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Running a business: The good and the bad

December 8, 2010

With Clear Presentation Design being just over a year old I thought it might be a good time to put together some of my thoughts on the good and bad aspects of running your own business. Now, while these views are my own, and based on my experiences over the last yearI would imagine that most business owners would identify to a certain degree with at least some of what I have to say here.

I’ll kick things off with the “Bad” aspects so I can end with the good news 🙂

THE BAD

1. You do what?… oh that’s nice.

The majority of people who are important to you, friends, family etc, will just not understand.

Firstly, they will probably not fully understand what exactly it is that you do. This is of course fair enough, especially if you inhabit a pretty specific niche like I do.

The bottom line is that people won’t understand what you do and will probably label you as some sort of glorified unemployed person loafing around fiddling around with some sort of technology or another. It’s something you have to learn to live with.

Secondly, people won’t understand why you are doing it, they won’t understand why it is that you have become self-employed or started your own business, it isn’t “normal” after all. The hard work, long days and major achievements are of course not seen, then when people hear you are doing some work at a café they will just assume you have been playing ping-pong and reading comics all day and are just taking another break.

At the very least you will know they are wrong because you know damn well the efforts of being a business owner.

2.  A light piggy bank

I have just concluded my first year of running my own business, (Happy birthday to me!) and while I am 100% happy with my decision to become self-employed, it is quite obvious that I could have earned a lot more money doing a lot of other things.

However, most – but not all – business owners are not in it for the money. I would imagine if you asked 100 entrepreneurs to tell you what their top 3 motivating factors for starting their business that not more than two or three would have money topping the list.

By starting your own business, and pursuing something that you are good at and enjoy you will often have to sacrifice the potential to obtain a higher income (at least in the short term).

Most business owners would admit this is a sacrifice they are very much willing to live with.

3. Living with doubt

This was put into words rather well by Seth Godin in a recent blog post of his:
“People don’t like doubt, so they pay money and give up opportunities to avoid it. Entrepreneurship is largely about living with doubt, as is creating just about any sort of art.”

The life of an entrepreneur is one that is highly intertwined with unpredictability and doubt. For most people who run a business there are many things that cannot be accurately forecasted for, for example things like money, time, workload, health are just a few of the more important ones. Doubt is something you have to accept as the status quo when you are a business owner, if you can’t accept that well then starting your own business probably isn’t for you.

When providing professional services, like I do, you have to accept that there is also doubt and unpredictability in your working pattern. Sometimes you will be busy and totally worked off your feet. At other times you will have a much lighter workload and have time to breathe again. It all balances out in the end.

4. You are always on

I have found that it can be almost impossible to “sign out” for the day. This may be something particular to me, but I would suspect this is a common theme among business owners.

In a way I think it is a good reflection of how much you are into your business, but at the same time it can become a bit annoying when you are mulling over work details while out with friends or trying to go to bed! (I must add that his has not been helped by my acquisition of my much-loved HTC desire which allows me to access the net at all times)

As a business creator and operator you really ARE your business, this is quite literally the case for freelancers and the self-employed.

Whenever I have been employed by other organisations I have been able to very clearly define the boundaries between work and personal life and make sure they remained relatively separate. Owning, running and being your business can make this nearly impossible.

5. All alone

One of the common questions asked by people is “don’t you get lonely working from home”, for me the answer to this is… not really. I do work from a home office but I also have some great friends who live near me who I visit all the time. Through twitter I have also made contact with local business folk and technology nerds like myself and meet up with them on a regular basis. (#dalkeyopenbottle I am looking at you!)

I also attend many networking events and always find them very helpful and enjoyable, you tend to meet other business owners at these events and we all share a common communal “we are all in it together” attitude towards our own type 🙂

I also think that some people are more made for solitude than others. They think, concentrate and work much more efficiently and effectively when let get on with their work in an uninterrupted fashion. Others may crave the office gossip and distraction. If you aren’t going to be OK with long periods of working alone, perhaps being a business owner isn’t for you.

6. The everything dept.

For many entrepreneurs who run a small operation they are the “everything” department. Sales, Marketing, HR, Accountancy, IT, Catering etc etc are all your duty now.

This can be troublesome for people who are good at say, the actual designing of websites, but have no experience with marketing this services and then going out and actually selling these services to people face to face.

