On tax day, ironically, I was asked to comment on a number of issues relating to entrepreneurship, and the pros and cons in a range of areas – what was lost and what was gained.
As those of you who have been following my writing know, I don’t like to look at life in terms of “losses”. I always say that if looked at negatively, life can appear, especially as the last of my parent’s generation die off, and complements come with the additional proviso “for your age”, all about losses.
My comments about the challenges of being an entrepreneur come after 23 years of hard won success. So all the “pain and suffering” of the early years have faded in memory as I now have achieved the goals to which I aspired – mostly having to do with freedom and independence – as well as the financial and professional success which were the vehicles of that hoped for self-directed life.
Some inquire as to whether all the “dues” were worthwhile. I say of course. We all err sometimes, but the key is that my life including the stumbles has led me to where I am today.
Here are the five areas on which I was asked to comment:
Your Sense of Security
There’s a key difference between being secure and feeling secure. Until starting my business I operated in the corporate world. It’s easy to feel secure when you’ve got a paycheck regularly coming and you’re doing well professionally. I focused on work and the paychecks came in.
Ultimately a corporation’s top priorities don’t include your security. The first corporation for which I worked became obsolete and then went bankrupt. I had left years before, but many of my former colleagues who were lifers forfeited late career and retirement expectations. The chemical company and major oil company for whom I worked went through at least two mergers. I lived through one, and that was enough. The money center bank for which I worked went through two mergers. I left during the first one – mergers often involve changes in corporate culture, not to mention hierarchical battles. I don’t like mergers, so I quit. I took a consulting assignment with a large OPEC producer, and a year after that started my own company.
Somewhere along the line I decided to take my life into my own hands. Even though, at times, I felt quite insecure, in the long run, taking responsibility for my own security has meant I could give it the priority I chose. So, as I near what used to seem like an ancient age, I’m secure enough to retire if I want and live in the manner to which I’ve become accustomed. That’s real security.
The tradeoff: Losing an illusory security and gaining a hard-won, bespoke security of my own making.
As for sleep, that’s one of the few things that you get to do when you start your own business. Aside from the necessities of life, what I did when I first got started was work. I used to say, “When I am awake, I am working.” This “work all the time” life lasted about 10 years. Since then, I’ve worked from home, and worked fewer hours over the years, focusing on high-level issues instead of grunt work. Even though those early years seemed to last forever, I’ve had lots of time to do work I really enjoy, teach, research, comment on the markets, and write.
The tradeoff: Short-term sacrifice for longer-term gratification.
What I did during my leisure time in the early years was addressed in the paragraph above (sleep). After paying my dues, though, provided I don’t get myself overcommitted (which can be a pitfall), I have lots of time to do fulfilling things related and unrelated to work. I’ve been able to give back, volunteering at nursing homes, teaching adult religious ed, serving on the board of a homeless shelter, and for a large charitable trust. I also had time to develop deep friendships, pumped a lot of iron, read, and bake, and am now over half-way done with a second master’s this one in pastoral theology. I’m also active in my local MOAA chapter and the Tucson Subvets’ Base. The tradeoff: Giving up leisure time as you ramp up your business, so that you can have more leisure time after that.
Cynthia A. Kase and Shipmates Enjoying “Leisure Time” and “Social Life” (see photo) Celebrating the U.S. Submarine Service 115th Anniversary
If you don’t have a successful life, then you can’t say your business is truly successful. So while it’s normal for one’s social life to suffer in the short run, successful business people usually have successful social lives, including nice relationships with colleagues and clients.
The tradeoffs are the same: short-term sacrifice for longer term gain.
“Expensive Spending Habits”
If one defines “expensive spending habits”, as spending more than one can afford, I’m against it. No matter how much one makes, I’m against spending more and saving less than prudent. However, to those whom luxury items are well within reach – and for whom spending on “expensive things” won’t make much of a dent, then I think that’s their business.
The tradeoffs are living frugally in the short-run to build up a high net worth in the longer-run.
To many, entrepreneurship is a romantic concept. You can be your own boss, experience the freedom of self-management, accumulate material wealth, and live glamorously.
Could it be too good to be true?
Not necessarily — any successful business owner will tell you that all of these goals are achievable. However, reaching these goals requires making lifestyle tradeoffs in order to create and maintain a stable and profitable business. People who wish for these benefits without making the appropriate lifestyle tradeoffs are pejoratively called “wantrepreneurs.”
