Free Yourself from the Past

What are the top reasons given by small business owners for why they chose to start their own business? I ask this question of the attendees, generally small business owners/operators who consider themselves entrepreneurs, in my seminars. The most common responses? I am sure you probably can guess, because they are probably the answers you would give if you are a small business owner.

The top three reasons, in no particular order of importance or ranking are: 1) I want to be my own boss and make my own decisions. 2) Financial independence. 3) Flexibility and availability of time. I then ask them how that is working out for them.

Reality Check

"Last time I took a vacation? You are joking right?"

Almost unanimously, the response to that question is: 1) I am no longer an employee, but I can never take a day off and as far as making my own decisions, I do what my clients demand of me. 2) I am more stressed over finances than ever; I am the last one paid, if I pay myself and I am treading water desperately trying to keep my head above the surface. 3) I do have flexibility of time since I no longer punch a clock; I can work any 18 hours in the day that I choose. My life consists of working and trying to get a few hours of sleep between work days. Last time I took a vacation? You are joking right? I could never take a day off, even if I were deathly ill.

Sadly, these business owners not only have never experienced the benefits of these reasons for why they started their own business in the first place, they have actually achieved the opposite. When they worked as an employee for someone else, they had little to no say in the company operations, but they did have a steady paycheck at a livable wage, employee benefits, a set schedule that fit into a normal work day, two weeks of vacation every year, weekends off, at least most of the time, and an opportunity to increase their position and salary over time (albeit it, very slowly). These business owners have gone from being employees of someone else’s business, to slaves of their own. That is right. At least they could have quit their job if they so chose. Most cannot even think of quitting their business. Everything they have is tied up in it. They not only cannot quit, they cannot even slow down, even though in many cases their business is killing them and destroying their families. Last time I checked, someone working in a situation wherein they were not being paid and could not quit was considered a slave.  They do not own their business; it owns them.

Taking Control

"They do not own their business; it owns them."

So, how did they get here? And how do they get out of this situation? How can they own their business and make it work for them, instead of the other way around? Well, before we tackle those questions, let’s first go back to the original question: Why did they start their business in the first place? I know, you are saying “we already answered that one”. Well not really. Yes, those are the most common answers given, but I refuse to believe that is the real reason anyone in my seminars went into business. Think it through. If the only reason anyone wants to go into business for themselves is to: 1) Make their own decisions, 2) have financial freedom and 3) work less and control their own time, then they probably would have chosen a much easier way than business ownership. Those objectives can be achieved much quicker and more effectively by engaging in illegal activities, as some of the less savory in our society have.

Certainly, selling drugs, prostitution, illegal gambling, smuggling and the like will allow one to be their own boss (at least as much as servicing clients in a legitimate business), obtain financial independence and work fewer hours much more effectively than owning a business. So there must be more to the story than these three most common reasons. They chose to do a specific trade – to provide a specific product or service to a targeted customer base, and to do it legally. My next question is: why did you choose to go into business doing what you do? This question results in answers that could never fit into a “top three” responses scenario. The answers are as individual as are the people who provide them, and reflect the real reasons they chose to start their own business.

"...people start their own business typically because they are passionate about whatever it is that they do."

The truth is people start their own business typically because they are passionate about whatever it is that they do. Whether it is making the world’s best pancakes, serving an international selection of wines, hanging drywall, washing cars, selling toys, cleaning houses, planning parties, running a hotel, hauling trash, bookkeeping or any of the other infinite varieties of things people do, these business owners are passionate about their trade and are good at it. They are putting their unique combination of talents, education, experience and ambition to work serving others, and hoping to make a living at it. They would never choose illegal activities for quick monetary gain with little work over fulfilling what they see as their unique calling. They have a vision of doing what they do best to build a business that serves their clients and not only provides a living for themselves, but can provide a living for others who may work for them.

So back to the questions we left hanging a while back: how did they get here? And how do they get out of this situation? How can they own their business and make it work for them, instead of the other way around? We will tackle each one in order in my next article.