There is another question we need to consider: is owning a business the best way to make money?
This was definitely a belief that I held in my early twenties – that if you wanted to be wealthy you had to own a successful business. I’m not sure if I was influenced by my family, friends or things I read, but I always wanted to start a business of my own.
Now I know I was wrong about this. Wealth can be created by anyone who consistently spends less than they earn and who invests their savings on a regular basis. In fact, the more I look at business failure statistics, the more I wonder about the wisdom of starting any business, despite certainly understanding why people want to.
Once again, we get back to risk and return. Starting or buying a business is risky, but if the business goes well the rewards are high. The business in which I am a shareholder was started by myself and four partners in 1983. We put in $20,000 each and rented a very small, serviced office. Today, we employ well over 280 staff in our offices and South African joint venture.
Funnily enough, the “academic” theory about starting a business is correct. you do need a vision of what you want your business to be and a well-formulated business plan. You must control you cash flow and, in the good years, you must leave money in the company to build up its strength. I feel fortunate that we took the risk in 1983 to quit our quite well-paid jobs, because today business ownership makes me proud, gives me an unbeatable sense of job security and the benefits of controlling my own destiny.
How quickly, though, we forget the reality of starting a business from scratch. In my case, this meant earning next to nothing for five years, working outrageous hours – my partners and I used to laugh about our 35 hours of work. Thirty-five hours on Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday; another 35 hours on the other part of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; and just to top things up, working on Saturday as well. Sometimes we didn’t work on Sunday, holidays were a few days off at Christmas and, as for sick leave, well, we just couldn’t afford to get sick!
If you do want to create significant wealth, building a successful business is certainly one way to get there. Look at people in the “500 most wealthy” lists. Some inherit the money, but most create it by building a business.
Few small businesses will ever grow into a News Corporation and not too many will ever be worth a lot of money, but running a business has benefits beyond the purely financial side. This really struck me when I was sitting on beach. While my kids and some friend were paddling around on a hired aqua bike, I started chatting to the owner of the aqua bike business who was originally from my town. He explained that the business was no world beater but it was pretty good and, living on a beautiful lagoon, next to a beach, hiring boats to generally pleasant tourists was somewhat better than working in a factory in industrial suburbs. He has a point. For him, his business provides lifestyle and a reasonable cash flow. He may have earned more working in his town, but tinkering with boats on Avoca lagoon seems much better.
For every success story like this, though, I know of dozens of failures. Buying or setting up a business for lifestyle is a dangerous thing – you may act on emotion, not logic. If you do plan to start up or buy a business for whatever reason, please be careful.
Look, there’s no denying owning a business sounds good and assuming it works, it is. However, as I found, you’ll probably end up working an awful lot harder for a lot longer than in the job you leave and, for the short term at least, not earning as much.
You’ll also miss out on the benefits that full-time employees are entitled to and often take for granted, such as: employer-funded super; worker’s compensation cover; paid sick leave; four weeks’ paid annual leave; holiday loading; long service leave; and maternity (or paternity) leave. You may also have to forgo other goodies company car; an expense account; paid telephone expenses; low holiday expenses; annual bonuses; share options; and the support of a union or industry association. In other words, when you work for yourself there’s no safety net – you’re on your own. Don’t let me scare the wits out of you, however. While self-employment is not all beer and skittles, the great thing about it is the freedom it gives you to run your own race, which I believe outweighs the negatives.