Starting a business is less risky than it seems

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Entrepreneurship used to be an inclination that festered until a midlife crisis. But the entrepreneurship bug isn’t something that hits in middle age, so why wait that long? Today, the people who start most new businesses are under 34 — and if they’re doing it, so can you. Don't be stifled by your age or lack of experience. And don’t be put off by the bad advice people spew when you mention entrepreneurship.

Bad advice #1: You won’t make enough money.
Insane. Who is making enough money at the anything new? No one. The few who pull down six figures at the beginning probably spent six figures on grad school and are paying it back, with interest. So the fatalists who say you won’t make enough money are really telling you to never switch careers, never risk being a beginner, never bet on yourself. This way of thinking will put your career in a coma.

What many people mean when they say you won’t make enough money is that you won’t *raise* enough money. After all, if you raised a ton of money to start your business, you could pay yourself a great salary. Most of you have ideas that do not require amazing fundraising efforts. And, let’s face it, if you are coming up with ideas that require a six-million-dollar investment, that’s not really a good idea.

Bad advice #2: You can be entrepreneurial in a large company.
Large corporations suck up fast-paced, fun, innovative small business and make them boring, and then tell you, in an interview, that the position you are considering is very entrepreneurial. It’s not. If it were entrepreneurial then it would be too big a wild card to fit into a corporate hierarchy. What the corporate maven really means is that the position you’re interviewing for could be entrepreneurial if it were not in a large company.

Bad advice #3: Starting your own business is too risky.
At this point in loyalty-free corporate life, it may be higher risk to work for someone else. You probably know someone who got laid off in the 90s. And you probably know someone who got off-shored in the 00s. It was risky of them to bet that a large company would keep them around.

And when you’re sifting through those ubiquitous statistics that say most new business fail, think about the perspective of those numbers: Seventy-six percent of new businesses make it off the ground. Sure, most do not last as long as say, General Motors. But are you looking to run a multinational company, or are you looking to get control over your time so you don’t get laid off or tapped to travel from home six weeks in a row?

Don’t listen to those people who tell you small businesses are risky. Listen to Matt Rivers, owner of Pump House surf shop in Massachusetts, who went into business when he was 17. To him, the biggest risk was that he’d have to grow up and get a job that wouldn’t allow him to surf. Matt redefined the meaning of risk, and you should, too. What is most important in your life? Can starting your own business get that for you better than a corporate job? Then entrepreneurship is pretty low-risk for you.

And here’s a piece of good advice: Don’t think of failure as black and white. Rivers was so successful with his first shop that he opened a second. But running between the two shops took too much time away from surfing, and the extra money wasn’t worth it. So he closed the second shop. Is that failure? To some, maybe. But to those of us who are enlightened, closing down a business is not so much failure as it is gaining self-knowledge to lead a more fulfilling life going forward.

9 replies
  1. Fred C. Wagner
    Fred C. Wagner says:

    Send me more info on how I can sell from my home computer. I would like to sell Surf products from my home. Send me some advice on how to do it without losing your shirt.

  2. Amanda T. Adams
    Amanda T. Adams says:

    I was told, too, that most starting businesses fail and it is risky. My entire childhood growing up, I was taught that getting a degree with good grades from a prestigious college or graduate school was a one way ticket to lifelong prosperity, a glamorous job, and job security.

    You are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! It is “riskier” to think that a corporation will keep you. When I did my first career as a news broadcaster, I was fired twice over differing ideas with two bosses (I’m too unique to fit in to a corporate environment). I loved news broadcasting, but having a secure job in that field is like winning the lottery. Breaking in isn’t that hard — staying at a place is.

    I then made the mistake of going to law school, not believing I’d make 150 K, but thinking I’d probably make 40 K with a six month job search. Wrong. 1 in 4 law school graduates is fortunate enough to do that. I did get such a job, but lost it, again due to being too creative and different to fit into a corporate environment.

    After wasting thousands on law school and getting fired by a firm and told by a boss at a charity internship that my work as an attorney was alarmingly bad, I started my own law practice accidentally helping with friends’ case I felt sorry for. I was a lot more confident because I had some skill set and ideas on how to solve their problems and they looked up to me. I took on 7 friends’ cases just for fun while I would look for a job again.

    Within a month, I realized I WAS running my own law practice — I just needed more customers and marketing. Disregarding the establishment advice of the babyboom generation to work for an employer and realize I was a bad person for being fired, I rebelled and took the “risk” of starting my own business. My career counselor at NIU would be so ashamed of me. To his extreme disappointment, I have not been a walking disaster.

    During the worst economy since the 1930s, my first year in business, I grossed more than I made at any job professional or not in my adult life.

    Risking the emotional abuse of a corporation and putting all your eggs in one client’s (the boss’s) basket is more financially risky than investing my services in 100 clients who are ordinary people. If one customer doesn’t like me, I lose 1/100th of my income, not 100 percent if my corporate boss doesn’t like the color of my eyes and lets me go. Not everyone likes my work, but I feel I’ve achieved more than fair results 80 to 90 percent of the time in court.

    The people I work for now look up to me as their hero — all of my corporate bosses in journalism and law viewed me as a suspect making sure I wasn’t wasting the money they paid me.

    The baby boom idea that working for a corporation your entire life is the way to go is so outdated and unrealistic in this economy. It is FAR more risky to work for a corporation. You’re investing ALL your services and potential income in ONE person/organization.

    I’d rather have 100 clients paying me a bit of money coming and going. Its a far more stable life.

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