Misconceptions Pt 2: Dolla' Dolla' Bills, Y'all!
Small Business Ownership/Entrepreneurship Misconceptions, Part 2
Did you miss Part 1? Read it here!
Apparently, a common misconception is that if someone owns a business, or in my case, owns four businesses, they are well-off financially. Sure, they probably took on debt getting the business off the ground, but if they made it past that first 2 or 3 years, they've arrived! Minimal debt, nice salary, can afford to take time off and travel whenever they want, within reason, probably owns their home outright, drives a nice car or two, doesn't have to worry about finances too much. They may not be Bill Gates, but they're certainly a step up from most of us. To that, let me just say HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! No.
So I feel like, over the course of this entry, a lot of small business owners will be nodding their heads emphatically, but even so, I don't want to speak for anyone else. So this is representative of my experience alone unless otherwise stated.
My businesses are all still more-or-less in the start-up phase. My private practice is entering its 6th year, the military program is in its 2nd, the Tea Company is technically a branch of the private practice, but it's only been its own entity for less than 1 year, and my small business consulting firm is in its 3rd year of existence. None of these are booming corporations, but they are all keeping their heads above water and growing steadily. I have never taken out a business loan or line of credit - all the growth in the companies has been organic, which I'm pretty proud of. But that means that things grow even slower. I have to wait until I actually have a pile of money in the bank before I can make the next purchase the business needs, whether that's new marketing materials, a piece of medical equipment, or what have you. I also (obviously) have to make sure there's always more than enough to pay my various rents, monthly fees for software, services, and utilities, monthly materials and supplies, insurances, taxes taxes taxes oh my god so many taxes, as well as compensate my staff accordingly, and about a hundred other little things that always crop up out of nowhere. Overhead is real, y'all!
Before anything though, 10% off the top is always put into savings (for things like taxes and big expenses, as well as keeping us afloat on slow months). With whatever is left after all the expenses and savings, I can invest in growing the business. Advertising, expansions, product development, better software, traveling to events and conferences, and so on.Then and only then do I get to decide if and how much I get paid. Some weeks I don't draw a salary at all. The businesses pay for my phone, car insurance, and petrol, and I am fortunate to be able to split a lot of my other non-business related bills. When I do draw a paycheck for my own bills, tuition, food, and recreational uses, it's small. Like... most of my staff makes as much or more than me. I don't need a lot, so it works out well. I'm a minimalist and a bargain shopper. I work 90+ hours a week, so I don't have a lot of time to spend a bunch of money anyhow. I choose to put my (fairly sizeable) potential salary back into growing my businesses, investing in the future.
While my enterprises are actually pretty successful for young, small businesses, and have all either already beaten the statistic of most businesses failing within the first 2 years, or are solidly on track to do so, I personally am technically not as far as you might think above the poverty line (This past year was the first time I made enough that I didn't qualify for HUSKY. That one's kinda bittersweet, actually). It doesn't feel or seem that way because of the way I lead my life - I actually think I have structured my existence so it is far more luxurious and full than that of people who make 10 times my salary. I never don't have enough of something, or anything (that's such a clunky sentence, but you know what I mean). I don't need much, I value what I have, I've made a lot of strategic choices and sacrifices, and I invest in my businesses and myself.
However, not raking in as much salary as I potentially could means that I don't just get to take off to Peru for weeks at a time. I don't get to hop over to Thailand for a month for funsies. When I do travel, it's usually for work, and I don't get paid for it; in fact, the whole trip comes out of my pocket. I don't own a private jet. I do have a motorcycle that gets sweet gas mileage that I commute with when the weather and my joints permit. I don't own a boat. I do borrow my friend's kayak on the rare occasion I get to take an afternoon off work. As I discussed in Misconceptions Pt 1, I kinda can take off when I want to, for instance taking a day trip to NYC recently to attend a lecture (fantastic event!), but it's not without its cost. Not just financial, but also what progress and forward motion in my business is lost by taking time off, and how much time and work will it take for me to just get back to where I was, much less push forward. Sometimes it's worth it 100%! Sometimes even if I technically could take the time off, it absolutely is not worth the extra work, productivity lost, and time and money that's just out the window. As a disabled babe, that also always plays into doing things. If I take a day off and it will take 2 days to get caught up, well add in at least another day if not two (or sometimes a lot more) for my body to break down, for the mental fog to hold me back, and for my anxiety to spike and eventually level back out. But I digress.
