The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I have reached a point in life that shopping in “big box” stores disappoints me. Twenty-five years ago, the big stores were a curiosity, since as a single man, I never imagined the option to buy a year’s supply of toilet paper at one time, a 10-pack of chicken thighs or steaks, or ketchup by the gallon. People were nicer then, too. As you drove in the parking lot – at 2 mph – a customer might say, “hang on a minute and you can have my spot”. The clerks at the checkout would chat with you – both your kids play baseball at the same high school. The three people in line at checkout would not fume at a little friendliness. You might see your child’s teacher, or coach, or your co-worker shopping also. It was a time when buying something foreign-made ( Japan, Mexico, or Latin America) was a good deal, and not going to start a debate on politics or foreign policy.
A woman who has been running a business for some time offered me some insight tonight. In the military, particularly as an enlisted person, there is a tendency to wait to be “told” what to do next; to follow a “plan of the day” and be somewhat inflexible. While carrying out the “mission” that someone else lays out may be one aspect of a past military career, other experiences may be valuable to an entrepreneur. Overcoming the odds. Quick analysis and problem-solving in highly stressful situations. Seeing past all the bureaucracy to zero in on the objective. Developing camaraderie with team mates while also being very disciplined and accountable.
For someone who has equal ambition to that enlisted person. the lack of such boundaries, may be somewhat a blessing. In your own business, there are many things to learn and to adapt to, including not only the processes that are required just to set up a business legally. There is a need to learn marketing; developing a keen eye and skilled listening – not simply ‘pitching’ – to solving others problem, is probably that most important aspect.
And getting advice and mentoring from a neutral business expert or experts on an ongoing basis really helps. To which I also understand, interpreting a particularly resonating bible lesson tonight, an enterprise may not be without pitfalls, but as long as one trusts in God and perseveres, it will either succeed or be a lesson for future success.
I tried and failed at business ventures three times before. With a couple years of technical training, I tried earning a second income as a small appliance and home electronics repairman. It was cheaper to buy new than repair “old”. The next venture was selling solar-heated hot water systems. People could just as easily put garden hoses on their roof (it was southern Arizona) and save the expense of a metal system up there. And then, last year, I saw how my father-in-law’s young relative was making six figures in a health-focused business. She has Amazon- and Facebook- founders-level intensity which produces her ongoing results (building over the past 8 years). I was not interested, youth-focused, or charismatic enough to do what it takes. My prior ventures were great personally, just not rewarding financially for me.
the importance of a “niche”
This year, my wife and I found a “niche” business. A “niche” is a product or service need, that is not widely available, nor really has much awareness outside of the profession. But is necessary nonetheless. With a lot of support, name recognition, and professional experience, my wife one evening reported to me that a business opportunity was offered to her – that she wanted to do. This was due to pending retirement of the principal operators in the niche market. The business requires unimpeachable ethics, scrupulous attention to detail, military-like precision with clients and retaining or bringing on skilled employees (or contractors).
do not quit your “day job”
A mistake of many new entrepreneurs, is to launch a business enterprise with little financial resources. They then have few options when mistakes are made or customers are slow to provide payment. Then there is even more emotional and physical stress learning the “do’s” and the “don’t”s of operating a business. In just the few weeks after initially deciding to engage in this business, the guts required to seriously and diligently apply ourselves to learning,- particularly with family and job requirements always keeping you busy, is challenging.
In the United States, working for yourself, with the intent to make a profit – to separate your enterprise from what the taxman (the IRS) would label a “hobby” – requires record-keeping, talent, and effort. Depending on the venture, every business has local, state and federal tax statutes regarding individual, partnership, and incorporation to stay within the law. Similarly, there are permits, licenses, and fees with all the aforementioned, to conduct business.
With certain businesses, providing products or services, there are many regulations, certifications, and insurance to purchase and renew yearly. While trying to classify whether there were workers considered by statute as employees to consider, we need general business and professional liability insurance. And probably, workmen’s compensation insurance: California is very strict on business operations. If you are still determined, you have done homework on your competition in the niche market, and calculated the profit versus expense projections before the first customer dollar is received – there is one consideration you may miss. You may find that your business needs to be funded almost entirely from your own “primary” income for a time. One of the first “rules” I have learned is to avoid going into debt while learning the “ropes”. Do not quit your day job before it sustains you.
seeking advice from experienced mentors
I have only just started to explore the business banking relationships we will need for our venture. We will explore and weigh options on credit, payment processing, and loans. Similarly, I have only attended one seminar run by the small business education group, SCORE, (there are chapters in most communities) taught by people with decades of experience in all aspects of business. But for the entrepreneur, anywhere you find someone to help with the pitfalls to avoid, is great. One can then make all new mistakes to learn and develop as a business person.
your “why” has to be bigger than your fear
After a career in the military, another in private industry, and still looking for challenge (and change), our own business will prove to be well worth it. After many years of doing without asking why and making someone else’s careers and dreams possible, you also can make your dreams, as well as those of your clients, become reality. But it takes ethics, drive, humility, implementing what others can teach and eagerness to keep pressing on to the goal.
