Cost of Doing Business?

on Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two days in a row I had someone come into my shop in order to hit me up for money. I am used to the solicitations from non-profit organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Humane Society, the March of Dimes, etc., and they typically use the "soft sell" technique of sending you a piece of mail. These couple of organizations sent people.

First was a man from a group called National Write Your Congressman, he was a very nice man who was from the area, has kids in the school system and all that. The group he represents gathers opinions on the concerns of the day from business owners (and others, I would assume) and then sends them all to your representatives. His sales technique bugged me, he wrote down my opinions, showed me the print material he had with him -- and then asked for money. They want a minimum of $425 per year for you to belong to their club. Why would I want to spent 1000 times the cost of a stamp to have someone else write my congressman for me? I had to apologize and send him on his way.

Next was a guy from the National Federation of Independent Business, he was also a very nice man. He represents a lobbying group that goes to Washington, D.C. and, well, lobbies members of the House and Congress on behalf of its members, who are typically small business owners. He would have taken as little as $100 from me, but would have preferred more.

I am continually astounded at how much money I could spend in a year to be a member of the various groups and organizations who would love to take my money. Directly related to my business is the National Coffee Association ($275 per year), the Specialty Coffee Association ($405 per year), the Roasters Guild ($225 per year) and Fair Trade USA ($750 per year), and that doesn't include the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce ($350 per year). So all tolled I could be spending somewhere around $2000 per year to belong to these groups, add the two guys who visited me this week and it would be closer to $3000.

But the other dilemma I'm experiencing is trying to balance what I believe as an individual who leans pretty damn far to the left, and a businessman who has concerns that lean a little more to the right.  For example: from an environmental standpoint the Carbon Tax sounds like a great idea, make those who put CO2 into the atmosphere pay for it, but that could raise the price of energy for my business up to 80%.

A simple thing like raising the minimum wage, which is great for workers, takes money from the pockets of business owners -- and I'm not some big, corporate entity who can swallow something like that, spending more means not being able to buy new equipment or not being able to expand. Of course, it's kind of a moot point, seeing as I am my only employee, but the concept is the same, and I don't want to remain the only employee forever.

Regardless of all that, these visits threw me off my stride because I sat around with each of them for an hour talking politics before they asked me for money. I don't like that and I wish they'd both been more upfront about it. The first one really bugged me because he took down all my opinions before he told me he worked for a for profit group, that would be akin to showing someone a menu, cooking the food and placing it in front of them before you mentioned that they'd have to pay for it, and that it was going to cost a shit-ton more than you thought it would.

I tried to warn the second guy, I told him I'd been visited the previous day by someone who wanted money from me, and I wasn't prepared to give him any either. He said, "Well, that depends..." and went on with his pitch.

I think I'm going to go get a "No Solicitors" sign and put it on my door. If you want to buy my product and give me money, c'mon in. If you want money from me, don't bother.


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Worst Gig Ever

on Friday, February 5, 2010



The time was somewhere in the early 2000s, I'm not sure exactly when, but my band, Collective Unconscious, had a gig at the Norshor Theatre in Duluth, MN. We were led to believe that we would be playing as a part of a big, multi-band music event in the main theater, when we got there we found that was not the case.

We wound up in the middle of a community art jamboree that was going on all over the building, there were bands in the main theater, but we weren't one of them. Instead we wound up in the upstairs lobby sharing the stage with several smaller groups, right before us was a blues band. We also got exposed to what I call "teenage girl poetry:"

My love is like dry, blowing leaves...

UGH!

The blues band got done playing and moved their instruments and amps out of the way, fortunately a sound system was provided. Unfortunately it was out of phase with the outlets we had our amps plugged into.

Old buildings, like the Norshor, have old wiring and sometimes that wiring is either poorly grounded or not grounded at all. Unscrupulous people will put 3-prong (grounded) power outlets into non-grounded holes in the wall, or if they don't you need to use a ground-lift -- one of those things that turns a 3-prong plug into a 2-prong plug. Anyway, if the grounding isn't solid the electricity flows around until it finds one. If you get close to the mic, your lips act as the ground and you get zapped. It's not enough to kill you, but it's pretty unpleasant. If everything is on the same circuit, you're fine, but if you're out of phase you're not.

The way I had things set up in those days was to have my electric guitar plugged through my distortion pedals, etc. and into my amp, and my mandolin plugged directly into the sound system. As a result, I was in-phase with the sound system when I played my mando and could approach the mic without fear, but was out of phase when I played my Strat and would get zapped.

Throughout the course of the evening I got zapped in the lips, through my toes when I was playing the mando, but brushed one of my guitar foot pedals with my foot, through the elbow when I accidentally brushed up against our bass player and finally at the end of the night when I went to turn off my guitar amp while holding onto my mando and I got zapped through the hands.

I'd had it. I threw my mandolin to the ground (secretly hoping it would break, piece of shit that it was) and yelled, "Get me the fuck out of here!"

Funny, we didn't get paid for the gig that night (I think they promised us all of $100) and they never asked us back.