Be an Ethical Entrepreneur, Marketer, and Business Builder

Should a parent of a toddler start a business?

Nine years ago at the age of 26 I bought my first business.
Since then, I’ve bought and sold 3 businesses, started a 4th, got married, and now have a 17-month old.

So, if I had to start that process from scratch today, would I do it with a young, growing family?

To set the stage, you will not find a bigger supporter of entrepreneurs and capitalism (not to be confused with cronyism).

I love business.
The challenges, the changes, the rewards, the people and the lives that are enriched by it.

Though I made many mistakes, I would be an entrepreneur all over again if I could go back in time.

However, would I start a business from scratch as a 35-year old with a wife and baby???

If I was giving my sister or best friend, who both have 2 children and are in their mid-30’s, advice on whether to start a business, here are a few questions I’d ask.

Do you hate your job?
Like really hate it.
Does your spouse cringe when you sit down at the dinner table because she knows it’s just going to be a barrage of negativity?
Do your friends “get busy” when you call because they know it’s just going to be a complaining session?

First, if that’s just your personality, fix it.
But if that’s truly the opposite of your personality (seek the honest feedback from people you trust), then get out as fast as you can.

No job is worth anxiety, depression, or a heart attack.
More importantly, no job is worth alienating your spouse, friends, and family.

Consider trying to fix the culture at your current job while you start looking for a new job.

But, instead of another job, should you just start a business?

Questions to ask yourself before starting a business as a parent

  1. Do you have at least 6 months of living expenses saved up (preferably 12)? Trying to start a business without the cash to survive for AT LEAST 6 months while you have a family to support is simply selfish and irresponsible. Can you make it work? Maybe. Is it worth risking your livelihood and providing for your family? No. If you are unemployed and can’t find work, then, by all means, start a business. In fact, according to The Millionaire Next Door, this is one of the most common reasons people start a business – they have no other option.
  2. Do you have access to the capital you’ll need (in addition to your living expenses) to fund the business? This doesn’t have to be a lot but you generally will need some money to invest in marketing, software, sales materials, uniforms, gas, insurance, etc.
  3. Do you have potential backup jobs available? Most businesses fail. Don’t delude yourself going in. Accept the risks and face them. Part of that is having a backup plan. Only fools believe blindly in their business idea.
  4. Do you have multiple business ideas that you can launch in a short amount of time if needed? Hedge your bet a bit. If your full-time job is to make a business successful and you currently have no clients or income, be prepared to try a few different ideas while you’re living off of your savings.
  5. Are you living below your means? If not, then don’t even consider starting a business. Making a business successful is about delayed gratification which means continually trading your short term time and money for a long-term result. If you already spend your full paycheck, then you aren’t ready for the financial sacrifices of getting a business off-the-ground.

In summary, there’s a myth that entrepreneurs are stubbornly obsessed and risk everything to follow that one great idea!

That’s not true at all.

Smart entrepreneurs fail fast and ditch the bad ideas or pivot them to good ideas and THEN, once they’ve proven they have a good idea through finding some paying clients, stubbornly pursue it.

This is why your first 1-3 businesses are learning businesses.

Why do you want to start a business?

Most people answer some version of more money and more time.

That’s a reasonable answer.

What most people don’t consider is, to get more time you need money. And if you don’t have a lot of money right now, then you need to invest lots of time.

As an example, if you have $2 million dollars in the bank, you could put that in a few Dividend Aristocrat stocks that generate 5% dividends, live off of the $100k in annual dividends, and never work again.

That’s an extreme example of buying back all of your time.

In a small business, once you invest the time to build your business, then you can use the profits to hire people to do your work – once again, you’re buying more time.

If you don’t have time or money, then you can’t start a business.

Granted, if you do have money, forget about starting a business and just buy one. Rare is the business model you can start from scratch that will grow your wealth faster than acquiring an already successful business (or business model).

Keep in mind up to 8 out of 10 new businesses fail whereas nearly 7 out of 10 acquired businesses succeed. (Depending on which study you read, those numbers do vary a bit but the point is still valid, buying a successful business is a lot less risky.)

How long does it take to be successful?

To become an overnight success takes 10 years.

Michael Masterson wrote a book called Seven Years to Seven Figures that claims you can be a millionaire in 7 years.

Mark Cuban didn’t take a vacation for 7 years.

Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, worked 100 hour weeks for 24 years before becoming CEO.

Brad Sugars breaks it down a bit more in the time it takes to be a millionaire:

  • For most people – at least 10 years.
  • For those with a head start, like lots of experience, capital, or the right connections – 7-9 years
  • All of the above plus you’re super-lucky and amazingly talented – 3-5 years

This is important to keep in mind if you have a 2-year-old running around. How much time with your family are you willing to miss to hit your desired success?

