My friend John finally did it. After years of working for "the man," John took a leap of faith and quit to start his own business. "I'm tired of coming home at the end of the day feeling beat up by people on my own team," John says.
Even more frustrating for him was when the executive team tried to apply pressure. "For Pete's sake," vents John, "I'm a professional. I didn't goof off. I didn't waste time. I ran from meeting to meeting, got everything done and got along with everyone. It's amazing how much they try to squeeze out of you these days with little or no appreciation in return."
John is right about being squeezed for extra time. Findings from the National Study of the Changing Workforce show that Americans are now working at least 160 hours more per year than we were 25 years ago. That's practically a month's worth of extra work each year.
Despite the risks, John is relieved to be giving up the corporate ladder in exchange for getting his hands dirty in the trenches of the self-employed. In all actuality, he plans on working at least as many hours as he did in the corporate world. But this time, he says, he'll get the satisfaction of doing it for himself, and "not for some corporate know-it-all who doesn't show any appreciation."
John's situation reminded me of Maggie, who used to be a neighbor of mine. She was a supervisor at a wholesale food distribution center and grew tired of ceaseless demands for results without any respect in return. When Maggie finally had enough of working 65 hours per week in those conditions, she and her partner decided to open a pizzeria.
I recall another neighbor asking her, "You're opening a restaurant? That's going to be a tough business." "It can't be any tougher than what I'm doing right now," Maggie replied.
Small business is the unsung hero of any economy. In fact, over 90 percent of businesses in America are considered "small." Although the definition of small is relative by government standards (it varies from industry to industry), here in the Treasure Valley area of southwestern Idaho, 66 percent of all businesses have only four or fewer employees.
Sadly, it's been tough for small businesses to get a seat at the economic decision table. The National Federation of Independent Business is and has been the largest voice for small business, but even then, it's tough competing for seat time in front of lawmakers with corporate giants (such as pharmaceuticals, oil companies, and insurance companies, to name but a few) funding lobbyists to their heart's content.
The imbalance can even be seen in many Chambers of Commerce. Despite being comprised of mostly small businesses, chamber boards of directors often consist mainly of officers from larger corporations. Don't get me wrong, there's a plausible reason - the small business owner can rarely take a day off work without a serious financial consequence. Not so for the officer in a larger corporation. It's an understandable situation, but the imbalance is quite common.
Some chambers of commerce are trying to overcome this problem. For example, the chamber here in Boise recently created a "small business center" to meet the unique needs of small business.
Other people have tried to address the concerns of small business with their own small business venture. The Idaho Business League, a private enterprise headed up by Lee Hudson, has been helping small businesses network and succeed in their endeavors for the past seventeen years.
And of course, many states and large universities have offered assistance to small businesses for years, as has SCORE; the Service Core of Retired Executives, and regional Small Business Development Centers.
Also on the upside, small business is (finally) getting a higher profile in some news circles. While surfing through some news web sites, I noticed that foxnews.com now has an entire section of their web site devoted specifically to small-business issues.
The bottom line is that if you can handle a bit of risk, support for small businesses appears to be on the rise. Even though some are hesitant to start out on their own (the number of small business start-ups actually went down in the U.K. last year), those who've grown weary of thankless work within an impersonal corporate entity can jump into the pool of their passion and have a go at being their own boss.
John did it. Maggie did it. And with the increasing amounts of assistance available to get you underway and owning your own business, maybe you can, too.