Starting your own business teaches you things you will never learn in a job. I’m going to share a few lessons for entrepreneurs that I have discovered through my own experience.
As an employee, you can expect your paycheck to arrive every week or two without fail, even if you are away sick or on your annual vacation. At one level, you realize that the money comes from customers or, if you work for government, it comes from taxpayers; but this is no concern of yours. As an entrepreneur, you really know that if there are no customers buying your goods or services and paying their bills, there will be no money to pay yourself, your own bills, and any help you may have. Time is money. Quitting time comes when you have done everything you can do to get, keep, and service customers – not when the clock says 5:00 p.m.
You also know that it is up to you to bring clients and their dollars in. You are the rainmaker. Even when you have hired someone to make the sales or make the product, the buck stops with you if they fail to perform. And when every expense, every treat and every perk comes directly out of your own pocket, you are extremely cautious about expenses. When I worked for a large organization, I often traveled across the continent and my rule was, if I did not get a day to make the trip, I would not go. No overnight red-eyes for me. Once I was running my own business, trips already meant time away from the office. Overnight flights kept that time to a minimum and were often cheaper. Red-eye it was!
Another one of the most important lessons for entrepreneurs is that people matter. Walk into a small shop or restaurant and you can always tell who’s the owner. She is the one who smiles more broadly, moves a little faster and greets you with real enthusiasm. She knows that it is business from people like you that creates her success. So current customers, past customers and potential customers are always treated as the source of well-being that they are. If not, the business will not be around for long. Not only customers, but suppliers and anyone who works for or with the business, as an employee or on a contract basis, are vital to the prosperity and continuity of a business.
A successful entrepreneur learns quickly that she must be the one that is available, patient, pleasant and problem-solving with all these people. If you are easy to work with, all those around you will help contribute to your company. If not, there might not be a company.
Choosing to start a business is like having a baby. Before you do it, you can see all the demands and problems that will be created and wonder why anyone would make that choice. Only afterwards do you experience all the advantages. Maimonides, a medieval philosopher, said that giving someone work is the highest form of charity. As an entrepreneur, you can provide people with work and benefit from it. In a job (unless you are laid off) your income cannot go to zero, but there is also a limit to how high it can go. In your own business you get to decide how much time and effort to put in and how much to take out.
Even more important than the money for many entrepreneurs is the feeling that you can do it. In fact, you have done it. You don’t need a job. You are independent. You generate your own income and perhaps income for others. You contribute to the prosperity of your community and country. And if, as is the case for many small businesses, your business does not make it, you can do it again. Perhaps that’s one of the most important lessons for entrepreneurs to learn.