Five Years as an Entrepreneur

Published August 2014

August 1 marks the fifth anniversary for Brimeyer LLC. As such, it seems as good a time as any to boldly announce something Iíve been pondering for quite a while Ė I am an entrepreneur!

During the final days of my 25-plus years with a traditional employer, one of my co-worker friends stopped by and admitted, ďI wish I had your nerves.Ē

ďReally?Ē I thought. ďItís not that big of a deal, is it? Maybe I should be more worried than I am.Ē

Starting a new business isnít exactly like falling off a log. According to the Small Business Administration, the five-year survival rate for new businesses is 51 percent. Itís basically a coin flip.

Even though it was far from certain that my new business would survive, especially since it was starting in the throes of the Great Recession, I never doubted that I would land on my feet somewhere, somehow. That confidence made it possible to sleep at night. Sleep is important to me.

In hindsight, I can trace thoughts of striking out on my own back over 20 years. But the responsibilities of raising a family, along with an employer with a corporate culture that promoted entrepreneurialism, caused me to repress those ideas. As that culture slowly became more rigid and the number of my kidsí college tuition checks dwindled, I found those thoughts creeping back more frequently. Finally, when our household realized an unexpected windfall due to our youngest daughterís scholarship, it was time to leap.

Iíve come to realize that starting a new business is not for everyone. Iíve watched friends struggle through lousy employers or not act on great ideas. Iíve concluded that entrepreneurship is either encoded in oneís DNA or itís not. For most, itís simply more comfortable to put up with the job, find a new employer, or dream about their great idea than to turn it into Me, Inc. Or perhaps most just are not that crazy.

Starting a business requires a keen self-awareness. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How will you counter weaknesses? What do you enjoy doing? Do your skills and desires align with a viable business model?

A key early decision for my business was whether to hire employees. Historically, I found great satisfaction in managing others, especially young, ambitious employees. I enjoyed being part of a team. Based on discussions with other consultants, however, I learned that employees increase the complexity and associated stress of the business ten-fold. On the other hand, going it alone means that the value of my business will be essentially zero when I decide to call it quits. Iíve decided that Iím comfortable with that trade-off. My need for teammates has been satisfied by clients.

One dominant personal trait that I had to learn to address is my competitiveness. In short, I like to set tough goals and track the results. Getting started, the ultimate measure of success was heavily influenced by my corporate background Ö net income. In consulting, net income is directly proportional to billable hours. Being the sole employee, achieving higher net income goals meant working more Ö and more Ö and more. Long term, that doesnít end particularly well.

It took almost three years to figure out that I can measure my companyís success any way I want. Today, in addition to a lower net income goal, Brimeyer LLC sets annual goals for days off, number of times swimming and number of times cross country skiing. All are monitored with the same degree of discipline.

Thus Iíve tricked my competitive trait into helping me spend more time doing the things I love Ö without guilt! The only downfall is that I occasionally get some strange looks when people ask how business is going and I respond by giving them my swim count.

A regular and disciplined strategic planning process played a critical part in the evolution of my business, including my decisions regarding employees and what I will measure. As a key part of my services portfolio, this is an area where I practice what I preach.

Entrepreneurship blurs the lines between work and life. Strategic planning will likely play an even greater role in guiding my business over the next five years as that balance continually shifts. But itís reassuring knowing that Iíll be calling the shots. After all, I am an entrepreneur.

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