I'm not complaining, by the way. Aside from health things that I can do very little/nothing about, I am exceptionally happy with my life. I've built it the way I want it, I have full control over my time and energy expenditure, and get to spend my time enriching my mind and doing things that I am passionate about. Basically, I do what I want! But I want you to know that, in large part, when you see a person who owns a small business (definitely including me), they're not raking in a $100,000+/year salary. They're really lucky if their business is making that in profit! In the first 3-5 years of business, small business owners are really fortunate if their businesses are breaking even. That is, if they're coming in even a little bit in the black, they're beating the odds. Of course, that should change as the years go by; you should begin making a steadily larger and more stable income, and your businesses profit margins should be increasing as well. And the beauty of entrepreneurship is you have complete control over how much and in what ways you want to grow! While the start-up phase of any business is hard, if you can keep your head above water long enough to establish a client base and some brand recognition, if you've been doing your job well, working hard, saving, investing in your product properly, and providing a great service, you're probably going to be okay. Statistically, your odds of success just increased dramatically!
I did something ridiculous, though. I started a business, and about 3 years in, as it was doing really well, had a good profit margin, and was providing exceptional service and products, I started another business. So all the pure profit (and a lot of my salary) from the private practice got diverted into RFM. Now that RFM is more-or-less self-sufficient (though NE does still pay all the shared bills), I branched the tea co off from NE, which required a whole new set of branding, marketing, and overhead expenses! So basically, I am living in a constant state of start-up finances. I get to do a lot of amazing things, help an ever-increasing number of people, do some really cool research, but no one could ever accuse me of doing it for the money. Ha!
So here's the deal. This is not to make you feel bad for entrepreneurs. Dude, our lives are so hard and so amazing! And it's all self-inflicted, and it's the best (and sometimes the worst, but even then it's the best)! But no, the point is clarity. Understanding what it takes to do something innovative and new. Go it alone. No safety net, no guarantees, no one holding your hand. It's exhilarating! It's the best feeling imagineable. But we do give up a lot - finances, sleep, free time, health - to do these cool things. To create something beautiful. We are brave, bold, insane motherfuckers!
And, considering the time of year, I feel like it's also important to point out that you should support your friends who have started businesses. Their survival literally relies on people choosing to work with them. If a small business closes because they can't make ends meet, it's not just an "oh well, too bad" thing. As I mentioned above, a lot of entrepreneurs had to take out a lot of loans and lines of credit to make their dreams realities. They have bills. They owe their vendors money. Their staff wants to get paid. They've likely burned through their savings in order to create a better, more fulfilling life for themselves and others. So when you're doing your holiday shopping this year, go to your friends and other local small businesses first. Don't give your money to the Walton family. Before you go to the mall and spend your dollars at national and international chains, shop local. Not only will your gifts really stand out, but you'll be helping cool people (like me!) survive and thrive. That doesn't stop at gifts, either. Check out your co-ops, bakeries, and locally-owned grocery stores for your holiday food shopping. (Of course, all of this applies year 'round. Get to know your local craftsmen, small contracting companies, neighborhood artists, locally-owned coffee shops, etc.)
'Cause (here comes the anti-consumerist/capitalist rant you've been waiting for) here's the thing... your dollars have power. I know they don't seem like much, but each dollar, quarter, dime you spend has weight to it. You worked hard to get that money - don't give it to shitty people. Don't support them. Don't put your credit-card shaped stamp of approval on them. Don't waste your money on multi-millionaires who could blow their nose with your pitiful money and couldn't care less if you (or their own employees, even) died in the street. Don't give your money to people who are profiting off slave labor, sweatshops, undercutting hard-working families, and paying their employees well below living-wage. Use your money for good! Shop where it makes a difference. Support your fellow working class folks. Fight against capitalist, consumerist garbage. Spend your money where the people are kind, the products are good, and the employees are treated well. Use your buying power for good. Start now.
Oh, also - don't go shopping on Thanksgiving, and don't support that Black Friday garbage at big box stores. Fuck that consumerist bullshit! Spend Thanksgiving with your friends and family - retailers can wait 12 hours to sell their garbage so their employees can rest and enjoy a day with their loved ones. And on Friday if you must go shopping, check out local businesses. Give them your money. Even $5 makes a difference, I'm tellin' ya!