The Real Dish On Being A Small Business Owner

You might think being a small business owner is great; you get to make all this money and have no boss to tell you what to do. You can take off work whenever you want, get to make the rules, it’s awesome. While owning a small business does have some perks it’s actually really, really, really (yes, 3 really’s) hard. So the next time you want to say to a small business owner “oh, it must be nice being able to take off work whenever you want” you might want to re-think it.

Owning a small business is mentally exhausting, emotionally challenging and financially terrifying. You might be thinking, who is this chick to have anything to say about small businesses. Well, I grew up with my dad owning and running his own physical therapy business and now have a husband who owns a catalytic converter business and co-owns a scrap yard while I myself am working on getting my business started. So, ya, I have a little experience in the matter.

One of the reasons I’m writing this blog is because this weekend is a great example of how being a small business owner can be a challenge. Our family had plans this weekend to take a family trip to the local hardware store and get some shelving and get our seeds started for our garden. While this isn’t the most exciting plan in the world, it was time for us to spend together. Well, when an employee calls in sick, guess who gets to cover? That’s right, the boss. And it’s not the first time. I play every, single weekend by ear because you never know if someone is going to show up to work, or are we getting the dreaded 7:30/8:00 phone call; “um, so and so isn’t here, can you come down?” We play most weekends by ear because about 50% of the time my husband has to run down to the shop for some reason or another. It’s always a surprise when we show up to family gatherings together because no one ever knows if he’s working or not.

The average work week is 40 hours, right? Not if you own your own business, it’s a minimum of 50 but usually is in the 60-80 hour range. And there is no punching out of the office. Just because the owner is not on site, doesn’t mean they’re not working. Its late hours at home, taking phone calls every day of the week, all hours, staying up late working on paperwork, getting up early to get a jump start on the day. But all people see is that you left early to go to your kids game or left to pick them up from school, not all the work you have to do afterwards to make up for it.

Financially it can seem really great owning your own business, you get all the profit, not just a paycheck, it’s up to you what you make. This is probably the worst assumption there is. Most business owners don’t take a paycheck home for the first 2-5 years, and any money they do profit goes straight back into the business. I lived through my dad starting out with his own business, and as our family grew we moved from a little flat in the city to a small house in the suburbs, to a big house in a small town. But I also lived through my parents selling off things that we owned because bills got tight, to ring bologna dinners, to “well we are going to need to sell the house because business isn’t doing great”. All people saw when I was growing up was the big house; they didn’t see how we almost lost it.

 With my husband, before we were married he went from business is doing great, to living in his brothers basement, to things being great, so great that I only had to work if I wanted to, then down to me working two jobs along with him working to pay the bills. When the scrap yard first opened it was all on me to pay the bills for our family of 3 with one on the way. Finally after 3 years I was able to pay off enough bills to quit my full time job. But all people see is that my husband is able to make our kid’s doctor’s appointments and occasionally run a few errands during the day. “It must be nice to have him there; my husband works so he can’t make it”. Ya know what, my husband wasn’t able to bring me and our first son home from the hospital because he had to meet up with customers that day and that was the only way we were going to be paying the mortgage that month since I had unpaid maternity leave. So ya, I’m glad he works his butt of and can make it to our kid’s doctor’s appointments, but you know what? He also misses dinner almost every single night, and usually misses bedtime once a week too.

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We have had so many people say ’jokingly’ to our faces, things along the lines like “oh Jon’s the boss, he can just go do (xyz) whenever he wants.” Or, “He’s an owner, he doesn’t do real work”. And usually these snarky comments are coming from the same people who want to borrow money.  Ya know the saying drunk words are sober thoughts, the same thing applies to jokes, there is usually a little truth behind the joke.

Now everything I have said is from personal experience, but I can almost guarantee you that every small business owner out there has dealt with these same issues. And I am not saying this to deter anyone from starting your own business. I’m saying this from a point of frustration and looking for some understanding.  So maybe next time, just support your small businesses and keep your comments to yourself.


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