Book Review: The Small Business Millionaire by Steve Chandler and Sam Beckford

Three and a half stars

Robert D. Reed Publishers – $11.95 – 122 pages

Business books have long suffered as a unexciting genre, traditionally written by authors who are long on theory and short on interesting prose. To get away from the drudgery, a trend of late is writing a best practices business book with a fictional story backdrop.

The Small Business Millionaire uses this business book-in-a-novel concept, centering its plot on the fortunes of a family-owned restaurant named The Sunshine Inn located in Royal Oak, Mich. The suburban Detroit setting will bring some familiarity to those who have spent time in metro Detroit. The book is written by the tag-team partnership of Steve Chandler and Sam Beckford, authors of 9 Lies That Are Holding Your Business Back.

The Small Business Millionaire's narrative reads much like a Danielle Steele story, with affable characters that quickly lure one into its tangled web (more on that later). While the book is entertaining, one seems to be constantly waiting for that next piece of good advice to arrive.

Here's the setup to our story: Frank Mills, a first generation American, is the owner of The Sunshine Inn. Frank loves to cook and is quite good at it. Frank's daughter Jennifer is behind the scenes trying to manage the business' finances, while playing the voice of reason to her dad.

As the restaurant approaches the brink of failure, an apparent messiah emerges in the way of a businessman named Jonathon Berkley. Jonathon is the man of mystery who drives a red Ferrari and loves Frank's cooking. Women in the book comment that Jonathon's Ferrari 308 GTS looks the car driven by Magnum P.I. (Forgive me if you're too young to remember this '70s TV show). The Magnum reference is odd but serves as a metaphor for the book's TV drama-like format.

With mounting debt and misfortune, the restaurant is at a crossroads. It seems that Jonathon is The Sunshine Inn's only regular customer, and his observations of the restaurant mesh with his background as a successful businessman. After watching things dissolve at The Sunshine Inn, Jonathon decides it's finally time for an intervention.

One flaw in a business book written as a novel is the possibility of reading too much between the lines. Although Jonathon mentions that he is married, he seems to spend most of his time on his own businesses or at The Sunshine Inn. It is impossible to ignore the apparent chemistry between Jonathon and Jennifer as they try to solve the restaurant's dilemma. At one point the plot brings them together for a meeting in a secluded park where the reader's mind can't help but wander and wonder.

We digress. The future of The Sunshine Inn hinges on the owner Frank's ability to listen to Jonathon's advice. Jennifer has bought in (to the advice that is), putting off her pursuit of a business degree to get the restaurant straightened out. After plenty of trauma and drama, the final chapter predictably wraps everything up with a nice bow, with Jonathon's recommendations saving the restaurant.

Much of this has to do with making owners step back and ask again why they started their business in the first place, eliminating the distractions one cannot control, and reinventing the business to be as Jonathon puts it: "…a completely successful and customer-passionate business…"

Through its many twists and turns, The Small Business Millionaire presents solid best practice concepts for those stuck in a business rut. After all, who says that an interesting short story can't also have small business advice?

Chris Wendel is the Regional Director for Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) in Traverse City. The MI-SBTDC assists businesses with one-on-one business consulting, market research information, and entrepreneurial training. The Northwest Michigan Council of Governments is the host organization for the MI-SBTDC in the Grand Traverse region.

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