A general surgeons warning to any smug person who thinks running a small business isn't as much work as holding a regular regular 9-5:
You're entirely incorrect.
There are LOTS of perks. I have flexibility in my schedule. I can arrange to take my nephew swimming at the pool during the afternoon or go to visit a new mum during the day. On top of that, I’m doing what I love. I have no boss, and I get to work with one of my best friends.
These perks are what I choose to focus on when I talk about my work most days ; because I am not a Martyr. I had a normal job but I chose to do this instead, and I really do love it. I don't need a trophy in the busy olympics to justify my choice to myself or anyone else; I am simply grateful I have the oppertunity to be entrepreneurial and flex my creative and problem solving muscles with autonomy on a daily basis.
However; because I frequently talk about how happy my work makes me; some folks think that is all there is to it and seem to feel justified in diminishing my efforts or making patronising remarks. These assumptions come in many forms; from the downright dismissive “thats a cute hobby” to the less direct implications; like being asked to take care of things others they cant, because they’re working and I, apparently, am not.
Hmmmm. Not quite.
I've grown a thick skin for business, but the lack of personal support in that form from those I've supported in their studies and or work over the years does cut deep and will always remain very personal.
By personal support, I don't mean buying my products (its my job to sell it, not your job to buy it) but rather, I mean not diminishing my efforts without even bothering to ask me what is involved with what I do.
I acknowledge that these assumptions aren’t always malicious. They arise out of sheer ignorance to the full extent of small business ownership. After all, this isn’t a path many are familiar with. It certainly isn’t traditional. It isn’t taught in schools. How would people know what it involves? In others cases, I believe my comfort and confidence in my vocation challenges some peoples perceptions of their own livelihoods. Perhaps they feel compelled to diminish it to help them cope with a work situation they’re not happy in.
Whatever the reason, as someone who may have contributed to the misconception that small business ownership is a walk in the park by focusing on the positives, or not speaking up in conversations when there have been misconceptions; I wanted to shed some light on some of the more more sobering realities of the path my partners and I are walking.
What you're not seeing (and what I am trying not to make a habit of talking about too much, because truthfully? Its a bore!) are the tears of frustration, which are usually ignored and worked through because there simply isn’t enough time to let the enormity of some tasks overwhelm you. I have packaged orders through tears because if I had stopped to comfort myself, the orders wouldn’t have been delivered. I worked through the physical pain of my second miscarriage because there were deadlines looming. Self care becomes very difficult when you’re on 24/7. There is no leaving work at the office. No weekends No one else to pick up the slack .
Then there are the all nighters that are pulled to accomodate that enviable flexible schedule. Family and friends are a priority for me; so I will happily agree to babysit during the day, or attend a friends birthday dinner instead of working those hours; but those hours are always paid back. I don’t have a magical time machine that allows me to shorten to lengthen the hours in my day, so usually any hours lost to flexibility are repaid in the wee hours of the morning.
There is no paid sick leave, maternity leave or compassionate leave. This week I will miss the funeral of a woman who's like a second mother to me growing up, because I have deadlines that wont be met if I took the time to fly home and say farewell; and will render 2 years of work more or less useless. When I have my first child in February next year, there will be no one to cover for me. My maternity leave will be short and my boy will come to work with me. When I come back to work after his birth, the work I left will still be waiting for me … and then some. There are no temps. No replacements. No relief.
There is the lack financial stability. What I spend 40+ hours on a week is yet to return a single cent. My husband works three seperate jobs to maintain our household and pay our mortgage. Any money we earn from running our B&B goes straight back into the business, and yes, we pay tax on all of it. There are no promises that all of this back breaking work and sacrifice from all partners wont have been for nothing.
We're talking tens of thousands of dollars invested. This isn't a hobby. The fiscal stakes and threats are very real. The only guarantee we can give ourselves is to work our asses of to give it every chance to succeed; even then, our futures remain up in the air.
Shall we talk about personal liability for a moment? Chance are, when you go to your job, you work for someone else. If you mess up, you might get a wrap over the knuckles. Hell, you might even loose your job or your license; but will you personally be held legally and financially responsible? Can anyone come after your personal assets to fix your mistake? Unless you’ve broken the law in a serious way, the answer is probably No. We are. My business partners and I are legally and financially responsible for every single aspect of our operation. From a bad batch, injured employees or a broken piece of equipment in the kitchen. We’re it. The process we must go through to protect ourselves and our families from the far reach of liability are exhaustive.
Then there are the days like I’ve had today. Where doing one thing takes me the whole day because it is so complicated and outside my formal training. Where I am so snowed under the I don’t even get to shower or brush my teeth. I roll out of bed in response to urgent emails and remain at my desk well into the night.
Every single day presents a task I need to do that I need to learn from the ground up.
These are tasks that could be done in a fraction of the time by someone trained and specialised in them (like an IT specialist, or a lawyer) - but we can’t afford that, so it is up to me to self-educate and execute flawlessly ; all whilst thousand simultaneous deadlines breath down my neck. I feel the strain. The pressure. I know more about A records, I.P addresses , legislative compliance, graphic design, intellectual property, vacuum sealing, cooling processes, cost formulas and pathogens than I ever wanted to and I relish the day are making enough to pay professionals to lift the pressure of my back; and the learning never ends.
It is not an easy job. It is not an area that you can succeed in without a tonne of effort. Bare minimum isn’t a thing. It takes more and more and more at every turn. It demands blurred boundaries, forward planning, immense sacrifice and long hours slugging it out at the coalface.
Next time you feel like making a comment to a small business owner about how easy they have it; DON'T. You now know better. Engage them in a conversation about their work, or simply swap battle stories with them. After all, no matter what we do, we’re all out here just doing our very best, no matter how we choose to pursue a livelihood.