Entrepreneurship… What was I thinking?


I know this is a little off topic, but since Michael has been discussing how to get your own SEO company off the ground and growing, and due to the week Michael and I just suffered through, I had to remind myself frequently on why I traded in my previous “easy” life as a corporate suit, with a cushy job, limited responsibilities, manageable workload, consistent salary and paid health care for this life of entrepreneurship. And so I now share my thoughts…

Here is what I love about entrepreneurship:

business management

1. The Risk. I like the fact that at any given moment (especially at the beginning) one bad day, one downed server, one mistake and the whole dream can come to an abrupt end. I personally have not settled on a word which aptly describes this phenomenon, but I know many who term this behavior as “just plain stupid.”

2. The Flexibility. I like to have some flexibility with when I work. I now need to work longer and harder than I did in the 9 to 5 world, but it is nice to be able to get away and see my kid’s school program, take a long lunch, hit some range balls or just take a break for an hour, without “asking” for permission. If I do take some time off during the day, it just means I will be staying up later to finish all that needs to be done, but at least it is my choice.

3. The Ambiguity. Kind of a funny one here… I love the fact no one has any idea what I do for a living. My neighbors ask my wife, and she can’t explain it. I am pretty sure the neighborhood just think we are in some kind of witness protection program and leave it at that. When someone pins me down personally and asks me what I do, I really don’t have a good knee-jerk answer. I usually just say, “I work for myself” or explain what one of our companies does, usually the one I have worked with most recently. I do know that answering “I would tell you if I thought you were really interested” does not go over very well, so avoid this reply. 🙂

4. The Learning. I love to learn, and running a small business is all about learning, and the faster you learn the better. You have to learn to assimilate info quickly, make a decision, and be flexible in your response. Even through a myriad of poor choices, and even poorer implementation, you can learn much. I have been forced to better understand or be hands on with our cash flow, advertising, sales, marketing, financing, HR (not fun), customer service, technical support, training (both internal and external), shipping, purchasing and charitable funding. It is quite a bit to do, but it sure makes the business world around you less complex, and all that stuff they teach in MBA school finally starts to make sense.

5. The Opportunities. I love helping people help themselves. Some of our companies provide work for hundreds of stay at home parents. They do a wonderful job, they enjoy it, they thank us for the opportunity, and they are helping their families economically, while being home for the little ones. That is a fantastic feeling. We look forward to providing more opportunities for more people in the future, hopefully contributing to their success, and making what we do very fulfilling.

6. The Dream. I love the dream, just the thought that something we do might really be helpful, might really change the world for good, is revitalizing. The dream is what gets you through the tough times, and through the items on the next list, which are the things I dislike about entrepreneurship.

Here is what really hurts:

1. Family Hardship. The hardship on your family is real. I have put my wife through more disappointment and difficult circumstance than most women would allow. She has had to do so much more because I am not home as much as I used to be. She is quite amazing and incredibly supportive, she sees the dream, and it keeps her on board. Without support from home, the dream of entrepreneurship is near impossible. It is also hard in other ways. When we started this journey our oldest was only about 6 months old, and I worked from home, so I got to see much of his early life (he is almost 8 now). But as the businesses grew, I needed to move into an office to be more “professional,” and by so doing I missed much of our second son’s early years (he is now almost 6). He was asleep when I left, and usually asleep when I finally got home. I can’t remember his first steps, his first words, and that is brutal to me. It is one of the most difficult things and it still makes me hurt, and I don’t think I will ever fully get over it. No amount of money, cool vacations, or times together now will get me back those experiences, I simply blew it. I hope no one makes this same mistake. Fortunately the businesses have grown, and I have been able to be at home on a more regular schedule and have not missed much of my youngest’s life, she is now 2. I just go into the office earlier, or work late at home after they have gone to bed. It is much, much better.

2. No Time Off. There is only one day a year I don’t work, and that is Christmas, every other day something has to be done. That does wear on you, but the buck stops with the business owner, and if they don’t do it, no one else will. I am fortunate in that most of what I do, can be done remotely. As long as I have my MacBook Pro, and my Sprint PCS Connection Card, I am in good shape. So we do vacation as a family, which is great, but I work every day, which isn’t so great.

3. The Risk. I know I have risk up in the things I love about entrepreneurship too, but when you have a family to support, a mortgage to pay, college funds to save, etc., the risk kind of loses its luster. So in my dreaming phase, risk is great; in my realistic/provider role, risk is terrifying.

4. No Rest. I don’t sleep well, and I used to sleep like a log. The slightest noise wakes me up, I am always worried my cell phone is going to vibrate and there will be a problem, and we will need to deal with it ASAP. Our clients use our services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including holidays, as many are located in other countries. So we are always on call, and always ready to address a problem. That not only affects your sleep, but going to movies, out on date night, during birthday parties, I never know when that call might come, and you can not totally relax with these contingencies hanging over your head.

5. The Money. When you don’t have much or any coming in, it is hard to get everything paid, take some home for yourself, and then hopefully gather enough into the coffers so you can pay the bills again next month. However, when you do have money coming in, a whole new set of problems pop up. Should you hire someone, how much to invest in infrastructure, how much to set aside for taxes, should you advertise, how? The problems seem to grow proportionate to how much money you have in the bank account. All that being said, it is much easier to deal with these problems when your personal finances are no longer an issue. So while there are more problems, there is less stress in dealing with those problems, because the bankers aren’t coming to take your home away, and you aren’t eating Ramen every meal.

6. Those Clients. For the most part I love dealing with clients, and solving problems. However, as with every business, there is always those individuals that will take 90% of your time complaining about every little thing, although they only account for a relatively small portion of your gross income. And they never know who they are, because they are confident they are like everyone else. Be wary of these folks. It has taken me a while, but I now can part ways with client much more easily when I determine they are a “90 Percenter.” Whether to part or not to part can also be influenced by how much money is coming in at the time, I had a lot more patience when we were desperate for any cash.

7. No Benefits. It is pretty tough to provide the 401K plans, good health insurance, and the other benefits the big guys can provide. That is tough both personally and professionally as you want to do what is best for everyone, but the cost of benefits is outlandish, you really have to be flush to afford them for everyone.

8. Taxes. Seriously folks, can’t anyone in the government come up with a better plan than this? We now spend thousands of dollars every year for accountants to figure out how much we need to pay in taxes. In the early days I would trade an accountant friend of mine my dad’s basketball tickets for his tax expertise, because it was so complicated. And this was when we just lost money every year. Now the whole situation is beyond ridiculous. I have little to no patience for inefficient organizations of any kind, and politicians don’t seem to care about being efficient, or taking care of their constituents. They only care about gaining power and hoarding it. I don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, if you are a politician on the local, state or national level, I’m not impressed.

While there are fewer points on the why I love entrepreneurship versus what I don’t like, there is no comparison in my mind. I love what I do, and the challenges faced just make the accomplishments more enjoyable. Any entrepreneurial likes or dislikes I missed? Please do share…

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