray, Start Me Up! contains many good ideas and useful tidbits, well worth the investment in time and money.

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