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Don't End Up Like Gutenberg

I learned something fascinating this week on one of my favorite podcasts—Tides of History (if you love history like I do, I’d highly recommend it). Growing up, I always assumed that when Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press that he became very wealthy from that invention. After all, what he created is consistently rated one of the most important inventions of all time. Instead, shortly after printing his famous and beautiful Gutenberg Bibles, his business partner seized his assets, including his revolutionary printing press, to pay Gutenberg's debts and kicked him out. It appears that Gutenberg eventually got back into printing, but he was never a major player and certainly didn’t make a fortune from his invention.

This doesn’t surprise me as much today as it would have years ago. It takes more than just an idea, even an earth-changing idea, to make a successful business. Small businesses tend to think they will succeed just because they have a great idea, product, or service. I’m not saying a high-quality product or service is not important—it definitely is, but I know lots of business owners who are frustrated and confused because their offering is clearly better quality than their competition who is doing so much better than they are. They think it’s unfair, but it’s not. There is a lot more that goes into it.

Even when businesses have a number of these things working for them, the tuition price for the School of Hard Knocks can be pretty steep—often it costs people their business going under. One way to avoid this cost is to hire someone who has experience to advise you. Maybe you are already strong on marketing and delivering your product, but you don’t know how to work with banks, plan financing, plan for taxes, get your accounting done efficiently and accurately, and use your company’s financial information to make better decisions. If that’s you, you might need a Fractional Chief Financial Officer to fill out your team. This is not an inexpensive service, but it’s a lot cheaper than losing your business. Maybe if Gutenberg had a good CFO on his side, he would have projected costs better, secured financing in advance, kept his business together, and made the fortune that he deserved.

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