Amateur Versus Professional

Lately there have been a number of instances in my personal and professional life that have left me pondering this question. Was the person I just dealt with an amateur or a professional? I don’t mean are they professional as in highly educated, or amateur as in doing something in their spare time. I’m talking about one masquerading as the other. Read on (and my apology in advance if this sounds a bit like a rant).

Bus Sotp (c) Ross Parry

Bus Sotp (c) Ross Parry

I’m a firm believer in entrepreneurial spirit.  On the other hand I am also a realist.  Just because you are an incredible carpenter does not mean you are going to be able to open an incredible carpentry company.  A magnificent cook is often well served continuing to cook for friends in their home and not heeding the advice of those same friends who say, “you know, you really ought to open a restaurant.”

I can’t tell you how many stores I have been into lately that seem to have no clue whatsoever.  The joke is clearly on me and the rest of the people who allow such a business to continue in operation.  How else could a business that says they open at 9 stay in business when in fact they really mean, 9 ish… sometime between 9 and 9:30.  Why would I expect that a question on availability of a certain size be met with anything other than, “I don’t know.”

I maintain that it is too easy to get into business.  Aside from the capital for stock (in a stocking type business) a couple of forms and relatively minor payments and you’re on your way to the dream.  Except, you aren’t.  There are bills to pay, marketing to be done, staff to treat properly (you know, basics like pension and insurance).  Before one knows it the brilliant idea is floundering and so many excuses are bandied about leading to weak solutions that will save the day.  The front-runner in the solutions race is normally the protectionist route, let’s get government to help.  It is usually bleated together with the cry of everyone is trying to keep the little man down.

Total nonsense!

Business is tough.  Toughen up.  I would imagine that one does not go into a battle without considering all the offensive and defensive positions for differing scenarios that may unfold.  A pilot will not take off without knowing alternate routes and diversion airports along the way.  What do they do that so many small businesses seem to overlook?

They prepare.

One must prepare for all eventualities in business.  No two days will ever be the same. You have to continually learn and adapt and try new things.  Certainly you cannot take your focus off the core of your business or someone else will come in and move your cheese. Preparation includes knowing the areas you are not strong in.  There are outstanding carpentry shops and plumbing operations started by skilled tradespeople who knew enough to audit their skill set and bring in help for the ‘business’ side of the business.  Some of the best small retail clothing businesses I have been into have focussed their attention on staff training, empowering the staff to have real conversations with the clients.

So, what to do with the pretenders?

Perhaps I am getting old and grumpy (please tell me it’s not that obvious in this post). I have started calling people out. Life is too short not to try to help, right? I am sure we screw up often at my businesses. Most probably get ignored by our clients. However, when we screw up and we are called out I know that we have an opportunity to learn, to improve, to reexamine assumptions. In that same spirit I have taken to pointing out where I think an interaction could be improved on. Unfortunately most times my feedback is met with a blank stare.  In those moments I take comfort in the words of Warren Buffett.  “Time is the friend of the wonderful business, the enemy of the mediocre.”

Rant over.  Carry on.


I live in the Cayman Islands and I'm married to Christina. We have two incredible children, Ryan, attending Northeastern University in Boston, MA, and Taylor, attending Trinity College School, in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada. I own several businesses in Cayman. My list of 'pasts' include past chairman of the Cayman Islands Special Economic Zone Authority, past president of the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman, and past president of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.

Please note: I moderate comments and reserve the right to delete or edit those that are offensive or off-topic.

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