The “Owning Your Own Business” Fallacy

IMG_2329As a business coach, I’ve talked with countless people about their dreams of owning a business. Along the way, I’ve encountered some deeply rooted misconceptions about what entrepreneurship is really like. It’s easy to see these fallacies when you ask people a simple question: “Why do you want to own your own business?”

Almost universally, people who are considering taking that entrepreneurial leap give the same answers: I can set my own schedule, and I’ll have all sorts of flexibility; I’ll make money for myself instead of other people; and I will be my own boss.

It’s not that those things aren’t true, or that they don’t happen. They do, and they are definitely perks of the job. But they don’t tell the whole story. As someone who has owned several businesses, I can tell you that this view isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be.

Let’s do a little mythbusting on these ideas.

“I can set my own schedule” – Setting your own schedule is one of those things that, while technically true, isn’t exactly the same in theory that it is in practice. As an entrepreneur, you work the hours your business demands. In a very real way, you’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Even when you’re not “working,” odds are that you will be doing something related to your business, blurring the line between your work life and your personal one.

“I’ll have all sorts of flexibility” – When you work a day job, it can seem like entrepreneurs have all the flexibility in the world. They can decide not only when they work, but also where and how they work. It seems like they can work anywhere, from taking meetings at a local coffeeshop to running the business from a vacation house at the beach. That kind of flexibility can seem truly freeing, but it’s not without its drawbacks. As an entrepreneur, your work bleeds into every part of your life. Because your work can happen anywhere, it tends to happen everywhere. Unlike a standard job, you don’t get to leave your work problems at the office. It becomes part of your life.

“I’ll make money for myself instead of other people” – Here’s a harsh truth every would-be entrepreneur needs to know: For the first several years of your business, you may not be making any money at all. There’s a not-small chance that starting a business will be a net loss for you, and it may even result in taking on debt. Even when you build a financially successful business, you might not be actually taking home as much money as you would doing similar work for someone else. You’ll also have suppliers, employees and partners to consider, all of whom will need to be paid before you ever see a dime in profit.

“I will be my own boss” – You may own the company, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a boss. In fact, you’ll have one of the toughest bosses you’ll ever meet: The business. It’s a true slavedriver, making you work harder than you ever thought possible, and putting in countless hours for little obvious reward. It’s often a thankless boss, more than happy to run you ragged and keep you up all night with worry. On top of that, you will have plenty of other bosses to consider, like your customers.

Owning your own business is an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s also an exceptionally challenging direction to take your life in. Don’t fall for the false notion that it’s a solution to the headaches of having a day job. Being an entrepreneur requires far more out of you than a day job ever could. For a person with the right kind of drive and mindset, there’s also nothing more exhilarating.