Let’s not sugarcoat things. There are lots of reasons why you wouldn’t want to run a small business. I know this. I’ve been running one for more than 20 years.
When you run a small business you’re constantly dealing with problems. Customers don’t pay you on time or at all. When they do pay, they shortchange you, and then ask for more services only to not pay you again. People promise things and don’t deliver. Employees don’t show up for work or they do lousy work, and then ask for a raise. Suppliers don’t deliver products on time. Or they deliver inferior products, then want to renegotiate their contracts. Partners don’t hold up their end of the partnership. Investors want more return for their money. Bankers keep asking for more information and then raise their rates. The government, from Washington to your local township, wants to raise your taxes, increase regulations, and pile on the paperwork – all while politicians are saying you should pay your people more.
Yet, according to a small business success study, like most small business owners, I want it my way, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
I could never work for someone else or imagine myself not running my own business. I’m no great entrepreneur or risk-taker. I could tell you I love being a business owner because of my passion, drive, and desire to change the world. And that would be very nice, but it’s not actually true. There’s really only one reason I prefer to run my own company and it boils down to one word: control.
I have control over my time.
I used to work at a large, international accounting firm and I loved it. For nine years I served clients around the country, mostly doing audits and other financial services. These companies ranged from startup to Fortune 100. When you work at a service firm like this, you jump when a client calls. And when that client is worth roughly the GDP of a small European country, the firm doesn’t want to hear why you’re not available. Once, on a Sunday, I got a call about a great new project in Texas that required me to leave the next day and be away from home for three weeks. The work was exciting and the firm was (and still is) a great place to work . . .
But then something happened: I had kids. Three of them in 11 months. There was no way I was going to suddenly disappear for weeks on end and leave my wife to deal with that. So after nine years of working at this great firm I quit. I took a job as a controller (another story), worked with my dad (yet another story) and ultimately opened my own business – a firm that first sold accounting software and then customer relationship management software. I’ve grown it to ten people.
My offices were nearby so getting home quickly was not a problem. I was able to juggle my schedule to help get the kids off to school, meet them after school and attend whatever events and conferences I needed to. My wife had a job as a teacher at that point and my being a business owner provided some much-needed flexibility. I could schedule meetings when I wanted and arrange to do work when it suited my schedule. Of course it didn’t always work out as planned. Client demands often took precedence and the work didn’t go away, it just got done at 10 at night or five in the morning. But the important thing to me was that it was my choice. I may not have had a choice about how much work I had, but I did have more choices and control over my time than I ever would have at the large accounting firm.
Now that my kids are grown I still enjoy this benefit of business ownership. No one is looking over my shoulder. No one is clocking me in or out. No one is monitoring when I travel or where I am. That’s not to say I disappear. My smartphone is always with me and I’m texting, calling, emailing, tweeting, posting and browsing all day long. When clients need me – and that’s a lot – I’m there. But because I have more control, I’m free to do other things with my time and work on other aspects of my business, like grooming others to run it for me.
Could I have made more money staying at the big firm? Maybe. Would I have enjoyed the work? Definitely. But there is something that I get from running my own business that no large employer could give me – control over my life. I needed that then and I still appreciate it now.
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