Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book review: Good Business Bad Business by Roger Green

Good Business Bad Business (The rules of small business and how to break them) – Roger Green

This book takes a wide view at starting and running a small business. The author splits the book into two viewpoints: ‘good business’ and ‘bad business’. The ‘good business’ character resembles a formally educated businessperson while the ‘bad business’ character can be thought of as a college dropout opening a trendy coffee shop. The book covers topics expected such as planning, recruitment, managing, bookkeeping and others.

What I gained from reading this book:
When I picked this book up I was quite optimistic that it would compare practices that did and didn’t work (what I assumed ‘good business bad business’ meant). I was sadly mistaken. After reading the high quality small business book ‘The E-Myth Revisited’, my expectations for this book was way too high and I was left frustrated after the first few chapters. I struggled to finish the book and the only reason I did finish it was so I could write this review.

My first frustration was with the title. Good Business Bad Business suggests (at least to me) that there is a good way of running a business and a bad way of running it. I couldn’t have been more wrong with my assumption. A more accurate title would be ‘Formal business and Informal business thoughts and practices’, but even that would be misleading. It’s hard to explain the actual difference between the characters.

My second frustration was the actual content of the book. The blurb reads, “[The book] takes the form of an argument, with two characters... ..They yell, abuse, insult and caricature each other as they disagree on all the issues facing small businesses”. That pretty much sums up the quality of the work. Any book starting with a concept like that is doomed to begin with. Instead of being informative for readers, you are given a jumbled conversation with no conclusions. Which do you think you would learn more from, hearing two people argue pointlessly or attending a seminar on sound business practices? It really is pointless rambling. Take this line from the ‘good business’ character: “In Australia there are also business angels, rich people who are looking for an easy investment where some idiot does all the work. They often provide a bit of advice with their capital. They drive old Mercs. It’s a good racket.” Thanks, I learned nothing from that. How are you supposed to learn anything when both of the characters ‘disagree on all the issues’?

My next frustration was the quality of the advice given. Take for example what the ‘good business’ character has to say about the use of debt to fund your business: “Debt is good... Look at that guy driving a Ferrari; he’s borrowed millions... Most of the corporate giants have used other people’s money to buy businesses. You can too. It’s magic.” So this is the quality of the advice the author comes up with? Debt is magic? Most corporations have used it so you can too? I’m sorry but this is just not good enough. It really isn’t. It worries me that some 18 year old straight out of school will read this and think that it’s okay to load up on debt and run a business, buy a Ferrari and everything will be okay. After that little trip on how magical debt is, I expected some warnings on how debt can be bad and how it can ruin people’s lives. Nope. I had to wait until the ‘Bad Business’ character started his rambles on debt to hear any negative on debt. But that still didn’t have any warnings.
Another example of dangerous advice this author gives is when the ‘Good business’ character explains the benefits of using a company structure. He says “If you have run up a few too many debts, just pull the pin and toss the company in the direction of the creditors. It disappears in a cloud of smoke, leaving the shareholder and director intact”. I wish I was back studying company law at university when I read this to show it to my lecturer for a laugh. All corporation law students know it’s possible for a court to ‘lift the corporate veil’ and hold the owners liable. This is just bad information. I could continue to point out all the problems and bad advice this book gives but I think you get the point.

I have many more frustrations but I’ll finish with one more. The use of ‘characters’ to explain the two viewpoints creates a problem. So many times the pages are filled with junk the author has put in so you can get a feel for the characters’ thoughts. The ‘bad business’ character really does sound like a hippie activist with lines like “It’s like jumping into a wild river you’ve never travelled before. Forget the destination. Perhaps one of those waterfalls in the froth of chaos will take you to a beautiful place. Stay calm. Go with the flow.” I’m sorry but how is that remotely helpful in running a business? Rather than the author focus on giving readers valuable information and relevant advice, he is distracted by trying to give the characters a voice.

So in conclusion, what I learned from this book was that if you start with a bad concept (ie: centring your book on two characters rambling and arguing) you will end up with bad results. I’m sure the author feels the book was a success but for me it was just pointless.

Despite my frustrations towards this book there are positives. Normally I try to stay objective in this section and leave my personal opinions in the ‘What I gained’ section. But in this case I’m so frustrated I chose not to list the positives.

Refer to ‘What I gained’ above.

Recommended for: Not recommended
This is the first book I have reviewed that I do not recommend. Normally when I read a book I don’t recommend I don’t write a review for it. But in this case I needed to point out that some business books aren’t worth your time.

Genre: Small Business

Overall rating: 2 out of 10 stars

Where to from here:
Read The E-Myth Revisited if you are considering starting your own business. It blows this book out of the water.

If you have read this book, feel free to give it your own rating by posting a comment below. I was very harsh and negative on this book so if you have read it and thought it was good, feel free to let me know in the comments below.

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