Thursday, September 17, 2009

What is it like to have your own home, family business? Let me count the ways.

Everything that goes wrong is your fault. Everything that goes right, must be profitable. If it's not profitable, it went wrong somewhere and you are to blame. You must have a myriad of phones, all with slightly different rings. They can all ring, at any and all hours, every day of the week, and no one will answer them but you. Strangers on the other end will make unreasonable and unexpected demands. At all hours of the day, you are concerned with inventing your product, making your product, and selling your product. That is The Great Triangle of Business. The triangle is the strongest geometric shape, but without one of those three sides, it all crumbles. All of it.

Your house is your office. Your garage carries your inventory. Your car is not just your car, it is your business van. It carries all of your work; your maps, your plans, contracts, flyers, samples, phone chargers, tools. Also, if there's room, a stroller. Yes, you have children, but they are mere distractions, background noise during business calls. A cute, crying, incessant errand that comes between work details.

Every expense is your expense. You buy the pens, the paper, the ink jet cartridges, and you are the one who has to re-stock the supply closet. You are the one who puts the little labels on the files. You are the IT guy. You take out the trash and you clean out the fridge. You make the coffee. No one brings you a cup, and no one cleans it for you when you're done with it, unless your spouse is in a good mood.

Your spouse is your boss, and your employee. Communication with your spouse is necessary, constant. All business meetings include household disputes, utility costs, personal interests, and scheduling around childcare. You must get along with your boss/employee at all costs, otherwise, again, all will crumble. Profitability depends on it. Domestic tranquility depends on it. Your sex life depends on it.

There are no set times to go to work, or come home. Just as there are no real vacations, no weekends. Faxes come in from various banks and marketing firms at 6AM Eastern time and they ring, beep, and print out in the next room, 10 feet from your bed. You get 10 times more junk mail than everyone else. You meet 10 times more people than everyone else. You see the insides of 10 times as many homes as everyone else. You get laid off every week. You have to find a new job every week. You are always 10 weeks away from bankruptcy, 10 weeks away from foreclosure, and 10 coin-flips away from a lawsuit where if you lose, they take everything. You have to buy your own health insurance, and pay full price.

You have to buy your own liability insurance, buy your own disability insurance, and buy your own life insurance. You have to consciously pay into your own retirement plan, and consciously plan out your own taxes. If you have employees, you more or less have to get all those things for them, too. If your printer breaks, you can't use the one in the next cubicle. If the copier breaks, you have to drive down the street to the Kinko's. If your car breaks down, your business comes to a halt. If your kid gets sick, your business comes to a halt. If your spouse is mad at you for something, your business comes to a halt. Save every receipt. The only thing that is not a business expense is your own well-being, but somehow you'll find a way to write that off, too.

Don't lose anything, especially addresses and phone numbers. Be friendly with customers, but don't be friends with them. Never forget the most important thing: that this is a business transaction. The customer is not always right. Sometimes they're just plain crazy with arrogance, and sometimes they're just plain mean, and sometimes you have to walk away holding your breath. If they say they can get something better for less, you tell them to go for it, since you are already offering them good, reliable work at a decent price.

You pray you won't break anything on the job you can't replace. This includes your bones. Without your bones, you are a formless, gelatinous mass. True too, with no tools. If you break a tool, buy a new one immediately without even thinking about the cost.

Have the right answers to every customer's questions. If you don't have the right answer, explain where you will find the right answer and when you will get back to them. Never offer an excuse for anything when a simple apology is almost always sufficient. Have a solution with every phone call, with every meeting. If you can't provide solutions, be prepared to walk away penniless. And step away quickly, or the door will smack you in the ass.

All licenses and bonds in all cities and states in which you do business must be current.

It is your responsibility to know all current, associated, and applicable local, state, and federal laws. The government is at every turn, showing you their palm in either the "halt" formation or the "handout" formation. They are not waiting for a "high five". They don't like you doing things by yourself, on your own, and without their knowing about it. They think they can do it better than you. They can't, but it doesn't matter, even if you vote them out in the next election cycle. You give to Caesar what is Caesar's.

Offer clients your best, but give them what they want, which are oftentimes two things that are diametrically opposed. Aim for perfection, but don't toss your pearls before swine. Work hard and have goals. Not just business goals, but a goal for your life, a goal for the year, the week, the day, and the moment. Concentrate on the moment. But don't spend that moment concentrating on how you are wasting your time going nowhere, as this will doom your business, your family. Be happy. Know that you are not going nowhere, but that you are going home. Know also that your work follows you home, which is different from your house, where your business is. Rise above it all, otherwise your whole family will drown, and your children will resent you for this failure for the rest of your life and theirs. Rise above it all and you will be their hero, which is all that really matters.

You have your own business. The American Dream is real, and your bearing it out is the proof. You are The Man. You make the call, and call the shots. You know how to start, and when to quit. No one calls you into their office to tell you to "get with the program". It's your program. You will never be fired. Your business is your name. You have the self-satisfaction of inventing yourself, making yourself, and selling yourself. It's the hardest thing you've ever done, the best thing you've ever done, and you will do it every day. Since it's who you are, you don't have much of a choice. And if it doesn't work today, tomorrow you'll try something else that will.