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Three Things I’ve Learned About Owning a Business…

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The author (left) hanging out with the four most important people in his life.

Ever since I was a little boy, I knew that someday I would own my own business. I can remember my father taking me to the print shop where he worked, and as he ran his two-color press, I wandered about, fascinated by the huge stacks of paper and machines that could take those huge stacks and fold them at blinding speeds. I would come home and pretend that my bedroom was my own print shop and my bed was the printing press.

Fast forward fifteen years. I still knew I wanted to own my own business, just wasn’t sure what that business was going to be. So, I did the logical thing…I enrolled in college. I didn’t last long there. After six months I decided that they weren’t going to be teaching me anything I needed to know, and they decided that my poor grades and attendance record was reason enough to ask me not to return.

Fast forward thirty years. I have been the owner of this printing business for 21 years officially, although it’s been longer than that (it was a sideline business for seven years before I quit my “real job”).

There are hundreds of lessons I’ve learned along the way about owning a business, most the hard way, but these three are big ones…

  • A business owner has everything, and I mean everything, on the line. The house, the retirement, the children’s education, everything. It’s the choice we make, fully-aware of the risks, with the dream that someday all the hard work, sleepless nights and worry will all be worth it.
  • A business owner is the last dog to the bowl. Most people don’t realize that most business owners are last to get paid, putting everyone and everything ahead of themselves, in good times and especially bad. We do it quietly and without regret. Your team members are your extended family, and owners feel a great commitment to making sure everyone is taken care of.
  • If I could do it all over again, I would do it in a New York minute. My son Jack once asked me what the best part of being the owner of a small business is. I thought about that for a minute, and realized that 98% of adults who go to their jobs every morning pretty much know what their day is going to be like. When I roll out of bed and head out for my morning walk, I have a plan for the day, but I never know what the day holds. And when a big order comes in that you weren’t expecting, or you finally land a project from a company you’ve been pursuing for months and months, it makes all the risk worth it.

Finally, if I were ever invited to address as classroom of future entrepreneurs (not likely given my dismal collegiate career), I would tell them that the support they get from home is maybe the single biggest factor on whether the business succeeds or fails. You need the support of your husband or wife, and you need to know that they believe in you. If you have that, you have everything you need to succeed.

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