This is an excerpt from Small Biz Triage’s work in progress, a Small Business Survival Guide (we’ll come up with a better title once the book is written).
Specifically, this excerpt is from Chapter One: You’re Not Cut Out For This. This may not be exactly the version you’ll read in the finished book, but it’s getting there.
Ask yourself this question:
Am I cut out for this?
Let that sink in for a second.
Owning a small business is hard. Sure, I’ve read all the same romance novels you have about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates rise from small business to mega fame. But this book isn’t for them. It’s for the rest of us who couldn’t hack it as a computer programmer, or accountant, or musician, or sculptor, or professional baseball player, or stock trader.
Why so hard? The most successful small business owners live with the following facts:
1) You Must Master the Boring
Small businesses fail because their owners chase the shiny instead of mastering the boring day-to-day habits required for long-term success. Don’t brainstorm your latest addition to the menu until you are certain that the dishes you are already selling are profitable. Log all of your expenses. Track profit margin mercilessly. Hand-write a thank you note to every new consulting client.
2) You can do everything right, and it can still go wrong.
Big businesses have the benefit of layers of financial protection to help them weather market fluctuations and the ever-changing appetites of the masses. However, in small business, developing a service people actually like, marketing it carefully adhering to best practices, and delivering on your brand’s promise can still result in an epic, and usually public, failure.
3) The 40 hour week is a fairy tale.
The longest week I ever worked was 120 hours. I survived by taking naps, splashing water on my face, and crying. And that week of work only had one purpose – breaking even. My project had slipped out of my skill-set, which meant refund, or teach myself PHP at 3AM and fix the problem. This of course led to that, “Hell yeah, I turned that bus around” when in reality it was 120 hours unsuccessful mediocrity.
4) NOBODY cares as much as you do.
Small business owners often refer to their businesses as ‘my baby’. Farzad Azad, the (now) successful owner of Azad’s Martial arts in Chico, California explains it this way:
“Your business is like a child. The first few years, while its still in diapers, you get no sleep, and it cries, and stinks. Then around year five you send it off to elementary school, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. This child thinks the world of you. Then they start picking up all of these bad habits at school, then puberty hits at 12 or 13 and now its all hormonal screaming at you, slamming doors in your face. When it finally leaves the house at 19 or 20, it send you a giant bill for that education it thinks it desperately needs.”
And you know parents … they think that being is the best job in the f-ing world, no one is smarter, cuter or more talented than their little one.
The one exception: Grandma.
5) There is no safety net.
Even if you step into a business with a fat wad of cash from a severance package, and $50K in savings, it only creates a false sense of safety. A business’ purpose is dreadfully simple, serve its customers and create more revenue than expense. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be nice to have some cushion, however, it is truly a damned if you have, damned if you have not situation. If you have the cash on hand, you build bad habits. If you have investment money, you will invariably spend it on the wrong thing (see #1). If you bootstrap your business like I did, you make business decisions based in desperation – never good.
6) The worst boss you will ever have is you.
When I mentally run through my Who’s Who of shitty bosses, I recall week after week of unpaid overtime, getting fired in front of my staff,
I can go on and on why owning a small business can quickly become what Jerry Maguire referred to this as “a pride-swallowing siege” – it really sucks – even when you’re Tom Cruise.
So why do people pursue the foolish pursuit of business ownership?
That’s all you get for now. Next week I’ll post some more excerpts for you, and maybe even answer that question. Odds are, if you are a small business owner, you already know why you’re willing to endure through the hard times, so you’ll want to keep reading.