On the other hand, true entrepreneurs willingly accept that lifestyle tradeoffs must be made to achieve their dreams of running a successful company.
Note: I’m intentionally using the word “tradeoffs” and not “sacrifices” throughout this article because it’s a mistake to say that success entrepreneurs must make lifestyle sacrifices. The word “sacrifices” seriously misrepresents what entrepreneurs are doing when they make lifestyle changes, and also unnecessarily diminishes the positive returns entrepreneurs enjoy by making those changes.
It is important that entrepreneurs have a clear-eyed understanding of the tradeoffs they must make, both in terms of what will be lost, and what will be gained. The intent of this article is to help entrepreneurs understand the nuances of those choices.
In particular, I have identified the following 5 crucial areas where a clear understanding of lifestyle tradeoffs must be considered deeply:
1. Sense of Security
What you will lose:
A majority of entrepreneurs find that they have to quit their 9-5s in order to have the time to work on their new project. Often, they give up their steady salaries, medical benefits, paid time off, sick days, and a whole swath of perks that make life feel comfortable and secure.
“It’s easy to feel secure when you’ve got a paycheck regularly coming and you’re doing well professionally.”
Owner of Kase and Company, Inc. Cynthia Kase, points out “there’s a key difference between being secure and feeling secure.” Most of us would agree with her view that “it’s easy to feel secure when you’ve got a paycheck regularly coming and you’re doing well professionally.” Yet, Kase urges people not to get too comfortable in their positions because“ultimately a corporation’s top priorities don’t include your security.”
Founder and CEO of Cheekd, Lori Cheek was living a life of comfort before deciding to start her business. “Coming from a career of making nearly $120K a year, living a pretty fabulous life traveling, dining out and shopping like it was my job in one of the most expensive cities in the world.”
In order to start her business, Cheek had to exhaust her savings, which she had built up over her 15-year career in architecture. After finishing off her savings she “made nearly $75,000 by selling designer clothes at consignment shops and on eBay, doing focus groups, secret shopping and by selling my electronics and other odds and ends.” Her sense of security really became threatened when she was nearly evicted from her NYC apartment.
What you will gain:
So what do you get in return for your sense of security? Frank Pobutkiewicz of College Apprentice explains that he felt security in the sense of control. “My income, success, and schedule are directly correlated with my actions. I traded a traditional sense of a security at a large company or firm for this sense of control.”
Similarly, Cynthia Kase felt that owning her own business allowed her to take her life into her own hands. “Even though, at times, I felt quite insecure, in the long run, taking responsibility for my own security has meant I could give it the priority I chose.”
“I feel like I’m living the American Dream.”
As for Cheek, building a business has been the most powerful thing that’s ever happened to her. “I’ve taken a major risk (both financially & mentally) and surrendered my career in architecture & design, but my heart and mind are in this project every waking moment. I’ve never been more dedicated to anything. I feel like I’m living the American Dream.”
2. Social Life
What you will lose:
For the Director of Your City Office, Simeon Howard believes that the biggest tradeoff of entrepreneurship is what you lose in your social life. “I don’t recall taking a holiday for the first 2-3 years of starting my company and on the first holiday I did take, I distinctly remember the feeling of watching my friends run off to the beach whilst I stayed in and worked remotely.”
Mike Munter from Mike Munter Marketing agrees that the biggest loss comes from not working in an office environment. “It’s really challenging to make new friends when you work from your home office as an entrepreneur.”
What will you gain:
Although owning a business reduces the amount of time he has to spend with friends, Munter prefers the freedom to set his own hours. Instead of having to schedule social time around work, he can arrange his work around his social time. “If my softball team is playing at 5pm, I don’t have to rush home or try to leave work early, I just plan for it, get my work done, and go!”
Founder of GenY Success, Jason Bay, also recommends fellow entrepreneurs to surround themselves with like-minded, ambitious and hard working peers. “Aligning my social life with those I would like to do business with, mentor or be mentored by has been a game changer.”
What you will lose:
According to Rohit Arora, CEO of Biz2Credit, “when you are running your own business, sleep often becomes a luxury.” In considering how much sleep you will get when starting a business, Arora compares business ownership to raising a kid: “It’s like what they say about parenting: you can never know what it is like until you have a child. For many small business owners, their enterprise is like their child.”
“I can’t even sleep in on the weekends anymore because I always have new ideas floating through my mind.”
