Small Business Is Not for Everyone
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Small Business Is Not for Everybody

Q: Steve, I think you should write something about how owning a business is not for everybody. I see that some people love it, but I also know some small business owners who hate their job and feel stuck. That is the other side of the coin, is it not? - John

A: Look, no one loves and beats the drum for small business more than me. But that said, it clearly is not for everyone.

Take for instance an old colleague of mine. He loved working for a large corporation. He was very successful at it and steadily moved up the corporate latter. And he loved doing big deals and making the big bucks. But he also thought he was missing something exciting by not being an entrepreneur. One day he quit the job and ventured out on his own.

He lasted less than a year.

It turned out that all of the skills that made him good at the corporate game translated very poorly to the small business / entrepreneurial one, and the things needed to make a go of a new startup were not in his repertoire. In the end, he ruefully, but happily, closed the doors of his small venture, and, as they say, got his old job back.

And that is just as it should be, is it not? Some people are artists and some are athletes. Some are doctors and others are lawyers. Some people are meant to be entrepreneurs and others are not. So what’s the difference?

You know you are NOT an entrepreneur if:

If predictability is important to you, you are probably not meant to be an entrepreneur: Startups are famously erratic affairs. Business plans change. People come and go. Ideas emerge and are discarded. Yes, as a business grows and matures, it gets far more predictable, but in the early growth / startup phase of a business, predictability is rare. Sure bigger businesses have their share of unpredictability, but usually it is usually of a qualitatively different nature.

If you don’t like risk, starting a small business is not for you: This may be the most difficult part for many a would-be small business person. Starting a business is a risk, plain and simple. You risk capital, time, and your reputation. Sometimes the risks pan out, but not always. That is both the scary and exciting part. You know if starting a business is right for you if the exciting part seems to outweigh the scary part. To me, that is the ultimate litmus test.

If working overtime is not your thing, running a small business is probably not your thing either: Plenty of people work hard these days, that’s a fact. But for the employee, working extra hard, working overtime, is the exception rather than the rule. But the opposite is true for most small business people, especially those folks working on a new startup. For them, working overtime is a job description, not a temporary condition.

If you can’t deal with uncertainty, starting a business is not for you: In a small business, again, especially a newer business, uncertainty is a way of life. When you work for someone else, a few things are typically fairly certain: You know when you will be paid and how much. You know what your benefits package is and how it works. But with a startup, such things are not so certain. Clients come and go. Money flows in and out. Things change on a daily basis. Living with that sort of uncertainty is not for a lot of people.

So no, starting a small business is not for everyone. The important thing then is to make sure you are psychologically capable of handling the stress and unpredictability that comes hand-in-hand with the fun and excitement.

Today’s Tip: If you need a board of advisors, getting involved in social media may be the answer. I recently heard the story of one woman who actively participated in various online groups and forums. When she decided that she needed an informal board of advisors, she put out the word to her online community. She was inundated with offers – from people she had never met in person.

© 2010 Steven D. Strauss,