This April marked the beginning of my fifth year in business. Every family member and friend is under the full realization of what it is that my business is about and who I cater to. Yet, when I run into some of my family members that I don’t see as often, I’ll occasionally hear the question “Are you still teaching?” (my Bachelor’s degree & previous work was in teaching elementary school) or even worse, “Still designing websites part time?”
If you are a small business owner, there isn’t a part-time option, especially when you are in the infancy of getting things going. It’s an all encompassing, every waking hour, worried about things long before most people get to work at 9am and long after many people have left their office at 5pm. And it is no different with me.
Talking to some other small business owners at a conference in Arizona a few weeks ago, I realized that it wasn’t that small business owners weren’t educating our families or friends with how much we actually work at what we do; it was that we, as a group, are misunderstood.
When you meet someone that has just graduated from law school, off to start their own law firm, it’s “Awesome – good for you!” Or when you meet a recently graduated doctor, ready to start practicing medicine on their own, “Wow – what an accomplishment!” But that same enthusiasm isn’t always heard when someone announces their intentions to start a cupcake shop or a website design business. Instead of “Awesome” and “Wow” – it’s usually “Oh” and “Well, good luck!” Or worse, you hear what they’re actually thinking, which is generally “I hope it works out or at least he has a good backup plan.”
Small business owners bring a passion to this country, and it’s upsetting at times that they don’t get the reverence that they should. But that’s probably because there are three main misconceptions that lead to a misunderstanding of what it is that they do.
This isn’t something I do on the side. This isn’t something I do in my free time. It’s something I’ve created on my own to CREATE free time. I’m not selling one of the many popular multi-level marketing products (no offense intended for those of you that do!). But I see those people, who often sell for multiple of those companies for one reason or the other, being lumped in with small business owners or the buzzword of the century, entrepreneurs.
Small business owners have a vision of a need that isn’t being met and they go out with passion to solve that problem.
I’m not looking for another job. I have one. I had a friend who, while selling one of the aforementioned products, was talking with ‘their team’, and how they were talking about ‘people like us/small business owners’ looking to join their team. No thanks. I see the people that sell these products and how they claim independence and how their ‘businesses’ are invigorating their lifestyles and making them beyond rich. But they aren’t small business owners. They are working multiple part time jobs. Which, again, is to be respected – but this sort of mentality goes into the overall perspective of small business owners and the “Oh, well, good luck with that..” – instead of an enthusiasm that should surround someone actually starting their own business.
No, I don’t have an office. And no, at least for now, I don’t have employees. I realize that saying those things certainly put my small business in a different light of “well, he could quit whenever then, it’s not real”. Tell my 60+ clients that I could quit tomorrow and see what kind of reaction you’ll get. I’m not going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean I need to pay rent or start paying an employee + the government any more money than I need to.
Working from home gives a wealth of benefits. My travel time from bed to work is around 10 seconds, depending on my step-to-kitten-petting ratio. This means I’m not spending 1-2 hours in the car, not getting work done. My hours of actual work are generally 7am-4pm. I work 9-10 hour days, and get 100% of that time to work instead of spending it in traffic.
In addition, not having rent for an office or employees reduces my overhead cost which leads me to not charge a premium on my services. This provides a much better value for my clients. And without multiple contact points for my clients, there is no loss in communication and I have 100% quality control for the products that go out the door.
Eventually, I’ll probably have an employee or two, and maybe even an office. But if working 60 hours a week doesn’t make this small business ownership thing real to someone, I’m not sure that anything I’ll say will fix it.
I say this with my quiet voice, I wouldn’t want my wife/ex-CFO to hear it. (She’s my ex-CFO because I only put her on as CFO until I started making more money than her. Since she’s a teacher, it didn’t take long!)
Of course, making money is important. But if I won the PowerBall tomorrow, I’d likely still be doing this (just in a bigger office with an indoor pool). I enjoy working with my clients. I enjoy helping other small businesses succeed. A true small business owner has passion for helping their audience. Whether it’s families that want to enjoy a day on the farm, women that want to get their lives back on track or a networking organization that gives back to local children’s charities. If you’re just out selling other company’s products – and your main focus is to a) sell more product or b) find other people to also sell more product for a higher commission, you’re missing out on the passion of small business ownership. The actual helping of people.
In my case, I want to work with other passionate small business owners to help them market their businesses. I do what I do to help champion small business owners to be great at what they do. Passionate small business owners are part of what makes this country great.
Taking the time to understand and support local small businesses and their owners helps the local economy grow & keeps jobs local. And while that may not be your #1 concern, maybe it should be.