There are plenty of books on management and leadership today, but none comes close to the raw honesty and grit that you will find in “Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business” by Paul Downs.
In this short, but highly impactful read, Downs takes the reader on a year-long journey in the pursuit of life as a “boss”. Downs defines a “boss” as the owner and manager of a small business (less than 25 employees) who handles everything from signing paychecks to fixing equipment.
Downs wrote the book after becoming a New York Times columnist. He writes the “You’re The Boss” blog, a site that discusses the personal issues faced by small business owners. He also takes time to write articles on small business for The New York Times, Fortune, and other magazines.
Besides being a columnist, Downs is the owner of Paul Downs Cabinetmakers, a custom board room and furniture business which he started once he finished college. His business has created custom furniture for the military, educational institutions, and companies around the world.
He found that many small business owners appreciated talking about the day-to-day issues that are often ignored in magazines and books. Issues like:
- How do you compete with big business?
- What health insurance should you choose for your company?
- How do you know if you’re doing the right thing to bring in sales?
“Boss Life” provides Downs’ struggle to answer these questions.
The book covers the wide variety of issues and emotions that occur in a business during a relatively short period of time. Here, Downs shows what life is like for a business between the annual reports. In one month, Downs is overjoyed that his sales team brought in more clients and is contemplating how much to give in bonuses. The next month, Downs is wondering if he will have to lay off workers because he only has operating funds for two weeks.
In presenting his story, Downs is not shy about sharing the ups and downs of his struggle as a business owner or as an individual. This aspect, he claims in the book’s introduction, is what’s missing from many business books.
Business owners read dozens of articles about business success and strategies, but they don’t often tell about business reality. Sharing a more accurate version of the realities of running a small business is the main theme of “Boss Life” running through every page of the text.
The best part of “Boss Life” is the unabashed humility Downs has in presenting his life as a business owner. He discusses his triumphs and failures in a realistic style free of the prevalent “Ten Ways to Improve Your Business” type of writing found in so many other books. Instead, “Boss Life” serves as a real-life extended case study that goes beyond the confines of a business textbook or magazine article. Small business owners will find advice, humor and connection in reading the book.
“Boss Life” provides ample real-world advice for small business owners, but doesn’t provide the typical list of links and resources that are found in most business books. This doesn’t take away from the quality of book, but it might be slightly disappointing to readers who want to access some of the resources that are touched upon.
Downs pinpoints his intended audience, which he defines as a “boss” in the beginning of the book. In the Introduction to “Boss Life”, Downs describes a “boss”:
“…. I’m talking about bosses who both own and run their businesses … These bosses answer to nobody and are responsible for everybody. Their own money is at risk. Every problem goes straight to them, and they have come up with a solution”.
This audience is already familiar with the basics of running and owning a business. They just need help with aspects of managing that business. As an example, Downs discusses his need to close more sales. He gets that help through a networking meeting, and eventually a consultant.
“Boss Life” does the exact same thing for readers. It provides advice to those small business owners, but in a way that is more comprehensive than the typical blog post or article.