Paul Downs

Paul Downs: The Firing of the Veteran

This is the final post in our series with guest writer, Paul Downs, author of the book Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business


I’d like to conclude my contribution to Books & Whatnot with a series of posts that appeared in the spring of 2014. This is a long read, recounting why I discharged an employee who had worked for me for two decades. The story starts with a request from my shop manager to review all of the employees, after having neglected this duty for several years. That task completed, I try to move some of my people into different roles, in order to both accommodate their desire for advancement and make the shop operate better. And then the problems start.

If you don’t have time for the whole series, just read Parts 5 & 6. My recap of the day I fired my veteran worker made the Times’ “Most Read” and “Most Emailed” list, and elicited a very large number of indignant comments from readers. And in the concluding post I try to explain myself to an audience that doesn’t understand what it’s like to run a very small, struggling business.

Part 1: My Disturbing Experience with Performance Reviews

Part 2: How We Picked a Format for Employee Reviews

Part 3: What We Learned by Doing Employee Reviews

Part 4: In Our Second Round of Employee Reviews, A Problem Emerges

Part 5: When a 20-Year Employee Becomes a Problem

Part 6: What I Learned from Firing my 20-Year Employee

Paul Downs: My Lifestyle Business

Paul Downs: My Lifestyle Business

We’re continuing our series with guest writer, Paul Downs, author of the book Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business


In 2011, I wrote a post to mark the completion of my 25th year in business. I took the opportunity to congratulate myself for having survived for so long. Commenters joined me in my celebration, except for one, who wasn’t so impressed. His denigration prompted a second post. Without revealing the details, I’ll say that these two posts capture the tension I feel as an owner: have I succeeded, and can I rest on my laurels, or should I always be trying to grow the business? Who benefits if I deploy my talents to their fullest, and is it worth it? I still don’t have an answer for that question.

Here are the posts:

Twenty Five Years, and I’m Still Standing

My Five Stages of Accepting Advice

Paul Downs: Firing People

Paul Downs: Firing People

We’re continuing our series with guest writer, Paul Downs, author of the book Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business


The most distressing duty I have, as a business owner, is firing people. I’ve had to do it for a variety of reasons: sometimes the employee’s fault, sometimes mine. It’s always difficult for everyone involved.  When I sat down to write about it in 2012, I decided to explain the mechanics of my process. I had tried to write a broader post about what it feels like to fire someone, but couldn’t make it work in the blog format – the stories are too personal. In my book, Boss Life, I describe two discharges in some detail. The book format works better–I can take the time to describe the complex events involved, and show how the act of firing affected my ability to do my duties as a boss.

But that’s the book, which I hope you read. Here’s more immediate gratification. It’s another two-parter, as the first post elicited a large number of comments.

How I Fire People

The Balance of Power Between Bosses and Workers

Paul Downs: Credit Cards

Paul Downs: Credit Cards

We’re continuing our series with guest writer, Paul Downs, author of the forthcoming book Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business


One of the best things about writing for The New York Times was the opportunity to shine a light on the shabby treatment I received from large institutions that I am forced to patronize. Prime example: credit cards. Everybody who sells to the public needs to accept them, but the process of choosing a provider is usually given little thought by business owners pressed for time. That’s my story: I was dazzled by a skilled salesperson when I signed up, and then didn’t pay any attention to my monthly charges. It cost me a lot of money. My bank was charging me more than 4.5% of each transaction. After a long shopping process, I was able to bring that down to about 2.5%. This currently saves me about $15,000 a year.

I wrote 6 posts on this subject. This is a relatively long read, and illustrates a distressing tendency in our modern financial culture: if a bank can find a way to rip people off that takes ten thousand words to describe, they’re home free.  No reporter has the time, and few publications have the space, to tease out the precise nature of the shenanigans. Well, I’m not a reporter, and I had the time to follow this story through to the end. And of all of the stories I wrote about, this one has had the longest life. I’m still getting a couple of emails every month from readers, thanking me for shining a light on this sordid business.

I’m putting all six posts below, but if you want to do less reading, just read the first and last. The comments for all of these posts are a minefield – some people have useful information to add, others are just shilling their own credit card companies.

If you haven’t paid any attention to your processing fees since you opened your account, this is a good time to dig into it. A couple of percent on every credit card transaction adds up to real money. And this fall, you’re going to need to start accepting Chip and Pin cards. You might be replacing your Point of Sale card reader anyway.

In the last post I made two recommendations for provider review sites:  Cardfellow and Merchant Maverick. As far as I know, both of the are providing real, unbiased information. The Cardfellow blog, in particular, is very interesting. There may be other sources out there that are comparable. It’s hard to tell – this corner of the economy is infested with shysters and liars.

Whew! That was a lot to say on a complex subject. On to the links:

What You Need to Know About Processing Credit Cards

My Search for Reasonable and Understandable Credit Card Processing

My Search for a Credit Card Processor, Part 2

My Search for a Credit Card Processor, Part 3

Choosing a Credit Card Processor (And Drawing Some Conclusions)

Processing Credit Cards and Anger

Paul Downs: The Customer is Not Always Right

Paul Downs: The Customer is Not Always Right

We’re continuing our series with guest writer, Paul Downs, author of the forthcoming book Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business


In my last post I told the story of a very picky customer, whom I provided with some reason for complaint. Today’s story is one-sided: my client damaged their own table, and I ended up fixing it (on my dime) even though I was not at fault. The things you do for karma! This is a two-part tale. The first installment tells you what happened, the second is my comment on reader’s reactions, with some additional thoughts on the role of karma in business. In both posts, the reader’s comments are very interesting.

The Customer is Always (Convinced That He’s) Right

Resolving Problems Like a Boss