There is no right answer and I can’t answer that question for you.
BUT it is a real, serious question that you need to answer with your spouse.

And if you think I’m exaggerating about the time and sacrifices needed to be successful in business, maybe you’ll believe Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, or the CEO of Pepsi who says her intense dedication to her job may have made her a worse parent.

Ouch.

Is starting your business and making it successful the most important thing in your life?

Listen – of course, you’re going to say no. I would say, no.

You will say your spouse, your children, your family, your faith, your health are all more important.

Fair enough. I’ll second that.

However, in the last week, how much time have you spent truly with your spouse? Sleeping and watching TV together while on your phones doesn’t count.

How about with your children? Again, watching TV doesn’t count.

On your health (working out and preparing healthy meals)?
Praying?

Now, how much time did you spend working?

If time is your most important asset, where are you investing it?

If you took your limited time working out, with children, with your spouse, praying, and with family and friends and you had to cut it in half for the next 3-5 years to make your business successful, would you?

What if you had to cut it in half again? (That takes us down to ¼ the amount of time you currently spend on the most important things in life.)

Of course, if your evenings and weekends are spent watching TV, surfing the internet, or posting on social media, then you have some time available.

But the point still stands.

At this stage in your life, can you invest the time needed to make your startup successful?

Recently, a coaching group for budding entrepreneurs was working on accountability partners.

This line of thinking boggles my mind.

How committed are you to success if you need an accountability partner for your business!?

Mentor? Absolutely.
Coach? Sure.
Cheerleader? Awesome.

But someone to hold you accountable to do what’s needed to succeed?
If you need that, why even start?

Sacrifices I made as a young, single start-up founder

  1. I slept on an air mattress for almost a year in an apartment with no furniture.
  2. I charged up a 0% interest credit card to cover living expenses (over $5,000 worth). However, I never paid a dime in interest charges or late fees.
  3. To chase the opportunities, in a span of 10 years I moved from WI to PA to NM to NC, back to NM, back to NC and finally back to PA including a few short stints staying with friends and family in-between.
  4. I worked a lot. Let’s not blow this out of proportion, I’m no Jeffrey Immelt or Marissa Mayer, however, I also rarely went an entire day without working. Some weeks were probably 80 or 100 hours. Most were probably around 60. A bit higher if you include all the books I read to learn how to build a business.
  5. I worked out a lot more than I do now. With a family, I’m just not willing to give up that much time from my family now. These days I work out 4-5 days/week in about 15-20 minute sessions. No more 5 mile runs or 10-mile bike rides.
  6. I didn’t take any income from the business I started for about 3 years. (I lived off of consulting income.)

Could I do all of these things now, again, with a family to support?
Yes.
One way or another, I could scrimp, scrounge, sacrifice, and save to make it work.

More importantly, would I be willing to?
No.

To most, that answer sounds completely and utterly unbelievable.

And if you had asked me that same question 18 months ago, I would have given you a different answer.

As cliche’ as it sounds, having a family changes everything.

Earlier I asked if your business idea is the most important thing in your life because, unless you’re unbelievably lucky and brilliant, it will take precedent in your life if you want to succeed.

Today, with a 17-month old and a wife, the sacrifices to start a business aren’t worth it to me.

Here’s why…

Most mornings I get my son up, get him some milk, change his diaper and get him ready.

Most evenings I play with him, wrestle with him, teach him and just have fun for a few hours. I then bathe him, get him ready for bed, read to him, and snuggle until he falls asleep at which point I put him to bed.

Most weekends I don’t do any work beyond maybe checking some emails. Just typing that out seems strange to me since it was my habit for so long to get “caught up” with work on the weekends.

These days my wife and I make it a priority to spend time with both of our families and do something fun with our son nearly every weekend. (Just this past weekend. for instance, we took him to the PA Trolley Museum to visit Daniel Tiger.)

As I was starting on my entrepreneurial journey, this family schedule would have been impossible.

For me, no business is worth giving that up.

Again, if I had no other options, was unemployed, and needed to put food on the table, I would start a business and make the sacrifices necessary to support my family.

So what are you going to do?

Ask yourself the above questions, discuss them with your spouse, and determine if starting a business at this stage in your life is what’s best for you and your family.

To your success,
Bryan

P.S. If you started a business with a young family and still were able to work a “normal” schedule to spend time with your family, you’re a bit of a unicorn. I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment.

photo by: joejungmann

Intrapreneur vs Entrepreneur… The 2 types of people every business has…

Every business is comprised of 2 basic types of people.

Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs… Those who want risk, reward, challenges, and the excitement that comes with that and those who want stability, direction, consistency and the security that may come with that. Of course there are also those who just want a free ride and try to skirt responsibility, cut every corner, and get away with the highest pay for the least amount of effort, responsibility, or risk – but we’re going to skip over that lesser type and focus on the positive parts of an organization.

