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How Not to Start a Business

I own a business. Over the years, I have owned several businesses. To me, they were all successful, depending on your definition of success. I like to think of each attempt as a stepping-stone to finding my true purpose. I am entrepreneurial by nature and always yearned to be in control of my destiny. I have probably earned a few million since graduating from college forty-one years ago but I spent it, unwisely (or maybe not). I enjoyed spending it. I am surely no Suze Orman. If you want to learn how to handle money, read Suze Orman for that.

Why listen to me? Because I am still here (just like that old “Timex” commercial—“...still ticking after taking a licking”). I made every mistake you could possibly make and I should have known better. After all, I spent twenty years working for two young male entrepreneurs and was raised by a mother who was an entrepreneur before many women dared to be. Yet, I ran from “the seat of my pants”—dared to try even when I should have known better. What did I do that I shouldn’t have done?

This is not a “How to”; this is a “How NOT to.” I read all the books about “How to Start a Business,” but they never told me what not to do. So, here is some advice:

  • I didn’t listen to my mother. She was a precursor to Suze Orman. My mother tried to get me to save money but I was a spendthrift by nature—it is definitely smarter to follow all those formulas about having “x” amount of months of expense money set aside while your business is growing—it makes life easier while you are building your business. Money is an important part of the equation. Do your numbers—work that business plan. Luckily, I was always able to earn the money to finance each of my ventures. And luckily I don’t want to retire so I am willing to continue to work and earn money. But it would have been better to be “sitting pretty” at age sixty-three.
  • I let my ego guide me a little too often. I thought I could accomplish anything that I set out to do—and I could—but it would have been easier if I took the time to plan. There is some truth in that saying, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Take the time—learn to make a financial plan and have a business plan. My resilience and spirit got me through the difficult times but sometimes I wish I had taken the easy route and planned—what seemed harder at the time would have made the path easier. Don’t look for the easy way—there isn’t one!
  • I misunderstood something that one of my former partners told me years ago—he said that men succeeded as entrepreneurs and made more money because they were not afraid to take risks and that women were too afraid to take risks. That wasn’t true, of course, but I should have learned that you need to take calculated risks—you do need to take risks to make gains but you should evaluate all our options—I didn’t do that but I didn’t do badly either. But ... “Doing much better” would be preferable to “Not doing badly, either.”
  • I have a tendency to view life through rose-colored glasses. I am a very positive person and always look for the brighter side of the situation. That’s okay as long as you take off the rose-colored glasses from time to time whenever you need to embrace reality. You need to recognize when something is not working and, if necessary, take a different direction. Notice, that I didn’t say “quit.” Don’t quit. Look for the opportunities that present themselves to you when you (and everyone around you) think that you should quit.
  • I did not take time to nurture myself. Don’t let yourself get so busy that you lose yourself. Jon Shallert, a business consultant, uses an analogy that I like—that of a gerbil on one of those wheels in the cage—always running but getting nowhere. Great imagery! He, of course, uses it in reference to business owners who are always “too busy” to look at new ways of doing business. But those same business owners are probably also “too busy” to nurture themselves. I am just learning, at age sixty-three, to stop and smell the roses—I am just starting to nurture myself—take the time while you have time because time flies by so quickly.
  •  I was trying to fit into a world that defined me by things. Don’t let things define who you are—things, stuff—they may be nice but who are you when the things are stripped away. On the road to success, there may be times when there are setbacks and some of those “things” get stripped away. I worked hard for the fancy car, nice clothing and jewelry, a beautiful home, fur coats, but in the long run, the things didn’t make me happy because I was trying to fit into a mold and not doing something that I loved. Do what you love. Be passionate about your business.
  • I didn’t put enough thought into each of my businesses. I knew that I wanted to “be my own boss” and I didn’t like the years I spent working hard to build someone else’s business. But I didn’t take the time to find my passion. I was looking for “something” to make me happy when what I needed to do what to look into myself. People own businesses for many reasons, but owning a business that is financially successful does not guarantee that it will make you happy. And owning a business that is not financially successful will not necessarily make you unhappy.
  • I didn’t recognize the value of “me.” I always aspired to be just like someone else I admired without taking the time to recognize all the things that I did accomplish and all the things that I had to share. Don’t define yourself through someone else—they are not you and you are not them. You are you and find out who that is—take time to introduce yourself to yourself. You are an original. 
  • I spent too much time seeking approval from others. Listen to advice but more importantly, listen to your heart. Find your spirit and let it empower you. Give yourself permission to try. Give yourself permission to change your mind. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. These are all steps along the way of your adventure into being an entrepreneur.