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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Why Become An Entrepreneur?

This morning an anonymous commenter, I suspect the same one that has been posting comments to my blog, had this comment to make about my last post:

Not sure what 'your goal' really is - it has to be more than $5,000-6,000 in monthly sales, right? Especially with more than $100K of material listed for sale.

And the stressed out / slave to the business comment sounds just like the things you hated about being a lowly employee - except that as an employee, you were making more than $150K which buys a lot of KD..... Plus whatever Steph was making in her job.

Now, I don't know about you, but I get a distinctly trollish vibe from the above comments. In fact, what this person said bothered me for quite some time today. I finally realized that it was because this person has missed the entire point of this blog. That realization, in turn has prompted me to address the larger question of "Why bother becoming an entrepreneur?" Indeed, it is a very fair question, once you realize all that it actually entails:

  • Longer hours.
  • Stress.
  • No guaranteed income.
  • A lot of sacrifices in the early years when the business is being established. 
So why do it? Well I can only speak for myself and I can only go back to what I came to dislike greatly about my old life. It was not working for someone else, per se that bothered me. I actually enjoyed working at my profession when I was able to approach it as a calling - when I could sincerely address the needs of my clients and service them well. But what I found was that no matter where I worked, more than 50% of my time was spent on activities that I consider to be of questionable value:
  • Organizational politics.
  • Human resources activities.
  • Meetings that accomplished very little.
  • Administrative stuff that added very little value to my clients.
In addition, organizational bloat basically meant that my billing rates had to be such that I often could not do the simplest things for my clients at a reasonable cost. I ABSOLUTELY HATED THIS. I don't mean to single out my old workplaces as being especially bloated, no. I would venture to suggest that nearly ALL organizations are larger than they need to be, or indeed than they should be. Why? Because not everyone in the organization has the same intentions, the same motivations, the same stake in what happens and how things turn out. On the one hand you have the founders/owners for whom the organization is their baby. Everything they have is invested in its success. They are completely motivated to see the organization do as well and be as profitable as possible. Then you have the dedicated employees who actually are committed to the goals of the organization. For these people, their job is more than just a job - it is a career - something that they take pride in. Then, on the other hand, there is everyone else. By and large, these people are there for a job - something to do for which they get paid. Their investment in the success of the organization is either minimal at best, or at worst is non-existent. I can't tell you the number of times that an employee that I have managed has left my organization with loose ends and unfinished business and for whom the whole thing has become a distant memory within 2 weeks after they have given notice. It has often taken many months of staff hours to tie up the loose ends and clean up the messes left by their departure. 

Because of this, we have the entire discipline called HR. If everyone in an organization was on the same page, and equally committed to the vision of the organization, and 100% responsible for their actions, then I doubt there would be a need for HR. But the reality that I see is that most organization are collections of people with vastly different objectives and rates of growth. Because of this, the ones who I believe are the least happy most are those who are actually the most committed to doing a good job, while those who can do an OK job and manage office politics and the optics of their work have the best time. I could be wrong about all this. Maybe I just haven't worked in the right companies. But there came a definite point in my life, where I just got tired, tired of:
  • Putting out other people's fires.
  • Executing decisions I didn't agree with.
  • Having to manage the performance of other people.
After a while I began to feel that my life was wasted. I wanted to do something that is meaningful to me. I wanted to get back to basics of serving a client base at something that I am passionate about and so good at, that I can eventually be the best at it within a niche of my choosing. After a while, it really didn't matter to me whether I have money and luxuries or not. And maybe that is the fundamental difference between me and the commenter above. Every time this person comments on my blog, their comments are always about the money. Always, without exception. They are never about the qualitative reasons why a person might not want to spend the rest of their lives in quiet desperation, just so they can win at the rat race.  Does this mean that I don't miss the luxuries? Of course not. Sometimes I get downright depressed when I walk in the Beaches area of Toronto and realize that I might never be able to afford to own a home ever again. But the depression doesn't last long, and it dissipates when I remind myself of the freedom that I now have to practice my favourite craft and hone my skills and knowledge. There is nothing like the feeling of seeing our list of happy and satisfied clients growing every day. I don't get pats on the back from a boss anymore, but I also get to be the one who decides how good a job I'm doing - no one else. 

