The dream of owning your own business

December 21, 2007, 1:43 pm David Koch KBB

For many of us, owning a small business is on par with the dream of owning a house.

For many of us, owning a small business is on par with the house-on-a-quarter- acre-block as constituting the great Australian dream.  And with property prices the way they are, it’s infinitely more achievable!  I could be wrong, but I think the business ownership dream is based on goals like freedom, answering to no one, enjoying work and future security.

So how does the dream stack up against reality?  What do people who already have their own business dream about?  Is it a dream or a nightmare?  Or do they not sleep at all; just lie awake at night worrying?

According to a survey by research agency TNS on behalf of ING Direct, nearly half (49%) of small businesses have found that the reality of running a business is harder than they’d anticipated, with 23% thinking it’s much harder. Only 11 per cent of the 500 respondents reckon running a business is easier than they’d expected.  What’s interesting is to see how goals change between dreaming about becoming a business owner and actually being one.

While small business owners still have aspirational goals, the top two short and long term goals are to make a profit and to grow, particularly by investing in new technology.  Sounds to me like pretty much the same goals as big business but with a whole heap more responsibility and risk.  So why do it?  And if you haven’t already, when’s the best time?  Well, despite so many business owners finding the going harder than they’d thought, the good news is the majority describe their business as financially “stable”, while nearly a third [29%] say they’re in “good health”.

To answer my second question; there is no right time.  Some people launch after years of planning and saving, others are “forced” into small business ownership by factors outside their control - like retrenchment.  To my mind, provided you have a vision and can afford to do without a regular income (or any income!) for twelve months, the precise timing is up to you.  The key is not to make excuses and put it off, because there will always be an excuse.

In fact, the ability to think and act quickly is a hallmark of great business people, so deciding to start a small business and then biting the bullet could mean you’re getting off on the right foot!  I was talking to the entrepreneurial expert on Kochie’s Business Builders, Tim Pethick, about this just the other day.  His view is that there are no wrong decisions in small business, only a mindset.  So if a decision is made, whether it’s to start up or to do with day-to-day operations, it should be done with conviction.  Agonising over whether the decision taken was the best one is pointless; the successful owner does whatever needs doing to make it the right decision.

Just one more note on the survey findings, one which concerned (although didn’t surprise) me.  Just 4 per cent of respondents selected “earning enough to enjoy retirement” as a short term goal, and 17 per cent as a long term goal.  Sorry to harp on but I keep seeing small business owners ignoring the need to plan for their retirement and it scares me.  Sure they may sell up, earn a packet and live happily ever after, but there’s no guarantee.  I can’t think of anything worse than devoting such a huge part of my life to a business and walking away in my twilight years with little or nothing to show for it.