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The Cost of Doing Business


Sales clerks ring up customers at Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas. More Americans work in retail and as cashiers than in any other occupations. (Photo by Gunnar Rathbun/Invision for Walmart/AP Images)


Now, the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories.

There are many special terms in the world of business. The following story is about a woman who has a business making signs. She tells us about a recent sweetheart deal. She made a deal with a friend, and they both made a profit.

Here is Faith Lapidus with that story.

I had started a small company several years ago. I worked hard to make it successful. It was a sign-making business. It was a small company, not a blue chip company. It was not known nationally for the quality of its signs. It did not make millions of dollars in profits. And it was private. It was not a public company with shares traded on the stock market.

Still, I worked hard building up my business. I did not work only a few hours each day -- no banker’s hours for me. Instead I spent many hours each day, seven days a week, trying to grow the company. I never cut corners or tried to save on expenses. I made many cold calls. I called on possible buyers from a list of people I had never seen. Such calls were often hard sells. I had to be very firm.

Sometimes I sold my signs at a loss. I did not make money on my product. When this happened, there were cut backs. I had to use fewer supplies and reduce the number of workers. But after several years, the company broke even. Profits were equal to expenses. And soon after, I began to gain ground. My signs were selling very quickly. They were selling like hotcakes.

I was happy. The company was moving forward and making real progress. It was in the black, not in the red. The company was making money, not losing it.

My friend knew about my business. He is a leader in the sign-making industry – a real big gun, if you know what I mean. He offered to buy my company. My friend wanted to take it public. He wanted to sell shares in the company to the general public.

My friend believed it was best to strike while the iron is hot. He wanted to take action at the best time possible and not wait. He offered me a ball park estimate of the amount he would pay to buy my company. But I knew his uneducated guess was low. My company was worth much more. He asked his bean-counter to crunch the numbers. That is, he asked his accountant to take a close look at the finances of my company and decide how much it was worth. Then my friend increased his offer.

My friend’s official offer was finally given to me in black and white. It was written on paper and more than I ever dreamed. I was finally able to get a break. I made a huge profit on my company, and my friend also got a bang for the buck. He got a successful business for the money he spent.

And that is the end of our business story. But even if you’re not in business, some of these expressions can be used in other situations.

For example, you can cut corners or get a break anywhere. Let’s say you are planning a party and don’t have enough money. You might have to cut corners on the food you serve. Or you could get a break by winning $100 on free food at your local grocery store!

The expression black and white can also mean a very clear choice that leaves no confusion. Sometimes we use it in the negative. Politics, for example, is not as black and white as some people may think. There are often shades of gray when dealing with complicated political issues and how they affect government policy.

And that’s all for this Words and Their Stories.

After listening to this story, you should strike while the iron is hot! While the expressions are still fresh in your mind, practice using them in a business conversation.

I’m Anna Matteo.

"Break even" is a common expression in American English. Watch this episode of English in a Minute to hear it used in a dialogue.

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