Always On Call

The flexibility and freedom you have when you run your own company is awesome.  Now that I’ve experienced it for a few years, it’s something I don’t ever want to give up.  But there’s a flip side.  If you are critical to your company’s operations (and let’s be real, if you’re bootstrapping a small business, there’s no way that you aren’t), there’s always that potential that something could go wrong.  It could be anything, and it could be caused by any one of an infinite number of variables, most of which you have no control over.

So you end up being on call 24 x 7 x 365.

This used to stress me out.  I think it stresses a lot of people who are used to working a corporate job.  It’s rare at large companies that problems exist that no one else can solve.  But that happens all the time in a small business.  It’s impractical to have everyone trained on everything that goes on in the company.  One way or another, you’ll probably have some unique knowledge that others don’t.

Today was supposed to be an off-day from the warehouse for me, but at 9 AM I got a call from Greg telling me that FedEx updated their Ship Manager software and something was preventing us from being able to process our orders.  We import a batch file from our system, print all the shipping labels for the day, and then export back out the tracking numbers to the system.  Nothing was working.

So I dropped what I was doing, hopped in the car, and a few hours later was able to get everything up and running.  All of our orders were able to ship out for the day.  No customers were affected.  It could have been much worse.

It was frustrating, it wasn’t something I had anticipated or hoped would happen today, but once it did it didn’t really bother me.  It’s part of the deal.  If you want to run a business and have all of the freedom and benefits when things go great, you’ve got to accept the fact that there are going to be a bunch of mini-crisis that occur on a semi-regular basis.  When the problems are critical to your business – like printing shipping labels or your server mysteriously displaying an error on New Years Eve – you have to drop what you’re doing and solve the problem.  No matter where you are or what you’re doing.

Because, if you don’t, no one else will.

5 comments on Always On Call

  1. TIm says:

    Amen brother! This is what separates those who make it and those who don’t and never understand why. In the past I have likened having a business to having a child and as someone who doesn’t have children I don’t know if I am spot on or not, but there seem to be many obvious similarities and this is one of them. Those who are not entrepreneurs just don’t get this mindset, the concept of personal sacrifice for a greater cause seems to be a lost philosophy in the modern business world. Successful entrepreneurs never fully disengage, I know a lot of people will disagree with me, but even when I am with friends, or reading a fiction book to unwind, or whatever, my mind simply cannot shut down, I am always thinking, planning and generating ideas for my business.

    As an aside, this is one of the reasons I think it’s very important to have a strong understanding of every aspect of your business. No one person can be good at everything, but as a business owner you must understand and know about everything that goes on within your business or things will start slipping.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Love the children analogy…although I too do not have a child so I cannot say for sure if it’s accurate 🙂 And there’s nothing wrong with always being “on” so long as it doesn’t prevent you from enjoying other things. It’s weird to explain – I can be totally focused on watching a football game but the moment the phone rings with an issue a switch flips mentally and I could care less about the game. But that doesn’t mean that while I’m watching the game I’m constantly thinking “oh man, what if something goes wrong…” I just deal with it when it happens and accept it. And most of the time nothing happens and the potential disaster never crosses my mind.

  2. Adam McFarland says:

    Some more comments over on the Brazen Careerist

  3. This is very true. I was in Europe for 15 days last month. It was a vacation but I brought the laptop with and worked a little bit each day (about one hour per day).

    It was frustrating, but what you say is true…no one else can fix most problems that come up…so I must stay accountable.

    Maybe the key will be to always work one hour a day…like “four hour work week”, then spend the rest of the time on “vacation”. Something to strive for I suppose…

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Well said Brian. Unless you’re really really removed from the operations and you don’t make any of the important decisions, there’s always going to be some minimum output required. But an hour a day sounds pretty appealing 🙂

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