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Riddell: Can you sleep at night

John Riddell
Not Business As Usual
John Ridell writes a business column and a fun, Zoomer-Boomer outdoor column for the Sky-Hi News.
Staff Photo |

For good or for bad, right or wrong, there continues to exist a somewhat romanticized and dangerous perspective of entrepreneurship. Most often this altruistic and anecdotal viewpoint is centered around “following one’s calling.” As the saying goes, “find out what it is you like to do and you’ll never work a day in your life!” While certainly attractive in its initial sentiment, the simplicity overlooks a major requirement—there has to be a sustainable and sufficient income. This is the real world of the marketplace which quickly dispatches attractive sentiment.

My experience with over two hundred entrepreneurial startups, however, tells me that the number one reason folks decide to go into business for themselves is that they want to be their own boss. Certainly the growth in franchises would underscore this observation. I don’t for a moment think that a significant number of Americans grow up dreaming of making a Subway sandwich or opening a printing company or starting a dog-walking company. But I do believe that a number of folks have experienced the negative environment of working for a lousy manager or have recently been wrongfully terminated and will do just about anything to avoid repeating the experience.

The business/startup advice world is full of well-intentioned folks all stressing the need for adequate startup capital, a solid business plan, a talented advisory board– all pretty much text book topics and all pretty easy to understand. My opinion, however, is that none of these business 101 topics is, by itself, critical to success. I can give you a list of companies who started on a shoestring, had no formal business plan, and didn’t have enough contacts to even have an advisory board and these companies have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Conversely, there is even a more substantial list of startups that had all the requisites in terms of money, planning, and contacts only to fail miserably. When you start to “peel the onion,” the discerning factor becomes the quality of the leadership and the discerning trait within the leadership becomes the simple tolerance and acceptance of risk supported by sheer determination.

Now this risk issue is an important consideration for any person contemplating a new business venture. The simple fact is that we are all wired to be comfortable with different risk thresholds. It is also important to note that this “wiring” is not good nor bad, it just is, similar to how tall or short one is. It is not a reflection of good upbringing or a moral compass or anything connected with how we view one’s individual character. Rather, it is simply accepting whether you can sleep at night knowing that the decisions you make today will have a direct impact on the income you earn tomorrow–and being able to sleep well the majority of nights.

I bring this risk tolerance topic to this column today because I know there are readers who are seriously contemplating taking the walk on the wild side and jumping off the cliff to start their own company. As one who has personally made the leap as well as helped others to jump, I wholeheartedly support and empathize with the efforts and commitment. I just cannot stand by and watch unrealistic and unprepared individuals and their families, all with the best of intentions, get emotionally and financially crushed by their inability to handle the very real uncertainties of the business world.

If being your own boss is important to you, then starting your own company is the way to go. Be sure to take care of the Business 101 topics but supplement them with a very critical self-evaluation. And please also remember that along with the decision to be the hammer or the nail, you need to keep in mind that both do get hit.

Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.


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