Every motivational program I have heard or subscribed to since my mid-Thirties, has quite sensibly detailed a method to improve finances, marriage, or speaking in public. Several were focused on succeeding in leadership and/or business. Some gave ideas on raising confident and capable children, and others focused on achieving a healthy work/life balance. Most of these were in relation to a Spiritual foundation. While everyone I know who engage in these self-improvement workshops, get something from them, those who diligently apply themselves and are undeterred by resistance, seem to thrive. But am I alone in being stuck in old routines, jobs, or commutes, because of “fear of change”?
Thirteen years ago, I began working at a company located almost forty miles (one-way) from my home. For a few years there was the prospect that a subsidiary a few miles from home would have a position I could transfer into. The subsidiary was closed. Moving was not an option; not just the expense of a new home, but my teens and spouse had strong ties to the local area. As I got older, I made excuses that I would not find stable work somewhere reasonably closer. The issue is that I did not apply consistently or obsess about finding a different job. This goes against my experience, spiritual training, even rational common sense. Do I hate change?
Do others have this dilemma? Do many live with constant economic instability and change, because they prefer the “life” in “work-life balance”? In my mid-Twenties, in between periods that I eventually made a Navy career, I enjoyed not being serious about work. I had heard stories of people who were so driven to always be at work, they became ill or suffered cardiac arrest when they no longer had the constant adrenaline jolts of the job (stress). But I recall being so fearful of “starting over” that I remained stuck for years in something I probably was less suited for than the horses I cared for when a high school student, or the university where I participated in work-study. When the one co-worker told me she was leaving after a year because of her commute (twenty miles), I empathized.
Perhaps metathesiophobia is a covered condition in the employer’s health plan? However, to relieve this condition I might have to make a change in my work-life balance. And I fear hate the idea.
Whenever you hear someone complain – don’t join them in their negative rampage. Complaining doesn’t make anything better – you are better off being quiet than joining them in their complaining. Even if it is socially accepted and expected of you to join in when someone complains, it is never of value. You always have […]
What was your biggest accomplishment when you were a teenager? When I was fourteen, I was responsible enough to arrive at my assigned work at 4:45 AM daily, load a hay wagon, and then feed 80 horses. And in the late afternoon, repeat it all again. I was determined to trade labor for horseback riding lessons. That was on a dude ranch in Arizona where I learned responsibility, animal psychology, ranch operations, and customer service. That was forty years ago. Every generation hears how their predecessors “walked uphill in the snow, both ways, to school and back”. In an age where many are fixated on social media, feel subject to hardship and discrimination without government mandates, and may be emotionally scarred because of others’ contrary views, it is not universal. It may only be a minority opinion.
Becoming an entrepreneur at the age of ten, Noa Mintz, at age sixteen founded a New York City childcare agency, (vetting nannies)and was among those entrepreneurs under age 18 featured in Fortune magazine (2016). Eugenie de Silva, starting at the University of Leicester (UK) in 2015, graduated age 16, from Harvard, through distance learning, with a Masters in Liberal Arts. A pilot, Mason Andrews, completed a circumnavigation of the globe in 2018, as the youngest to do so – at age 18.
And then there is the young Dutch woman, Laura Dekker, who at 14 set off in a sailboat to circumnavigate -solo- the world in 2011. She had been born to a sailing family, and had been dreaming of sailing the world since the age of ten. She had the support of her parents, but had to fight the Dutch authorities in court to be permitted to get underway. For more than five hundred days she navigated and explored the places along her route. A film produced by National Geographic presents her video record of her travels.
And finally, there is Jordan Romero, who at age 13, with his father, reached the summit of Mount Everest, in 2009, and by the age of 15 years, 5 months , became the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits (the highest peaks in each of the seven continents).
From circumnavigating the globe, climbing mountain peaks, graduating from a most prestigious university, or becoming a successful entrepreneur, children who attempt the difficult, and refuse to have their dreams quashed, demonstrate that if you have a dream and are determined to succeed, you can. Leave the participation trophy to others.