It is a steep learning curve and in order to run an effective business you will have to master all these areas and deal with any uncomfortableness you have with them if you want to be successful.

7. You can check out… but you can never leave

You know those things that once have been seen can’t be unseen? And those things that once experienced cannot be forgotten? Well I would count running your own business as one of these experiences.

Once you have experienced the freedom, control and (intermittent) joy that comes from running a business you love it is hard to imagine going back to working in a “normal” job.

The thoughts of being confined to – and not having any other choice – working within a specific square footage, in a specific building, between specific hours, in a specific manner just seems bafflingly stupid and soul destroying. The problem is that once you run your own business these facts become very visible and unforgettable.

I think for many entrepreneurs returning to a “normal” workplace would be bordering on impossible.

The GOOD

1. Getting to know my area

It may seem odd to include in this list. But over the last year I have gained a huge appreciation for my local area. In previous years I have spent most of my waking day in other places, whether it be on a college campus, or in a workplace somewhere other than near where I live.

As a way to get out of the office and relax I often go for walks, my favourite spot is a place called Killiney Hill which really is a fantastic woodland area. The view from the top of Dublin Bay, the Wicklow Mountains and Dublin city must be one of the most breath-taking views in all of Ireland.

I have also become a huge fan of a local town, Dalkey, which again is frighteningly beautiful and has one of the best Cafes I know of, “Mugs”. If you are ever in Dalkey I suggest you pop in and grab the couch upstairs.

Living and working where I do has made the whole process a lot easier and being able to get away and spend an hour or two in these places really relaxes you and keeps you fresh.

2. The people

Since starting my business just over a year ago I have met some great people. I have met great entrepreneurs who have come up with some really smart ideas and projects. Spending time with people like this really helps you get inspiration on improvements that can be made to your own business and just broadens your horizons in general.

Most (… but not all) of my clients have been thoroughly nice people who have been a complete pleasure to work with. I have kept in touch with most of these people and enjoy catching up with them at networking events around the city.

In particular I have become good friends with a number of small business owners and we meet regularly to share our experiences, complaints, achievements etc. over a nice warm coffee, or indeed a nice cold beer.

3. Time

As I mentioned before, the notion of being forced to work between specific, essentially arbitrarily chosen hours is a little bit ridiculous. Not everyone works well at the same time of the day, and not everyone achieves the same in a 9 to 5 period as someone else.

Being a business owner means that you have choice on when you get your work done. Control over how you manage time in your day to day life is surely one of the best perks there can be to have in a job. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t always work out to your advantage. Sometimes you have to “choose” to pull an all-nighter in order to complete jobs that have tight timelines, but you can always compensate at a later date by creating some free time for yourself.

4. Choosing where to work

Equally stupid to the dictation specific “work hours” is dictating the exact square footage and building that you may perform this work within. For self-employed people, especially for those who only require a computer to get stuff done, “work” is no longer necessarily a place as well as an activity.

For example I work primarily from a home office. Sometimes I choose to go do some work in my local café and drink some delicious coffee there, other times I might work from a library. On snowy, rainy days I am particularly glad that my choice to work from a home office means I do not have to spend an hour getting to work and another hour getting home from work… It’s pretty great 🙂

My favourite workplace of this year was by a nice spot by the sea on a sunny spring day. I was sketching out a structure for some slides I was going to start work on later and got to sit there in the sun watching gannets (a sea-bird which dives at impressive speeds into the water to catch fish) doing their thing. As I thought about the difference between this and working in a grey cubicle it became obvious that freedom of where I can work is important to me.

5. Creating something from scratch

There is something deeply satisfying about creating something from scratch, this is the case even with small things like making your own pizza, and this is most certainly the case with starting your own business.

The thought of starting my own presentation design business had been with me for a number of months before I actually decided to act on it and get things moving, I thought it would be impossible. I was wrong, it wasn’t impossible, but it was pretty hard. That being said, with technology like Twitter, LinkedIn, Slideshare and WordPress I was able to get a basic business up and going within a weekend and pretty limited cost.

Deciding on what you want your business to be, how you want it the brand to look and feel and then putting that into practice is a fantastic experience and one that I am sure all business owners are fiercely proud of.

