How Starting a Small Business Is Like Being a Detective

By Alyssa Gregory

I love to read. It’s one of my favorite ways to unwind. And no, I don’t always read business books. In fact, my favorite books are fictional crime thrillers. You know, the suspenseful books that could easily be turned into blockbuster movies. Let’s just say it’s my guilty pleasure.

One common theme in many of these books is how the protagonist is often looking for a clue so he or she can “break the case wide open.” Well, I said I might not read business books 24/7, but I didn’t say I wasn’t thinking about business. And I can’t help but notice how many things about detectives apply perfectly to starting a small business. Let me explain.

You need a list of suspects.

Like detectives need people to focus on when they’re trying to reconstruct a crime, you have to have a list of sources to go to as you’re building your business.

When you’re in the planning stage, you need resources and techniques to use for your research. When you’re creating your small business marketing plan and trying new marketing activities, you need tools to measure impact and a way to interpret the results. When you’re building your business, you might find the process is easier when you have a mentor or support system in place. All of these elements become the usual suspects in the development of your business.

Only the right questions will get you the right answers.

In crime books, the main suspects always seem to be withholding information. And it isn’t until the detectives ask the right questions, in the right way, that they get the answers they were searching for.

This is true in business, too. Think about the goal setting and business planning process. You will only hit the mark if you are focusing on the right goal and the right actions that will move you toward achieving your goal.

And just as a detective doesn’t always find the culprit with the first question asked, you may not find success on your first attempt. You need to take it step-by-step, asking the right questions at the right times and follow the path as each answer leads you to the next clue.

You should always be prepared for an ambush.

I love the ambush in crime thrillers. You think the case is solved, and the suspect surrendering, when he pulls a knife from his sock and makes one last-ditch effort at a getaway.

In business, it’s rarely smooth sailing, even when you think you’re in the homestretch, so you need to stay on your toes. A contingency plan is a must, and the ability to remain flexible and resilient is required. If you’re ready to attack the surprises that ambush you along the way, you will become an unstoppable force on your way to business success.

There is such a thing as a cold case.

Let’s be honest here. Just like there are cold cases that never get solved, there are plenty of business ideas that never see the light of day.

You are not guaranteed success, just because you took the plunge, quit your full-time job and decided to start a business. Businesses fail. Heck, many businesses don’t even get off the ground enough to be considered a startup. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it when the time comes. It means you need to be realistic and know when it’s time to fold and move onto the next opportunity before you become complacent and unmotivated.

This parallel between detective work and starting a business doesn’t liken business ownership to crime (most times), but it does mean you need to be dogged, tenacious, and not afraid of failure. When you know what you’re searching for, keep your eyes open for clues, and adjust your path when necessary, you will solve the case.

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Alyssa Gregory
Alyssa is a digital strategist, content marketer, freelance writer and founder of the Small Business Bonfire. She's a team player, a team builder and not a bad leader, either. You can often find her on various social networks looking for remarkable people to collaborate with.

2 comments

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  1. Nathan

    This article is required reading for a detective literature course at UW-Madison. I just thought you’d like to know that, if you didn’t already =) As a fellow entrepreneur and detective lit enthusiast, I wish you all the best.

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