The holidays are finally behind us and a new year begins, I didn’t make any resolutions this year, just trying to feel better from having the flu. Lately, I find myself reflecting back at the last 12+ months on my personal goals and asking myself “how did I arrive in the same spot as I was in last year?” What I’m really trying to say is how crappy I feel internally for letting another year slip by without starting a retirement plan. I don’t have children; who’s going to take care of me when I’m old and my faculties are not fully there to make decisions on my health or caregiving needs? Or as my best friend puts it, “Sim, who’s gonna wipe your ass when you’re old?” It does not bring me joy to think about topics like this, but as the years fly by, it’s MY reality and I cannot ignore it anymore (I’m pretty sure some of you can relate to this feeling).
My colleagues and I often have share our experiences with one another regarding the reality of owning a small business. It’s therapeutic for me to vent with people who’s been in my shoes themselves, as well as learning from their stories that are insightful and wise, and it simply brings me comfort to know that I’m not alone and judgement is not in this social space.
Looking back, I guess I’ve always been forthcoming to share my experiences with my younger female friends on what to expect when you go from being a girl, now teenager – who’s experiencing puberty (like how to use a tampon?), the struggles you experience when you’re trying to breakout of the nest as a young female adult and what snaps you right back to the nest? It may seem basic to you. I have a mother and two older sisters, but growing up, I didn’t have anyone teaching me this basic stuff – we weren’t that kind of a family. In high school I noticed my best friend (she’s two years younger than me) was struggling with very similar basic knowledge like I was. So I made it my mission to share my experiences with her and gave her the heads up on what to expect as we aged throughout the years. I continue to share my experiences with other young females, and it’s heartbreaking to know that there’s a lot of us out there that have no guidance in life and we are not talking about it with one another.
Last night this feeling of angst and frustration came over me, and it triggered all sorts of emotions in me regarding the ample times when I felt lost within the business I helped built. I asked myself once again, how come people are not talking about the basics of entrepreneurship? What to look out for? I haven’t come across another female who owns a manufacturing business, yet one that will share their experiences of what it’s like and the problems women face. It’s sad since starting this business 9-1/2 years ago, I’ve seen more than half of hard working entrepreneurs (with real talent) close their business because of the lack of basic business knowledge needed to survive. I remember asking myself and Greg, how do we know this is the correct way of running our business? Are these normal lease terms and agreement for commercial spaces? How do you make sense of the technical language of accounting to operate our business? Peoples, we didn’t have money to pay a lawyer to look over contracts, or accountants, or a business strategist/ mentors to help develop a solid money generating business plan; we didn’t have the educational background in design, engineering, or business, we just had an idea and the will to persevere. Working through my angst, it gave me an idea to share my perspective with you all what it’s really like as a female entrepreneur co-owning and operating a small manufacturing company with your spouse; to boot.
Having a small business is damn difficult (to put it lightly) and you will make lots of mistakes. You will want to cry, scream, kick, and/or vent more times than you’ve imagined possible. You will lose lots of sleep because you can’t turn off your brain thinking about the business at 2 or 3 in the morning. Just because people are an industry ‘specialist’ and holds a degree or certification it doesn’t necessarily mean they are good. The best analogy I can think of right now is a hairstylist. That career requires schooling, passing the state cosmetology examines in order for you to be a practicing licensed cosmetologist. Okay, go with me here, have you ever gotten a great haircut consistently from stylist to stylist? My point is everyone’s level of ‘excellence’ is different. The best advice I received from one of our clients early on was “trust but verify”. That advice has saved me and the company so many times. People will take advantage of you – expect it but learn from it so you don’t repeat the same BS! I’ve had countless conversations with people about what a shitty landlord they have. Been there, done that. I don’t know if it goes with the territory but the ones we’ve encountered, man are they shady. It’s like they can smell fresh meat from afar, and boy, do they know how to make themselves appear like they got your back. In a meeting, have you ever experienced your attorney, CPA, vendor, and/ or an employee ignoring your instructions and only following ‘the man’s’ word? Or looking at your male partner for an answer after asking YOU the question? Where are the boxes to check “yes, yes, and more yes” to all of the above? This is what my reality looks like as a female co-owner. As a wife, who happens to co-own a business with my husband, who do you think stresses and worries about the health of our marriage or business majority of the time? It’s like asking new parents, who worries about whether the baby has been fed, diapers changed, laundry has been done? Is it the male or the female in the relationship? OMG…the stress! And all the physical attributes that comes along with it like gray hairs that never existed before, weight gain, aging, wrinkles, and bags under my bags. Ohhhhh, I know where to begin; the topic of making assumptions in regards to money.
You will experience employees, friends, family, acquaintances, the list goes on how they assume that because I own a business that I have a bottomless amount of money in the bank. I’m here to tell you, “start a business and then let’s have a REAL conversation on the reality of being a small business owner. And to make matters even more complex and adventurous, “go into it with your spouse!” Trust me, that brings another element of its own challenges to solve. I ask myself, how does a person come to the conclusion that every business owner is making abundant amounts of money? Our employees have seen me scrub toilets (that they have used) for the first 3 years of being in business, that I drove a 1998 Honda Accord sedan until the transmission went out (which is my personal and work vehicle used to pick up material for our products all over town). I’m here to tell you “we are trying to survive just like any other working class human beings, and not every small business owner is sitting on a mountain size pile of Benjamins!” Yes, I know the price of our products. Do you know the cost associated to run and operate a legit small manufacturing company in America organically, while paying hard working people a liveable wage? I know some entrepreneurs and at least one big business that choose not to follow the rules and run their operations with questionable business practices (i.e: not report their earnings, not having permitted paint booths, utilizing “contractor” status employees for years on end so they don’t have to provide benefits for them like health, sick time, and etc). That path is not for us! However, I see their perspective on why they choose to do this and I also feel like it’s not my place to judge them. The deeper question is, why? Why isn’t our country doing something to help us? Instead it’s making it very difficult for any small business to succeed due the exuberant amount of taxes and associated requirements we pay. These mega-size companies started small just like us, and have been abandoning us to make their products cheaper overseas. Do you know how hard it is to find a woodworker that has knowledge and mastered the old school techniques? America, HELP US, HELP YOU! Help us keep the tradesperson industry’s knowledge and know-how alive!
Help us keep artisanal manufacturing practices alive! Help us and our planet by buying heirloom pieces and not filing our landfill with products that fall apart immediately after the 30-day warranty expires! Help us by choosing to buy from small companies! Help keep hard working fellow man/women employed while feeling proud of what they are making! Every dollar you spend is a vote to voice what type of future you want for our country! We are your everyday people trying to express our passion and love through a creative outlet making exceptionally quality furnishings!
As you read this, I would like to hope that you’ve learned something school doesn’t teach you but life of hard knocks does. And for those in business for yourselves, I applaud you for being courageous in your life to choose a road that others rarely venture down, and hope you contribute to the future of our country’s backbone – the people! It’s the old saying, the house doesn’t make a home, it’s the people.