The Business of Conflicting Dreams

For many entrepreneurs, the dream of owning their own business goes hand-in-hand with the desire to spend more time with family. Often, though, the two can be counterproductive.

Launching a business is almost always the culmination of a dream. The idea of business ownership comes with the liberating notion that you will be in charge of your destiny. You will get to do what you want, and you will get to do it when you want. You will be your own boss, completely in charge of your life.

For many start-up entrepreneurs, the dream also mixes with family goals. I regularly interview launch entrepreneurs. Some are new franchise owners, others are starting a business from scratch. More and more, people give family goals as part of the reason for starting a business. Both men and women, though mostly women, want to run a business from home so they can be close to young children.

These are powerful dreams – the urge to be independent and the desire to be close to family. These dreams are compelling enough to drive people to high-risk decisions. And frankly, there is tremendous likelihood that these dreams will be dashed against the rough rocks of a stormy shore. The Small Business Administration estimates that 52 percent of all business launches will fail during the first five years. A home-based business stands a slightly better chance at 47 percent failure.

I’ve always suspected these figure are overly conservative. I know there are countless businesses that start and fail without ever showing up on the government’s radar. These are the freelance-style semi-businesses that are run from homes without a business license. They require little launch funding and they can be marginally successful for years before the semi-entrepreneur gives it up and gets a job again.

Yet even businesses that succeed can fail to satisfy the entrepreneur’s dream. For those who strive to satisfy the double dream of a family-based home business, there is the double risk of financial stress and home-life pressure. It’s easy to find yourself with less time than you expected for family while the business suffers from neglect.

Sure, you’re in the same room with the kids, but you’re on the phone and on the computer all the time. And you still don’t get to put in the quality business time required to launch a company. Running a company requires regular, consistent periods of sustained concentration, an experience that is antithetic to raising children. When you mix the dream of increased family time with the dream of work freedom you increase your risk of failure exponentially.

Another dream-killer comes in the form of business success that fails to deliver freedom. Few people launch a business with the stated goal of becoming fabulously rich. Most entrepreneurs take their risky chances for a more personal goal – they want the independence; they want challenge. Money is often a measure of success rather than an end in itself. So as the business grows, the entrepreneur may become wealthy while still failing to achieve the deeper goal.

In order for businesses to grow, it often means the owner will have to give up a percentage of the business to create capital. The first step often leaves the entrepreneur in the position of control, but now there are now investors to answer to. The second round of stock sale usually leaves the owner without control. At this point the entrepreneur becomes an employee who can be fired like any other. Just ask Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, who was fired in the 1980s. He was rehired when the company floundered, but his return was a rare occurrence among fired founders.

This transition, from start-up owner to employee can bring the death of the dream of business ownership and the independence it symbolizes. Bill Gates dodged this ugly bullet by stepping down as CEO when the job become nightmarish. He retreated to the position of “chief software architect,” which is a job he claims to love.

The dream of running your own business is not as simple as launching a company and running it happily. Most dreams are not simple matters. We change and our circumstances change. Your dream of freedom today can become tomorrow’s prison. It helps to realize this complexity at the time you enter into the adventure. But then, how much do a bride and groom know about marriage when they make their promises?

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