Anyone who owns a business like ours has been there.
You’ve just met a new group of people and they casually ask what you do for a living. You give one of a variety of answers, based upon how web-savvy the crowd is and how interested you are in talking about your business at the moment. They think what you do is really cool and they ask a bunch of nosey-but-well-intended questions.
In a way, it gets a bit old. Of course, in another way it’s pretty freaking cool. Having someone genuinely interested in what you do is a pretty big compliment.
Then the night goes on like normal. Until someone brings up one of the following: their lack of vacation time, their not-so-wonderful boss, the glass ceiling at their job, the BS politics, or the perpetual fear of losing their job. And then they say it. They look you in the eye, smile, and (somewhat sarcastically) say: “Of course, YOU don’t have to worry about that!” Again, in a way it’s a compliment. But in another way it’s as if they’re saying “look at the business owner who is soooo cool that he doesn’t have to deal with all of the crap that the rest of us do. Must be nice to be him. ”
The easy answer is to just smile and say “yup, you’re right. It’s nice not having that stuff going through my head. Being a business owner is awesome.”
In a way, that’s true – it’s what I used to say back when I had more of a chip on my shoulder and was trying to prove that entrepreneurship (or better yet, my choice of entrepreneurship) was “superior”. Now I smile and say how I truly feel. Something along the lines of “yes, that’s definitely true, but like anything else in life there are trade-offs.”
I don’t have to worry about many of the things that stress someone in a typical corporate position, but I also have stresses that they don’t. Trying to speak from a completely generalized point of view: owing a business is neither “better” nor “worse” than having a job. It’s just a different path. A path that I happen to feel suits me better, but that doesn’t mean that the lifestyle should necessarily be romanticized as much as I feel like it is. At times owning a business sucks far worse than going to work at 9 and checking out at 5.
Yup, my pay has no ceiling. I can give myself a raise whenever I want. I don’t need to worry about my bosses nephew getting preferential treatment and taking “my promotion”. Of course, my salary also has no floor. Earlier this year we didn’t pay ourselves for several months to survive our move and expansion. And every time I do give myself a raise I am taking away from money that could be used to increase marketing or hire/train employees. Pay yourself more at the cost of growing your company (and your stock), or pay yourself less and struggle to pay your bills? Show me an employee who has to make a decision like that.
Sure, I can take a day “off” whenever I want. I don’t need to get permission from anyone. I don’t need to deduct it from my yearly vacation time. At this point, the company won’t fall apart without me. Of course, at any time on one of those days off something could happen and I could immediately be pulled away from whatever I’m doing from an indefinite amount of time (see our server issue from a few months ago). The reality is that until we have a large staff I cannot completely get away from work from any discernible amount of time. I feel like I’ve done a good job this year of spending more time with friends and family away from work, but I still haven’t taken anything even close to resembling a vacation in several years (Florida for a week in January of 2005 is the most recent I can think of). And even with a staff, I’ll probably be so passionate about what we’re working on that I’ll want to be contacted if something major goes wrong…even if I’m not the one fixing it. So is the life of an entrepreneur who loves what they do. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I will be able to spend more time away from work in the coming years. But when that time comes it will come because of great sacrifice over the previous years. It’s not something that I lucked in to, it’s something I earned through my choices and my hard work. I understand if others think it’s “cool”, but I don’t necessarily think they’d find the process leading up to it very “cool”.
There’s always more to the story than what you see on the surface.