Owning your own business is a dream that many people share, but it is one that many people misunderstand. Owning a business has all the glitz and glamor of Hollywood but it also has all the work and sweat of Dirty Jobs. Before you take the leap and spend your life’s savings on a “golden opportunity,” take a few minutes to read about the myths and realities I faced in owning my own business.
For the record, I’ve owned two very successful businesses. One was a shaved ice business in a college town, the other was a very large and thriving lumberyard in a much bigger city. I learned a great deal from both experiences.
Myth #1 – Life is easier when you’re your own boss and you own the business.
Reality – Nope. Not a chance. You become the face of your company. Anything that goes wrong, or that doesn’t go perfectly right is 100 percent your fault. You have to fix it. If one of your employees drives your $45,000 delivery truck across a newly poured concrete driveway and cracks it to pieces, you get to pay for it. If your credit manager mistakenly writes down the wrong lien date on the legal paperwork, you get to eat the loss. If you screw up on your taxes, you don’t get to blame anyone else. If someone claims they got sick at your restaurant, I hope you have insurance and a good attorney. You get to pay both of those bills, too.
My experience – You DO get to make the decisions when you’re the boss, but owning your own business is not a ticket to sit in an air conditioned office all day, surfing the Internet and ordering people around. It is a lot of hard work and you will do the majority of it. It requires a great deal of commitment to your customers, your employees, and your vendors. You need all three to be successful.
I never could understand why I was twice as old as some of the people I hired, yet I could easily outwork any 18 year old. Then it occurred to me; this isn’t their company. They aren’t motivated to build this business into something. I showed up every day because I was passionately working to create a company. They were there for a check.
Myth #2 - Your new company can make a boatload of money and you get to keep it.
Reality – Everyone has their hand out. Building inspectors, insurance people, health departments, city police and fire departments, OSHA, county tax assessors, state sales tax departments, city business license departments, radio stations, advertising agencies, temporary help agencies, delivery companies, asbestos removal companies, and charitable organizations will ALL want a piece of the action. Most days, it feels like the local governments DO NOT want you to open your business because there are more road blocks to getting open than you can ever imagine in 1,000 years.
My experience – When I opened my shaved ice business, I was completely clueless about what to do. I found someone to build my building and then I moved it to my location. Next I needed water and electricity. I called a plumber. He hooked me up pretty easily. Getting electricity would be easy, or so I thought. After all, the building was completely wired and had 200 amp electrical service (twice the local code requirement). Would you believe me if I told you that it took 6 weeks to get the electrical inspector to approve my building? Nothing, NOTHING had to be done to get it up to code. He just delayed and delayed. Later I found out that there was a corruption sting and he was indicted. I could have had electricity in one day if I had played by “the rules.”
Myth #3 – You get to set your own hours.
Reality - This one is true! Yippee! You DO get to set the hours, trouble is, every hour you aren’t working is an hour that you’re NOT making money. The rent must be paid. The utility bills must be paid. The accountants must be paid. The equipment loans must be paid. The employees must be paid. The insurance must be paid. None of that goes away…ever.
My experience – When I opened the lumberyard with my partners, we decided to close on Saturdays and Sundays. We wanted to allow ourselves and our 12 other employees time to spend with their families. In the early days, it was easy. We usually went home no later than 5:30. We usually finished on Friday afternoons at 2 o’clock and would clean the yard and warehouse, then go home and enjoy the weekend. But we were victims of our own success very soon. We started having to come in at 7:30 then 7:00. Then we moved it back to 6:30 and then 6:00. We started staying later as well. Many days I would work from 6:00AM until 9:00PM with no breaks. I just didn’t have time to slack around. It didn’t feel like I was a highly successful business owner. I was working harder than ever in my life and my family rarely saw me until the weekend.
Myth #4 – Money is the most important ingredient to new business success.
Reality – Money is important to get the ball rolling, but it is only a tool. Money is to the new business owner what a hammer and chisel are to a sculptor. In Michaelangelo’s hands those tools created a masterpiece, but they were just tools. The most important ingredient to a new businesses success is a drive to create a company where there was none.
My experience – This drive to create is what pushed a couple of guys to build a $10 million lumber company from scratch. Entrepreneurs thrive on the creative effort and usually have a very strong competitive streak. We wanted to become players in the industry and make our presence known.
Myth #5 – Once you start a business, you can hire employees to do the hard work.
Reality – YOU will do most of the hard work, at least in the beginning. No one in your new company will be as able as you for quite some time. You will be the trainer, the worker, the collector, the PR person, the HR person, the buyer, the bookkeeper, the sales person. You will have to teach everyone your way of doing things and then follow up to insure those things were done correctly.
My experience – I ran the shaved ice business by myself for the most part. My mother came and helped me out of the goodness of her heart many times (thanks Mom!), but I wore every hat imaginable. The lumberyard was much the same for the first few years, though I did have partners. My day would begin at 6:00AM with me starting our 7 delivery trucks to get them warmed up. Then I might take a quick inventory to see what needed to be ordered, look over and prioritize our other deliveries for the morning, pull a few lumber orders and stage them, come in and make a collections call, place a few purchase orders with some vendors, run make a bank deposit, pick up an order from a local vendor, come back and jump into a truck to make an “emergency” delivery, stop and make a sales call at a job site, come back to the office and calculate how much lumber a new account needed to build a particular house, then start loading trucks for the next morning. It was a non-stop rush all day long, but that was what we wanted, right? You better believe it!
In my experience, most people think running a business is relatively easy, but the reality is that it takes more dedication, drive, passion, patience, and insight than anyone understands. There are fantastic rewards, to be sure. I made more money with these two ventures than I had ever made in my life up to that point. I also worked harder than at any time in my life. There are nights that you lie awake, wondering how you’ll solve a problem or how you’ll make payroll on Friday. Those are trying times, but that testing of your dedication produces endurance and persistence…if you resolve to never give up.
Starting and running your own business has rewards that you can’t quantify. There is a deep satisfaction when you realize that you’re providing a way for 10 families to make a living, or when you can look at a large hotel or elementary school and know that you provided the materials to build it.
Don’t let the realities of starting your business scare you. If they do, then you don’t have the passion. If you read about the realities and difficulties and have already started thinking of ways to overcome them, you’re on the right path to succeed as an entrepreneur.
[tags]entrepreneurship, business, start your own business[/tags]