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7 Lessons in Successful Self-Employment from “Weeds”

I have a new love — and it’s not a man or a house or a car.  It’s an edgy Showtime television suburban satire, "Weeds", in which Mary Louise Parker plays a widowed soccer mom, Nancy Botwin, in a fictional subdivision of Los Angeles called Agrestic.  Nancy struggles with the sudden death of her husband from a heart attack and agonizes how she’ll support her family in the upper-class lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.  Not having any discernable job skills, Nancy discovers the lucrative income in being the local neighbor pot dealer.  What a way to make a living…;)

The show is ironic, quirky, irreverent, and raunchy (don’t watch it if you’re sensitive to 4-letter words — they are used very liberally throughout each episode). The dysfunctional family dynamics are hysterical (I really can’t repeat the best quotable lines here), especially when her unemployed pot-head brother-in-law, Andy, arrives on her doorstep.  Her interactions and affection for her supplier, a black ghetto family headed by matriarch Heylia James (played by Tonye Patano) and Heylia’s unwed pregnant daughter and ne’er-do-well son, Conrad, are a stark contrast to her daily life in Agrestic.  And, the broad social and political statements that are constant undercurrents in the series are really just right on the money. 

This show is a big shift for me — I’m probably the only person my age who’s never done any type of drug (guess I bought into Nancy’s Reagan’s "Just Say No" campaign) — so admitting I love a show about a pot-dealing suburban mom is strange, I admit.  What’s most fun for me to watch is Nancy’s development as a entrepreneurial businesswoman who’s going to do what it takes to be the most successful weed dealer in Agrestic.  There’s not alot of difference between Nancy and me in the quest to build successful businesses, except that my business is legal, of course, and I don’t have to dodge bullets in drive-by shootings at my supplier’s house. ;->

Here are some great lessons on building a business from suburban pot mom Nancy Botwin:

1.  Fish where the fish are. Due to her friendship with her accountant, Doug Wilson (played by Kevin Nealon), and his group of friends, Nancy quickly realizes that Agrestic is a wonderful market for her product.  She finds a great source of pot and is easily able to sell it, as her upscale target market is eager to buy and can easily afford her prices.   

Lesson:  Know your target market.  Are they male or female?  What age group?  What industry?  What socio-economic group? Where do they hang out on- and off-line? What do they read? To what groups and associations (real and virtual, personal and professional) do they belong? How much money do they make? Can they easily afford your product or service?

2.  It’s all about benefits, not features.  Doug discovers a cheap source of medical marijuana in a clinic in LA and thinks he’s discovered a gold mine.  However, in order to use the clinic, he has to get a prescription for medical marijuana from a shady physician and then drive an hour into the city every time he needs a refill.  Nancy offers him the opportunity to buy the same stuff locally, without the drive, and no prescription needed. 

Lesson:  People do business with you because you can help them solve a problem.  They care little about how you solve it (the features of the solution).  They just want you to make the problem go away so that they have one less thing to worry about (the benefits of doing business with you).

3.  Understand the needs of your target market.  Nancy takes a trip to LA to check out the medical marijuana clinic, and discovers a sheer cornucopia of pot, available in more varieties than she’d ever imagined.  This visit makes her realize that she’s buying the bottom-of-the-barrel weed and gives her supplier a list of the "good stuff" that her clients really want.  Then, to give her clients a better high for their buck (and enable her clients to hide their marijuana use), she begins to package the pot in various baked goods that she makes in her home kitchen. One client cleans her out of baked goods in one visit. 

Lesson:  Give your clients what they want, not what you think they need.  Many service business owners head into the marketplace and have no idea if they offer a product or service that the public wants. Or, they offer what they think is good for a client rather than what will solve a client’s pressing problem.  Do your market research to understand the needs and problems of your target market.

4.  The failure of most businesses is due to undercapitalization. Nancy’s personal expenses are exceeding her income, and she approaches her supplier, Heylia, to give her inventory on credit.  Heylia laughs in her face, but after Nancy begs, she’s permitted to hock her leased Land Rover and multi-carat wedding ring with Heylia to get the quantity of pot that she needs for the week. 

Lesson:  Being self-employed is a financial roller-coaster ride.  Have financial reserves in place before you start your business so that you can pay your bills until you begin making a profit. And, if you come up short of cash, try negotiation with your suppliers or vendors for more favorable payment terms.

5.  Slow and steady wins the business growth race.  Nancy becomes heady with her sales success in her suburb and begins to eye other markets so she can make even more money.  While on the local college campus seeking a tutor for her son, she realizes the campus is a ready-made market for pot and is initially very successful in capturing that market.  However, what she doesn’t realize is that she is treading on another dealer’s territory (one of the campus security officers), and in a mock arrest on campus by this officer, she loses about $15,000 worth of inventory.  When she tells Heylia what happened, Heylia just laughs and tells Nancy she’s been "jacked" by another dealer, and that’s the price she pays for trying to grow too fast. 

Lesson:  Great success in your business will make you want to conquer the world.  However, quick expansion without proper planning makes many a business owner go belly-up.  Plan for the growth of your business, and include that growth in your business plans and vision statements so that it’s a natural evolution of your business.

6. To be successful, you need your family’s support.  Nancy tries to be an "moral" pot dealer and refuses to sell to children, or permit anyone working for her to sell to children.  In the same vein, she tries to shield her children from the true nature of her business, not wanting to set a bad example for them (see the irony in this series?).   However, secrets are hard to keep from teenagers.  In an act of rebellion, Silas, her 15 year-old son, tells her he doesn’t have to follow her rules any longer, throwing in her face that she has no right to tell him what do to since she’s selling pot.  When she tells Andy, her brother-in-law, about the situation, Andy tells her that Silas is just angry with her because she has lied to him about how she’s making money. 

Lesson:  Deciding to run your own business can be the quickest road to divorce or family alienation. Keep your family updated on what’s happening in your business, especially if you run a business that’s going to keep you away from them on an ongoing basis.  Family rules, structure, and expectations may need to shift for awhile, and the more that your family can be a part of creating that change, the healthier and happier you all will be.

7.  The Lone Ranger didn’t ride alone.  As Nancy reviews her life lessons in entrepreneurship during Season 1, she realizes that it’s hard work running a business by herself.  She invites her accountant and attorney (two of her best clients), her brother-in-law, another dealer, and son of her supplier to go into business with her and help her grow her territory and make it all work. 

Lesson:  You’re great at the core service you provide to your clients, but you can’t be good at everything, nor should you try to be.  Create two lists, one of what you love to do, and the other of what you hate to do.  Do what you do best (and love to do) and delegate the rest to your support team.  Spend your time more profitably looking for opportunities rather than wasting it on tasks that you can hire out much more cheaply and efficiently than by trying to do it all yourself.

Business lessons show up in many shapes, forms, and sizes.  Tune in to the next season of "Weeds" and see what’s in store for Nancy as she builds her suburban pot empire.

About the Author Donna Gunter

Best-selling author Donna Gunter works with successful business owners who are experts in their fields and established in their industry and are seeking a way to stand out from their competitors. Using her Ideal Clients on Autopilot System©, she helps them determine the exact strategies to generate more qualified leads and better-paying clients with automated systems. This proven system makes all their marketing easier and more effective and they find themselves positioned as the only choice for their clients.

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