Before we delve into these 2 types, keep in mind this is an exercise in simplicity. It’s helped me determine and target which individuals I need to hire for which positions and it’s also helped me tailor, structure, and respond to those already on my team. Probably more importantly, it’s given me a greater understanding of my own requirements, desires, and motivations so that I can keep myself passionate and effective.

So which are you and how do you identify those around you?

Intrapreneur – These are the 9-5ers. The team members who don’t want to come earlier than starting time or stay late (though sometimes they may). They want to know exactly what they’re going to do that day, and know that next week, next month, and next year their paycheck will be there. For these types of individuals it’s very important that your leadership is consistent, fair, and direct. They want detailed, specific training. They want all the right tools and they want to know how to address any situation. These individuals are risk-averse and generally prefer repetition in their tasks so they know they’re doing what they do best constantly.

Entreprenuer – According to dictionary.com, entrepreneur is “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, esp. a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” Within your team, whether they are leaders or not isn’t significant. They’ll naturally gravitate to the leadership positions and get people to follow their lead whether they’re given the title or not. They want excitement and a challenge. They are proud of their creative talents and want a forum to showcase them. Responsibility and appropriate reward for their risk-taking is very important. They hate being stagnant. If you aren’t helping them get better, faster, and smarter constantly, they won’t stay. Appropriately these are the traits of entreprenuers who venture into their own businesses, however with an environment that provides them the benefits of self-employment these individuals can thrive within an organization owned by someone else.

So why understand these classifications? As I mentioned above there are 2 main reasons:

  1. To identify for yourself which one you are so you can understand your own strengths and weaknesses.
  2. To identify which your other team members are so you can structure your communications with them to meet them on their level.

Let’s look at #2 first. What would be the difference between an Intrapreneur and Entrepreneur as far as appropriate compensation? The following video discusses some science that helps us better understand how to answer that:

The ROWE work environment is GREAT for entrepreneurial individuals. The studies he mentioned demonstrated that with those type of individuals working in complex, changing, challenging environments where “thought” is the primary value of the team members, compensating based on performance is counter-productive. However, intrapreneurs, who value consistency, will respond much better to simple tasks with compensation tied directly to their performance. Which is why in my organization, I work hard to incentivize those simple tasks.

So let’s jump back to #1 so we can better understand how introspection and clarification can help us perform at our peak. This is broken down into 2 sub-categories:

  1. Our interactions with other team members.
  2. Our goals for ourselves.

Let’s take a scenario and see how it might differ based on the circumstances. Let’s say you’re the leader and you’re implementing a new, exciting product in your business. Since your team members are in front of customers all day every day you have to get buy-in from all of them so how do you present it to an intrapreneur and an entrepreneur?

The intrapreneur will require a LOT of hand-holding. They want instructions, scripts of what to say, Frequently Asked Questions with the appropriate responses and all the benefits listed out so they can reference and recite them.

Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, need excitement. If they believe in the product and are excited about how it can help them and the customers whom they interact with, they’ll figure out the rest. They’ll learn how to answer the tough questions and the best way to present it in a way that’s comfortable and yet effective.

How do I know this is true? As one example, in my business we just started Platinum Care Plans which are simply extended warranties including all necessary maintenance. My entreprenurial individuals ran with it. My intrapreneurial individuals, at best, have started mentioning it to customers but have not sold one Platinum Care plan. Why? Because I didn’t present the information that they needed in the way that they appreciated so that they were comfortable enough to sell it.

Now here’s the real kicker, considering that I’m the entrepreneurial type (squared), is it any wonder that I presented the information in a way that was more digestible for the entrepreneurial team members??? Of course not. Which is exactly why we must understand how we fit into this scope. Next time I’ll do a better job of helping my intrapreneurs right from the start of a new product.

More importantly, understanding our own basic tendencies can help us more fully understand how to structure our business and personal goals. For instance, if you’re exceedingly entrepreneurial, at some point you’re going to want to go out on your own. You’re going to want your own business or be in charge of your own team with minimal oversight and you’re going to structure your education, contacts, and career choices to get you closer to that goal. If you’re exceedingly intrapreneurial, you’re going to generally look for a skilled trade and a reliable, predictable business where you can work. Now that skilled trade can be computer programming, accounting, or plumbing. It doesn’t matter much, you just want stability and the comfort that comes along with that.

Since this post is getting long, I’ll continue my next blog with more clarifications on what BOTH intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs have in common and require from their leaders.

To your success, Bryan

Why Not?

No matter how a self-made person has become successful, every single one of them has one thing in common – at some point they asked “Why not?”, couldn’t come up with a good reason to not do it, and took a chance trying something new.

This is the hardest part in becoming successful for most people. Taking that risk, that chance, and not knowing if it will work out.  Ironically, for some people, like myself, taking that leap into the unknown is the best part!

