I want to be my own boss

When people who are looking to start their own business are asked why they want to do that, by a great margin they say “To be my own boss.”

Too many prospective small business owners really believe that they will have no one to answer to and they can finally make money without the pressure of answering to anyone but themselves.

But everyone has bosses.  The small business owner does not just have the one in the office down the hall, but has many.

The customer is their boss.  If the small business owner does not provide a product or service that the public wants, they will not stay in business.  And the problem is that customers are fickle; the small business owner needs to know what they want today, but also has to guess what they might want tomorrow.  Asking the customer may help, but fashions and trends change so fast that often the customer doesn’t even know what they will want at the time the small business owner needs to make the investment in product. Customers have the right to be a boss; after all, because it is their money they are spending.

The lender is their boss.  It doesn’t matter a great deal if the lender is a friend, family member or a professional lender; they will want to protect their investment not only with an initial note, but with continuous information about how the business is doing. Often the decision to continue to finance a business will be based not only on the information but the willingness of the small business owner to share that information. Lenders have the right too be the boss; after all, because it is their money.

The government is their boss.  IRS, OSHA, EPA and a whole alphabet soup of federal, state and local agencies have rules that are not designed to impede the small business, but designed to provide safe products, a safe workplace and to pay for the governmental services that the small business gets such as fire, police and roads.  Governments have the right to impose restrictions because it is their responsibility to protect and serve the general public as well as the small business owner.

Employees are their boss.  This seems to be a contradiction, but without competent, well trained employees the small business can’t exist and/or grow.  The small business owner has a responsibility to provide not just wages but health care, insurance, a safe workplace and other amenities that employees expect to have.  Employees have rights by law and by the very fact that their work is needed for the small business to succeed.

Suppliers are their boss.  The small business owner can’t provide the customer with the product of service they want all alone.  They need products and services that are supplied by others.  Often suppliers do not provide the small business owner with the right products or on a timely basis or at a price they expected.  Suppliers have the right to be the boss, because the small business needs them and often they are often small businesses themselves.

Family is their boss.  The small business owner will find that they will, at least initially, work longer hours for less take home money than they would when working a salary.  Regardless of how much it is discussed, at some point someone significant will ask, “And why is this better?” Family member have a right to be the boss because the small business owner agreed that their welfare was their responsibility; often before they decided to own a business.

If you really believe by starting your own business you are not going to have any bosses, you aren’t in the right frame of mind to start one. Understanding that you have bosses and understanding how to deal with them is a major step in the decision making process of starting a new small business. The ultimate responsibility is yours. You can make all the bad decisions you want; after all you are the boss.

By Mel Aanerud

Former Assistant District Director of the United States Small Business Administration