“As a business owner, I definitely don’t sleep as much as I used to. Sometimes it is due to being overwhelmed or stressed, but for the most part, it is due to excitement,” says the owner of The Media Captain, Jason Parks. “I can’t even sleep in on the weekends anymore because I always have new ideas floating through my mind.”
What you will gain:
Although he doesn’t get as much rest as he used to, Parks no longer dreads getting up bright and early each day. “I’m pretty fired up to wake up each morning and head into the office, especially since I’m most productive in the early AM,” he explains. For him the positive aspect of not sleeping in is that “I’m passionate about my job and look forward to work each day.”
The founder of Something To Consider, Erik Fogg, admits that in order to run his business he certainly sleeps less. However, with the schedule flexibility of business ownership, Fogg is able to use polyphasic sleep to devote 6 hours to sleep and more time to other things without sacrificing REM.
4. Expensive Spending Habits
What you will lose:
When starting a new business, do not expect your standard of living to remain the same. Like many new entrepreneurs, you should expect to invest a large portion of your savings into your business. This inevitably means that you will have to adjust your regular spending habits.
The biggest tradeoff for David Waring of FitSmallBusiness.com, was giving up his expensive spending habits. “I went from making 6 figures and living in a luxury Manhattan apartment to nothing and living on my cousin’s couch.”
In order to start Home Remedies, Debra Cohen, had to give up her dream of upgrading to a bigger home. “As an entrepreneur, my income was never guaranteed and it was more prudent to stay in a smaller home that we could afford.”
What you will gain:
Surprisingly, there is a lot to be gained developing better spending habits. For Waring, it was about recognizing the value of a dollar. “What I gained from this was a greater appreciation for money so now that I am earning a nice income from my business I appreciate it a lot more than I would have otherwise.”
Although Debra Cohen gave up on moving to a new house, she was able to make the best of her situation. Not only did she develop better spending habits, but also her business gave her access to some of the best contractors and we were able to help renovate her home within her budget.
“I feel these trade-offs have become healthy habits, so in a sense, this consequence has sort of become a blessing in disguise!”
The founder of ArtPort, Garrett Houghton, actually found that bootstrapping his business not only helped improve his spending habits, but it also helped him develop healthy eating habits as well. “I always make my lunches now instead of going out to eat and also have cancelled a lot of the subscription services that I felt were not necessary. However, I feel these trade-offs have become healthy habits, so in a sense, this consequence has sort of become a blessing in disguise!”
5. Work/Life Ratio
What you will lose:
Rohit Arora points out yet another entrepreneurial tradeoff:“Entrepreneurs work long hours to get their companies up and running, and then dedicate much more time than they likely envisioned once the business has taken off.” Most new entrepreneurs will find that they have a lot less time to watch movies, catch up on TV shows, or pursue new hobbies.
“I’ve found that the key to success as a business owner, especially in a sales-driven environment, is top quality customer service, and being available when your customers need you,” says Harry Ein of Perfection Promo. “Lost is uninterrupted leisure time. My customers have my cell number, and they call from all different time zones. I answer the phone at 6am and 10pm, 7 days a week, which certainly interrupts leisure time.”
Jason Parks also sheds light on his experience with his loss of leisure time: “In the five years of owning my business, I have only taken one vacation where I had to miss more than two consecutive business days. I’d say one aspect that isn’t great about owning a business is that you can’t truly enjoy your vacation time. I’m jealous when I hear a friend talk about their three weeks of vacation time they have saved for the end of the year. Even when I take time off, I’m still thinking about the business. It can sometimes be more stressful being away from the office and not answering emails.”
What you will gain:
Time is a precious commodity for every startup. First and foremost, the most important benefit from giving up some of your leisure time is that you have more time to invest in developing a profitable business.
Although Ein is on call 7 days a week, he believes there is a huge benefit to trading in some of his leisure time. “Gained is the trust, appreciation and loyalty of customers, as well as long-lasting relationships, all key ingredients for success. These gains are as important to me as they are to my customers.”
If you are serious about entrepreneurship, sit down and consider the potential tradeoffs. Don’t think of the tradeoffs as sacrifices, but rather in terms of what will be lost and gained. It’s important that you decide how much you are willing to change your lifestyle in order to build your business. With realistic expectations of the tradeoffs, you will be well prepared to achieve your g
oal of entrepreneurship.
What have you sacrificed to get your business off the ground?
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