Last week, I spoke about my business at Sioux Falls’ 1 Million Cups Event. One of the questions I received was “What are the biggest existential threads to your business? In other words, what keeps you up at night?” My answer was, “Well, not much. I guess SendGrid could stop delivering my emails or Stripe could stop accepting credit cards on my behalf, but I think I could work around those issues.” There appeared to be some in the room that were surprised by my answer. After all, isn’t running a small business supposed to be risky?
Many people believe that there’s a lot of risk in running a small business because of a frequently-cited SBA report that states half of small businesses fail within the first five years. Does this mean that everyone who’s an entrepreneur that has a failed business loses a bunch of money and tucks their tail behind their legs and gets a job somewhere? Absolutely not. Often, when a small business “fails”, it simply means that the entrepreneur has moved onto a better business. There are several businesses that I’ve started that have gone nowhere or have otherwise failed, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a failure as an entrepreneur. I’ve simply moved on to building bigger and better businesses.
There’s a lot less risk in small business than many realize. When I was working as a web developer at Factor360, there was exactly one person (my boss) that could decide whether or not I could continue to work for his company. In business, it’s considered risky to have the majority of one’s work come from a single customer. Yet, as an employee, I only had one customer that was buying my services as a web developer and that’s considered the “safe route.” When you run a small business, you have dozens or even hundreds of people that have to decide to stop doing business with you before you quit making any money. I would much rather have the income that provides for my family come from 500 different customers paying me $10.00 a month than having one customer paying me $5,000.00 a month for my time.
When I had a day job, I had no managerial role in the company and really had no influence over several extremely important aspects of the company, including sales, marketing, project management, accounting, etc. Yet as an employee, I had to accept the economic consequences of the successes and failures of those components of the company. If the company wasn’t doing enough in sales, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) get a raise. If there were no sales, I’d be out of a job as the result of someone else’s failure in business. I would much rather be in a position where there are fewer parts of my business out of my control so that if I do fail, it’s no one else’s fault but mine.
One might argue that there’s security in having a traditional job, but it’s important to recognize that everyone is self-employed. You are responsible for providing employment (and an income) for yourself. If you were to quit showing up for work at your job, your customer (the company you work for) would stop paying you pretty quickly. As soon as you stop creating economic value for others, people will quit paying you, regardless of whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur.
The real way to find safety in your income is to provide the maximum amount of value to the maximum number of people. This happens best in running your own business where you have a lot of customers and you’re highly motivated to succeed.
Go start your business. It’s not as risky as you might think.