People who know me tell me I’m unemployable. There’s some truth to that. I’ve been self-employed since 1985. I’ve been borderline wealthy and down to my last 17 cents. I’ve had a handful of employees and had a staff of just me … unless you count Rocky the Boxer and Toni the Golden Retriever.
I realize that I can meet a wanna-be SBO and I can tell in five minutes whether he or she has the pluck, stubbornness and insanity to make a go of it. (Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking for more on what is known as “rapid cognition.”) I’ve tried to quantify this, only with mild success. But here are the key factors why I believe we are what we are. Please chime in and let me know what I’m missing:
1. We aren’t afraid to work. We think less in terms of days off than in terms of how we can put in a full day on Sunday, but also make it to church and not get in too much hot water with the spouse and kids. We marvel at people who count their hours, as in 32 a week. I routinely roll up a minimum of 50 and, when times get wild, as many as 70 or so.
2. We’re control freaks … and we are shamelessly, paranoidally proud of it. I know some SBOs who are first- class SOBs. But while former employees may cluck their tongues and say they are impossible to work for, I admire their clear-headed determination.
Just for the record, the times I’ve “let go” and decided that some other guy or gal was right, I got skinned. Rule of thumb: The person who complains loudest about you being a control freak is the one who (A) wants to get some control over what you’ve worked hard to build, and/or (B) wants a free ride on your nickel. (See what I mean about that paranoidal part? Still, tell me I’m wrong.)
On that same note, most successful SBOs I know would rather miss out on an opportunity or two than surrender control. “I built my own online marketing,” says Jim Truckey, owner of Good Tidings Nautical in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin. “I made lots of mistakes and have gone fairly slowly. But if I’d handed the online stuff to some techno wizard, it might have worked, but he would be in control, and I would be at his mercy. Oh, and by the way, this year (2008) our online sales will pass our in-store sales. So, I must be doing something right.”
3. We are super-independent. My motto has always been: “There is only one thing worse than working for myself, and that is working for somebody else.” (Unfortunately, my second one is: “It seemed like a really good idea at the time!”) Still, we’d rather do it our way … or not do it at all.
4. We have a can-do attitude. I go nuts when I hear about a terrific idea followed by, “Yeah, but there are problems, so it probably won’t work,” rather than, “Okay, those are the problems, so what do we do to make it happen.” As Greg Mariucci, Owner of Kewaunee County’s ICL printing told me, “Failure is not an option. We do whatever it takes.” That’s how SBOs survive when times get tough.
5. It’s about more than the money. If you want to become rich, business is the way to go. However, most business owners are craftsmen, self-employed individuals, or owners of small stores. Sure, we’d love to make it Rolex big. However, the real rush is that we get our kicks from the freedom of being in control of our own destinies, but there’s also something more.
For example, according to Dan Paulson, President of In Vision, a Madison, Wisconsin-based business consulting firm: “Like a roller coaster, business has its ups and downs but the reward is well worth it. It’s an incredible feeling when business leaders thank you for changing their business and their life. That is what keeps me passionate about what I do. It’s easier to inspire others when you are inspired yourself.”
For me? The bottom line is freestyle adventure, making money, taking reasonable risks, refusing to make decisions by committee … and having fun.
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