Consider the impact on your family
In my acceptance speech for Inc. magazine’s 1995 Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year Award, I wondered aloud whether the price I’d paid was too steep. In the early years, I was a slave to the business, working miserably long hours. While I did attend most of my kids’ activities, and even coached their baseball and basketball teams, it felt as if I was always multitasking, wondering how to replace a key employee who had just resigned or whether I would make the next payroll.
My kids, who quickly learned to recognize when I was zoning out, would jar me back into real time by tapping on my shoulder: “Earth to Dad.” As the business grew, I had more flexibility for family time, although it took a lot of focus to keep my mind off business when I was off the clock.
Face the fear
I was twenty-nine years old, my first day off Shell’s payroll, and my wife and two sons were at a Dairy Queen in suburban Minneapolis. We ordered Peanut Buster Parfaits and Dilly Bars. As I handed over a five-dollar bill and took the ice cream, ten words ambushed my mind: Where will the money come from to pay for these?
That thought was more chilling than an Arctic Rush brain freeze. No more checks on the first and fifteenth. No profit sharing, no company car, no expense account. Really, I had no idea if my new business could generate enough revenue to support the four of us. That undercurrent of quiet terror was my constant companion for a long, long time.
When in doubt, gut it out.
Tell me I can’t do something that I want to do, and I’ll work my butt off to prove I can. My junior year of high school, there were fifteen seconds left in the last basketball game of the season. We were trailing by one point against a much larger school that my small town hadn’t beaten in twenty years.
I had the ball. Dribbling down court, I saw an open teammate streak down the sideline. Misjudging how far to lead him with the ball, I passed it behind him and out of bounds—and threw away our chance to take the final, potentially game-winning shot.
New businesses gobble up cash, so I looked for every opportunity to save a buck here and make a buck there. Our first real headquarters was a second- rate office park in a third-rate neighborhood and cost $250 for rent. Noticing it lacked vending machines, I asked the building’s owner if I could install one myself. That netted $250 a month. Now rent was free.
These greenback gluttons can drain morale along with cash. Let’s say you net an annual profit of $400,000. Taxes take $150,000 off the top. Boosted inventory shaves off $75,000. Another $75,000 gets tied up in increased receivables. Oh, and don’t forget those loan obligations that take $100,000. For you? That leaves exactly zilch. Now that I’m consulting, I hear it all the time: “I’m working 24/7, sales and profits are increasing, but there’s nothing left for me!”