I don't want to suggest that there is anything wrong with being an employee. There isn't, and there are definite instances when it is the only responsible thing to do. If you have many family members depending on you and no financial reserves, then often having the safety and security of a steady paycheck is the most responsible way to look after the people you care about. But if you don't have those responsibilities, or your responsibilities in that regard are limited, or you have financial reserves and you want to pursue a life path of your own choosing, then I believe that being an entrepreneur is the only way to achieve this.  The other way to do this is if you are able to save most of your salary for many years (i.e. 15-20 years) and invest it in such a way that at the end of that time you can retire. If there is anything that the last year has taught me it is that most people with professional or white collar jobs make a veritable fortune and nearly everyone could retire after 15-20 years working if they were willing to live frugally during that time and give up most of the things that people so often feel entitled to: the nice house; the nice car; the nice clothes, meals out every week, annual of twice annual vacations, etc.  As far as I know, I've never used the expression "lowly employee" in any of my posts. So I think the person who made this comment is insecure about their own life choice, and is projecting that insecurity on to me and putting words in my mouth. 

The problem of course, for many people is that they aren't willing to make those sacrifices, and it is very easy to fall into a lifestyle where other people make all of your life decisions for you. Of course, most people in this situation would not acknowledge that this is the case and would point to all the decisions that they make freely. But the telltale sign that they are not in control is when they do things for long periods of time that they claim to hate, like having to work late all the time, or on weekends, or having to travel for work all the time. One of the things that you give up as an employee of an organization is control - control over your work environment, control over your finances, control over who you work with, control over when and where you work and finally, control over how you work. In exchange you get temporary certainty. I say temporary, because even though most jobs feel like they are permanent once you pass the end of the probationary period, there really is no such thing as a permanent job. If you are the type of employee who spends all their money as it comes in, well then you will always be fearful of the time when you lose your job, because that often equates to loss on many other levels as well. 

If you succeed in building your own business - even one that is small and only modestly profitable, you can never be fired or laid off. Most importantly YOU are in complete control of everything that you do. This amount of control can be scary because ultimately you cannot blame anyone or anything for your lot in life, since everything by definition is now of your own choosing. That, I believe is very scary to a lot of people. 

The person who wrote the above comment seems to believe that reaching $5,000-$6,000 in monthly sales should just be a breeze and should be something Steph and I should have achieved by now. I am really not sure where their perception is coming from - especially when most online sources say that it takes between 3 and 5 years for most businesses to reach a level of profitability where they can sustain themselves.  I can only surmise that it comes from working for an organization where the infrastructure was put in place long before that person started working for the organization; where the marketing efforts were expended long beforehand and where the goodwill was created long beforehand, so that all this person had to do was show up to begin producing results. However, when you are starting a business from scratch it doesn't work that way. Nobody knows you. Nobody trusts you. You have to earn that trust and exposure with hard work, by delivering value all while putting yourself out there and being patient. It takes  A LONG TIME to see results.  But the results will come - as long as you have a product, service or skill that at least some people want or need. I am often asked the question: "Yes, Chris but is there really a large enough market for stamps?". My answer to this is that the world is a very large place. 7 billion is a number that is really easy to say, but really quite difficult to truly fathom. Even if only a tiny percentage of people are interested in, what you have to offer, it is still a lot of people and a large enough potential market to sustain most people. The challenge is reaching that market. But nowadays we are fortunate to have inexpensive and effective ways to do this with the internet and social media. However, human nature has not changed, even though technology has. Reaching a market requires effort. It is not simply a case of putting out an ad and watching the sales roll in. 

So the question you have to ask yourself is really: Do I know what I want from my life, and is it more important for me to have complete control in shaping my own destiny, such that I am willing to sacrifice financial security and comfort for long periods of time? If the answer is yes, then being part of an organization may not be the best long-term fit for you. If the answer is no, then you are probably better off in an organization. That, in my mind is all there is to it.

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