So let’s look at 2 different aspects of risk-taking:

  1. Why everyone, at some point in their life, needs to go out on a limb and do something for which they can’t guarantee the outcome.
  2. How to take that leap while hedging your bet to ensure success (while accepting failure).

Why we all need to take a flying leap.

Because that’s what makes us human. Nothing great was ever accomplished with out risk and effort. Nothing. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve told myself (and others) that we’re all given one life, it’s up to us to choose if we’re going to live it. What does that mean? That means that you need to take that spontaneous trip this weekend not next. That means you need to write that children’s book you’ve always wanted to. That means you need to learn to paint or how to speak another language or how to fly an airplane. What? I thought this blog was about business? That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Why go through all the headache, heartache and hassles of buying, building, and selling a business if it doesn’t give you the freedom to live your entire life as you wish? Here’s an even better reason. When you learn to live your life in such a way that you regularly take small risks, the fear of  taking that step toward not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from will be so much easier.

If that all sounds like the prescription that can only work for an adrenaline junky, consider this – there are no guarantees your next paycheck will be there anyway. With 9.4% unemployment in the US, massive layoffs, and over 120 banks closing in the US in the past year, even our most “secure” businesses can fail. At least with your own business you have the ability to control your own destiny. Beyond that, guess who’s going to be the last person to get laid off at your business? Obviously you. If your business currently supports 10 or 20 or 50 people, that can be quite a buffer for when times get tough. After all, it’s your choice who stays and goes.

But we don’t need to do it without a parachute.

When you’re ready to take that next step in your life you shouldn’t do so so recklessly that you guarantee and invite failure just for the adrenaline rush, battle scars, and the ability to say “well at least I tried.” So here’s what I’d recommend (and what I’ve done with my “risks”).

  1. Have a detailed, written, milestone and goal-oriented plan in place before you start. In other words, if you’re buying a business, know exactly what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it to improve that business. Before it’s ever acquired you MUST have an exit strategy (and probably 2 or 3 in place). Granted, the plans never work out exactly as anticipated but that’s not the point. The point is when the world is falling in around you and you’re so overwhelmed by working IN your business, you can always pull out that list to help you get back on track. From personal experience I can say this step is invaluable. After all, this is the reason 300 businesses failed in NYC. You can learn a bit more about what questions entrepreneurs ask to formulate that business plan.
  2. Have liquid assets for a rainy day. Whether it’s to make that mortgage payment on your rental property when you don’t have tenants or because you can’t cash your paycheck until the next payment comes in, when you’re living on the edge you always need a cash buffer. Even if you are so good (or lucky) that you never have to use it, you’ll never regret having enough cash on hand to survive for at least 3-6 months with no income. This is one of the keys to generating wealth.
  3. Have a backup plan. As a matter of fact, have no less than 5 backup plans. 10 backup plans is probably better. Why? Because I can’t predict the future and neither can you. Just as in effective marketing, only the customer can tell you what’s the best ad, the same is true for any idea. If you’re quitting your job to go out on your own, you probably want to be working on a few ideas at all times. Of course we have all heard stories about the guy working from his mom’s basement for 3 years with little to no income to build a business (my grandfather did just that), but realistically, if you have a good business plan, and you’re working hard at marketing, and you have a good product or service and you’re not making money pretty quickly, you probably should do something else. Big public companies like Amazon.com and Ebay who lost millions before making a dime are exceptions to the rule and the complexity of structuring a public offering to generate enough capital to cover those losses is way beyond the scope of my simple blog. 🙂
  4. Accept and Expect Failure – That doesn’t sound real positive now does it? Why would we want to ever consider that? Aren’t we then programming ourselves for that exact failure? No, and here’s why. Expect and visualize being successful in your business or whatever risk you take at all times. However you must understand that no one successful did it on the first try. We all make mistakes and have a lot to learn. We all get rejected and one or 2 or 20 of our “bright ideas” fall flat on their faces. Whether that’s the marketing project that’s going to skyrocket your sales or the team incentive that’s going to double productivity, we’re going to miss the mark (and be all the wiser for it) at some point. Actually we’re going to miss the mark at a lot of points. As I always say, if you make a mistake and learn from it, it’s never a failure. Supposedly Edison failed over 6000 times at making the light bulb viable and remarked on the failures by saying “They taught something that I didn’t know. They taught me what direction to move in.” Entrepreneurs know there will be “failures” along the way and yet we know those lessons are just as valuable as the successes.

My last thought on the subject is again, Why Not? What’s the worst that can happen? You burn your time, energy, and cash reserves and then have to go get a job again? If you hedge your bet with the 4 suggestions above, even that would be unlikely but so what? Worse things have happened to far better people. Take that risk. Take that chance. Take that flying leap. Carpe Diem!

To your risk-taking success, Bryan