Mark Terry

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A Hypothetical Business Question

July 6, 2011
I have a hypothetical business question for you.

If you were running a business and you were spending 1/8th of your time on one aspect of that business and it was accounting for approximately 1/80th of your income, what would you do?

In addition - hypothetically - that 1/8th of your business requires an outlay of money to keep it operating at all, resulting, usually, in that 1/8th of your business essentially being subsidized by the other 7/8ths of your business.


p.s. And for today's bit of synchronicity


Blogger Jon VanZile said...

I would call the 1/80th a hobby :)

8:51 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

HYPOTHETICALLY, you'd dump it as a business. UNLESS . . . there was a business PLAN, or a calculated risk that the outcome might reverse itself . . .

I mean, I KNOW what you're talking about, and we're all sort of hedging our bets that doing what we love will eventually see a reversal of those figures. And we're betting on ourselves.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Jon - yeah, I know what you mean.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yeah, I figure you'd know what I was talking about. The part that's left unsaid has to do somewhat with the concept of pro bono work, I suppose. Is it good for anyone? Do I enjoy doing it? Is there a possibility of it showing greater dividends in the future?

The answer to those seem to be: Not really, not recently, and not apparently.

Also, starting in fall 2012, I'm facing college tuition for about a decade, so there are legitimate financial considerations here.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

Like erica, I think I know what you are talking about, but to get heavy into metaphor, restaurants spend a ton of money on kale just to sell their real business which is stuff people eat and they don't eat kale. And bookstores (back when there were actually book stores) devote a lot of space to Tech Books, Biographies, History, etc...when all the money is in Fiction. You could say that half the store was filled with stuff that didn't bring in 1/10th the profits but it made them complete....then again, they are disappearing.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

That's actually a pretty good point. And it's not only in my "hypothetical" situation that I've run aground on it. When I worked at Henry Ford Hospital's cytogenetics lab, there was a lot of pressure to come up with ways to save money. I was the primary person in the "tissues" section, which processed a lot of products of conception (from miscarriages). The success rate of getting these tissues to grow so we could harvest chromosomes to analyze was dismal. Also, the ones we did manage to grow had a tendency toward maternal contamination (46,XX) and as a result, gave meaningless result. I rather strongly suggested we just stop doing products of conception or, if we had doubts about whether we were dealing with maternal tissue and fetal tissue (which we often did, although a skilled tech such as myself had a pretty good and reliable rate of discernment), just opt not to do the test with a Sample Not Adequate.

To which the senior tech and the lab director said, "Then we couldn't call ourselves a full-service laboratory."

And so it goes.

9:17 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Jon and Erica already gave my answer -- either consider it a hobby and treat it accordingly or consider it an investment towards some future return. But you don't think there's much chance of future returns. College tuition is horrendous. No one wants their kids saddled for life with college debts in this crummy system we have. I have to say, under those circumstances, I would probably figure it was time -- at least for a while -- for making money to come first.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

In that, yes, I'm talking about my fiction, and that I've pretty been writing it nonstop since about 1985, taking even a few months off seems like a good idea, if for no other reason than that I might feel compelled to really come back energetically with something else. We'll see. But there are some fairly compelling financial reasons to focus elsewhere.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Jon VanZile said...

For me, really, it's about joy. If you like it, keep doing it. Frankly, almost no writers are in a position where they "have" to write fiction to support their families. I can only think of a handful, and none that I know personally. I guess that's what I meant about treating it like a hobby—it is something to enjoy, to gain and grow from, independent of financial considerations. But it's a hobby with a goal, like learning how to poach the perfect egg or make an emulsion sauce without it breaking. For me, I reframed the question and found I could still get something from it, and that something was valuable.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

There's also, I think, the whole issue of definition. Rather like: I like being a runner more than I like writing - that sort of thing.

Also, I'm all too aware, that for most things, I go in and out of my enthusiasm for it. Karate is a good example of that. It's not always easy, but it's generally rewarding, so you focus on the rewards, even the nontangible ones.

As I mentioned to Eric, I've been writing pretty much nonstop for 26 years or so. I've never taken more than a week or so off from writing fiction. Maybe I just need an extended vacation.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why all you have to do is get a few thousand of your best friends on your Twitter list and then write a killer blog and then 100K people will rush to Amazon and buy your ebooks. (Yeah, I read his how-to book.)

Anyway, since I am currently in the middle of Valley of Shadows and am enjoying it. (I have Serpent's Kiss still unread on my Kindle and I usually prefer to read series in sequence, but the hard cover Valley of Shadows has been sitting here calling to me and I gave it.) So I would prefer that you did not walk away from fiction writing... and I don't think you would be happy if you left it for good either... but vacations are different.

By the way, as far as college tuition goes, I have two words of advice: public colleges. I have a BA (English) and an MS (systems science) and my wife has a BS (math), an MS (systems science), and an MA (education) -- all from New York State's SUNY schools -- and are quite happy with our educations. My eldest child also went to a SUNY school (BFA in photography). I don't know how your state schools are rated, but once you turn your attention from the Harvard/Yale elite, I find it difficult to justify elite price tags on a standard education.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Hi Anomalous,
Glad you're enjoying them.

I think it's very likely Ian will go to Michigan State University, both my wife and my alma mater. So we're talking about $18,000/year, give or take. He might end up at Central Michigan U or Grand Valley State, but they don't really have the program he's interested in - digital media arts.

Yeah, probably a vacation. Maybe when the weather gets cold again I'll be more inclined to work on fiction. And I think one way or the other there will be a 5th Derek Stillwater in 2012, just not clear if it'll be hardcover and e-book or just e-book.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

A rule of thumb I always used in customer service was, 10% of your customers will occupy 90% of your time. Often it felt even more lopsided, especially when problem customers happened along.

Sometimes I pace the room for an hour trying to come up with one word.

I don't think there's a linear relationship between effort and reward. You doodily do what you muddily must.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

And if you doodily do, you may very well do the doobie-doobie-doo or the doo-ran-ran as well.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I had a thought but I lost it. Sigh.

Of course, Natasha hasn't happened along to tell me I'm full of shit yet, either.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Then I'll do it for you.

You won't quit.

You'll make your peace with where fiction fits into your journey, your joy, your mojo, your whatever.

In the end, like the rest of us, if you quit, you'll just wake up at 3:00 a.m. with the ideas bugging you to go downstairs, fire up the laptop, and write.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Scott said...

From my health care perspective: you have to decide if providing that 1/80th item will serve your clients/customers/patients better, thus keeping them for the other 79/80ths of the stuff. I'm thinking of my own situation where I used to extract wisdom teeth, mostly uppers, and mostly pretty easy ones. Then my malpractice carrier decided that if I wanted to do third molar (wisdom teeth) extractions, I was going to have to pay for a rider on my policy covering me for the procedures.

I went through and analyzed how many I did a year, how much money they brought in, and decided that since I wasn't doing all of them anyway, and it was now going to cost me money to do them rather than simply being another service we provided, I was going to refer all third molars to an oral surgeon.

If I had noted a backlash from my patients, like, people were going to change to a dentist who provided this service, I think I probably would have bitten the bullet and paid the money to do it. For me, it would be about the clients...

2:37 PM  

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