5 Lessons from U.S. Revolutionary War History that can Make Better Borrowers

What do the Brown Bess Musket and borrowing money have in common?  I have experience with the musket and borrowing money so I’m going to draw the analogy that may help you become a better borrower.

Renactment of Musket Firing at Hartwell Tavern. Photo by M Shelton

The History of the Musket

The Brown Bess Musket was a staple for the British and Continental armies during the American Revolutionary War.  The weapon is a black powder muzzleloader that fires a single .75 caliber ball.  The gun had an optional 17-inch bayonet that was used in the combat tactics of the day.  The musket was horribly inaccurate even within its 100-yard effective range.  Most engagements took place between ranks of soldiers in line firing volleys into the opposing line at 50 yards or less.  The average soldier could fire 2-4 rounds per minute.

Here’s a video of a musket firing demonstration

I’ve fired a few rounds from the Revolutionary War’s weapon of choice and I can tell you there are several things about the gun that can educate today’s borrower.

  1. The gun is heavy at approximately 10 pounds compared to about 7 pounds for the modern M4 carbine.  The soldier had to have strength and stamina to carry and fire the musket.  Likewise a borrower needs to be in the right financial condition before signing any loan agreement.  How else will you have the financial strength and stamina to carry the debt to maturity?  Your personal or company leverage ratios and free cash flow to service debt must be strong, reliable and verifiable.
  2. Many militiamen were expert outdoorsman and hunters.  They also drilled regularly with the musket, were familiar with how it operated and were skilled marksman through regular practice.  So too, the borrower must be knowledgeable about lending markets, bank products, and prevailing rates and loan terms.  If you don’t have good borrowing skills, seek the help of a qualified borrowing coach to help develop a sound borrowing strategy.  A deep bench of expert accounting and legal help is also essential to successful borrowing.
  3. The gun was a relatively simple weapon and disassembled into three main pieces, the lock, stock and barrel.  The borrower should avoid excessively complex loans and keep its debt simple.  You should be able to disassemble your loan terms into easily understandable components.  Can you explain your loan to a kindergartner?
  4. The musket had serious limitations on the battlefield including a range of less than 100 yards and the inability to operate in the rain.  The soldier had to “keep his powder dry.”  Your loan should accomplish the purpose for which you borrowed.  If your loan amount is too high and the loan terms too restrictive then you will have a difficult time completing the mission.  Use appropriate debt for the mission at hand.  Keep some cash flow “dry” for the unexpected business or life event.  Don’t maximize your debt.
  5. The Brown Bess was extremely dirty with lots of smoke and black powder residue.  Your loan should be clean and not cause a smoky mess on your personal or business financial condition.  Make sure you debt is like a precision smart bomb instead of an inaccurate musket.

Borrowing money is like selecting a weapon for the battlefield.  Make the right choice and the debt will help complete the mission for you or your business.  Make the wrong borrowing decision and you’ll be going off “half cocked.”  Oh yeah, that’s another phrase from the Revolutionary War and the iconic musket.

When you raise the weapon of borrowed money do you feel like a highly trained Minuteman or a drunken farmer?

Brown Bess Musket information from about.com

About Michael Shelton

Your Business Coach Facilitating Delegation and Work Group Engagement Michael Shelton has over twenty-five years of business and military accomplishments, including extensive experience with one of the largest, publicly traded real estate investment trusts (REIT). He is a qualified business coach with assignments in cross-functional work group management, strategic planning, unit leadership, joint venture acquisitions, executive education, mentoring, training and merger integration. Michael has accumulated best practices for building committed work groups from more than $4 billion of capital markets transactions and commercial property development. He served as a commissioned officer and helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army, and earned his MBA from The University of Arizona. Michael has served as a major conference panelist and is the author of Cash Flow Rich, Winning Ways to Evaluate and Finance Real Estate. Today, he helps business owners get more work group engagement as President and CEO of Shelton Business Services, LLC in Scottsdale, Arizona. Disclaimer: I don't offer investment, legal or tax advice. Talk to your broker, accountant or lawyer for investment, tax and legal help. I might own stock in the companies I mention on-line. My posts, tweets and other on-line activity are my personal thoughts and don't represent my employer or company.
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