Powerlessness — Never start a small business — and simplicity

I thought I’d just make this post a two-fer.

First, I read this story earlier today about the founder of Victoria’s Secret, and why he jumped from a bridge and killed himself.

It’s a sad story that paints the brutal path you endure should you decide to launch your own business. (He even became a multi-millionaire at one point.) 

I can completely relate to this man, and I know so many small business owners whose lives have been wrecked by failures and bankruptcies.

Even today, I’m still trying to rebuild myself physically, and I didn’t go bankrupt.

I’m now 34, on my second marriage, and I still can’t even think about wanting kids. (I think that puts me behind — WAY behind — my peers, not that I care because I don’t want kids. Like ever, which means they’re at best probably five more years away. My wife and I have actually talked about adopting since she’ll probably be too old to have them before we’re ready — yep, she’s exhausted by the past few years of owning a business, too!)

And even though I’ve owned the business for seven years, I only recently have been able to afford health insurance and last year I only managed one four-day vacation. This year, my wife and I will be lucky if we get a three-day vacation.

And what’s crazy is this: I’m a picture of the success story. The guy who launched a small business and succeeded.

People in my city point to me as an example of what a young person can do if they dream big. (Usually, the people pointing have great jobs working for other people, and they usually have no idea what I make — or don’t make — each year and what I sacrifice.)

My point is this: DON’T START A SMALL BUSINESS. (I’m writing this in the hopes that I help at least one person out there.)

Let me say that again.

DON’T START A SMALL BUSINESS. EVER.

The people who say you should are one thing: They’re liars. (And if it’s a seminar or book that says it, they’re worse: They’re con men.)

Now some will say, “But, Stan, what of so-and-so? Who became a millionaire?” Believe me, I know him. I’ve read his book — have read probably a hundred business book the past ten years — and for every one of him, there are literally thousands who go bankrupt or lose a minimum of twenty to forty thousand dollars. (The only winners are banks and commercial real-estate owners, who have brutal leases you’re too stupid to totally understand when you sign.)

And I’m not just some nobody. If you want to argue with this post, back it up by saying what you’ve done in the small business world. I’ve raised more than a hundred thousand in capital through multiple financial institutions, successfully brought on eleven investors (while maintaining control of my company), and sold well over a million dollars in revenue.

But, Stan… Yeah, I hear you out there. You’re the guy or gal who was like me more than seven years ago. Can’t sleep at night. Have that something you’ve got to do keeping you up at night.

If you’re that guy or gal, and only “if,” here’s my message.  (Note: It can’t just be some whim, but a burning desire that keeps bugging you for literally months or years.)

If you’re that guy or gal, start small. DO NOT QUIT YOUR JOB. Start something on the side. (At night or on weekends.) Save a shit-ton of money. DO NOT BORROW A DIME FROM THE BANKS, YOUR FAMILY, OR YOUR FRIENDS.

You should also get to know Dave Ramsey better than you know your wife. Listen to him, read his books.

If you start slow, NEVER BORROW MONEY, and begin your small business on the side, then you have a chance and I could sign off on what you’re doing. But otherwise, I could never endorse anyone starting a small business. It’s suicide, believe me. (Oh, you haven’t even read the story I linked to, have you? And you’re wanting to start a small business and yet you can’t even read instructions? Here’s the link again, and no, don’t sign that lease for that small business you’re dreaming of.)

And because I don’t believe in putting out that much negative energy into the world without trying to balance it, here’s a way to help improve your life. This is an article about simplicity and simplifying your life — something you’ll probably never know if you own a small business.

Stan R. Mitchell

Oak Ridge, Tenn.

P.S. Please accept the greatest gift I can give.

P.P.S. Thanks to all who continue to make my novels a success. Little Man, and the Dixon County War  has gone as high as No. 16 on the Amazon UK Paid List (see here and here), and Sold Out has already gone as high as No. 81 on the Amazon Paid List for the category of War (see here and here). Learn more about both books here.

5 Comments

Filed under Eastern philosophy, Stories about my life

5 responses to “Powerlessness — Never start a small business — and simplicity

  1. There may be some of you out there — who are complete idiots — who interpret this very honest post wrong. You may see this post as weakness, or some kind of warning, that The Observer is struggling. It’s not. It’s stronger than it’s ever been, but I’m now to the point that I can be honest. As Sun Tzu says, “When strong, appear weak. When weak, appear strong.”

    For years, while weak, I’ve appeared strong in order to maintain a front and ensure the business would be successful. Now that the company is strong, I’m not afraid to appear weak. And I’m more confident than ever that the business will last decades. But having said that, I do not want people to look at our company’s success with envy or misjudgment. Starting a business is not something you should do except in the most extreme of circumstances.

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  2. You picked a very tough business! People like Rupert Murdoch and Morty Zuckerman use newspaper and magazine ownership for losses against their other income. I liked the Simplicity post very much. When a new business opens in my area, I can usually tell if it’s going to succeed or fail. The successful businesses don’t just fulfill the dreams/tastes of the owner, they understand who their customers are going to be and focus 100% on satisfying them. If you build it correctly, they will come — and bring their friends.

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    • Thanks, EF, for the comment. Tis true I probably picked one of the toughest businesses out there, which is also arguably true that said business field is headed toward the end of its run — or at least serious change.

      We’ve also been duking it out with a monopoly in our area that has plenty of no-bid contracts. But, they’ve laid off nearly half of their employees and are struggling, so I like where we stand, and where I think we’ll end up.

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  3. C

    My husband started his small biz on the side right after we had our first child, which was my second. We were newly married and I had debt! He only had a part-time job at the time and I stayed at home with the kids. We paid our bills, jumped on board with Dave Ramsey early but after the business started. He eventually got hired on full time and kept the side biz. After he was laid off after years of working with a good company all our income was from the side biz. We had 3 clients and that income kept us afloat for months till he landed another full time job suffienct to pay our bills. We took a huge pay cut, less benefits etc but having that small biz really kept us going for a few months. The taxes every year are whet get us us. It’s unbelievable how much we have to lay. This past year doing some work through his biz while maintaining a FT job, he made enough to pay for a nice used car is cash. First time ever for our family. I wouldn’t recommend starting a small biz for one’s sole income ever. Your advice is spot on.

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