6. Learning

By running your own business you will learn a lot. In a way you have to learn quickly or else you will fail quickly. Every job I have done for a client has taught me something new. Sometimes it is something new about how to make better visuals for presentations, at other times it is something new about how to work better with clients. The learning never stops.

I think that people who work in or operate small businesses also have a much greater appreciation for the role that new technologies can play in helping them to succeed than their larger, more corporate counterparts.

Twitter, Linkedin, Slideshare (when used the right way i.e. not just for spamming) and things like Google docs tend to be part of all entrepreneurs toolbox but are often things that most office workers have very little understanding of.

Entrepreneurs, through things like blogs and good old fashioned conversations, are great sharers of information. I really enjoy constantly learning and sharing information with others that I think will help them do better in business.

A decision to be an entrepreneur is a decision to signup for mandatory “life long learning”

7. Doing work you enjoy

I think probably the most important thing about becoming an entrepreneur is that, in theory, you love what you are doing. I suspect that most business owners do love what they do because I don’t think many people would willingly put in the time and effort it takes to run their own business if they didn’t.

In general, when the topic of “work” is discussed by traditional office workers there is at least certain degree of hostility toward the topic. Even if not expressly stated, the fact that people greet the weekend with the like a long lost brother every time it rolls around, and plunge into a “case of the Mondays” at the start of every work week indicates that perhaps people aren’t too hot on their jobs.

I genuinely enjoy the work that I do, to the point where a weekend day is not all that much more enjoyable for me than a weekday. I put that down to genuinely being interested in the area I am currently working, and it is a feeling I can tell you with great certainty that I have never felt about any other job I have had.

The long hours, the doubt, the lack of recognition/understanding, the frequent solitude, the overly-connectedness and anything else negative you can imagine, are all blown away and seem unimportant when you are doing something you enjoy.

SO…

There are my Good and Bad points in all their glory. On balance it is most certainly the good points that win out and make it all worth while.

I’d love to know what you make of it. What would you add to either side of the equation, do let me know via the comments section!

Also for any twitters out there make sure that you drop me a line and say hello @ http://www.twitter.com/clearpreso.

Thanks for reading, and if you have been part of my first wonderful year (you all know who you are) THANK YOU.

P.S. if you want to see a presentation on how/why I started the business just click here

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 5:23 pm

    Great stuff as always!

  2. December 9, 2010 8:26 am

    Great post, I hope more people take the entrepreneurship and the self employed path after they read it! Keep the good job!

  3. December 9, 2010 11:59 am

    Congratulations on your year in business, Ed!

    Thank you so much for sharing this. All of these questions have been going through mind as I consider starting my own presentation design side business. I’m so glad to hear that the good outweighs the bad in your mind. I find your story inspiring and I’m glad you’re becoming successful at something you love. That’s my main hope for myself, too.

  4. December 11, 2010 2:36 pm

    Hey Ed congrats on the one year anniversary.

    You described working for yourself beautifully.
    Thanks for sharing your inspirational story it has motivated me to bring some plans forward.
    I hope you will be a regular contributor to Bizminds and I look forward to meeting you in the new year

    Regards,

    Adam

  5. Ross permalink
    December 12, 2010 1:06 am

    Heya!

    Happy first anniversary, and great post too! It accurately describes the pros and cons of running your own business.

    One thing that I have found is that I have spent countless hours on potential projects that never went anywhere, for one reason or another. I would put this down as a major disadvantage. This presales type work can take up a whole lot of time, effort and money. I’ve become very pickey in the projects I choose.

    Another con is the loss of earnings and clients due to sickness, and also the loss of potential earnings as a result of being small. A situation I am finding at present is that I can only do one thing/project at a time. So if two projects come along at the same time, it can be difficult to juggle both, and finding people that will help you out in your time of need is not easy.

    But, the positives do outweigh the negatives though. It’s important to get the balance right. Money may not be a motivating factor (it certainly isn’t for me) but the bills still have to be paid at the end of the month 🙂

    Ross

  6. January 19, 2011 12:18 pm

    Totally relate to your comments. And its also a good reminder for me to go and work elsewhere than my office…

    • January 19, 2011 12:32 pm

      Glad you liked it Louisa,

      and yeh it can be very easy to get in the rut of sticking around in your office, sometimes it is just worth taking some time out and getting out and about!

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