If you have been in this business for any length of time, most likely you have gone through some stages of growth. Businesses have a life of their own. They start small and grow up like kids do. Have you ever read your horoscope and it was right on the money? You wonder “How is that so?”
I was in St Louis recently working with the AASP affiliate group there at Excel. What a great event. During a conversation with many shop owners at lunch I drifted away from the topic at hand and explained to the group the stages that most businesses go through. Just like a child that you help raise, the stages are at times awe inspiring and there are times you just want to forget. Many shop owners approached me after lunch and commented on how helpful it was to understand what had happened to their business and themselves over the years. I hit a nerve. That is always a great moment for an instructor. It happens now and again. My thoughts on this subject follow.
If you started your own business there is a start up stage, usually it will last about 5 years. It is exciting. You work your butt off. It is all you can do to go home. Weekends, no problem. Nights? heck eating dinner is optional. The company is growing and you are willing to do almost anything to keep it alive. If you get paid all the better, but many weeks all the money went right back into the company. Everything is a challenge, but that is what you wanted. Life is great, you are exhausted, but it is that good exhaustion. A job well done. Employees come and go and you learn how to manage someone else. You seldom wonder why you started your business. You are so busy running the shop, doing everything yourself, that you have no time to wonder about things like, who am I? Is this really what I want to do? Oh, the newness of it all!
Your business is now somewhere between 5 and 10 years old. You might be married and the kids need a dad or mom at home. You have learned how to make money. You might have considered joining a trade association by now. The business is starting to mature. The hours are set, policies are not changed every week. It looks like a business, it smells like a business, you talk like a business man or woman. It is a business! You are making money. You actually get paid every week. The overhead is high but making the payments can be done if you have a plan and work it. Things usually go well for another 5 years. Life is good with a very positive outlook. You live in the future a lot when it comes to “why do I do this?”. You are getting almost into a routine. You are smarter, older, wiser and feel pretty good about all the hard work. It is paying off and looks to get even better. Dreams are fading as reality sets in, but there is still hope.
Years 10 to 15. This is a time when the business comes into it’s own. Money is no longer a problem. You have procedures and policies. These were made based on your past problems and poor decisions. You have learned how to delegate, although you really can’t let go completely. The business is not your only interest. Life outside the shop is really important to you. Problems with the business that take your time away from other parts of your life are starting to bother you. Resentment is building. If you have done a reasonably good job the first 10 years, life can now start to offer more than a paycheck. As you approach the 15 year mark, a critical part of your life is in front of you, “what do I do with the rest of my life?” You realize that you are no longer young. Your family is really important to you and some tough decisions must be made. “What do I do with my free time?” “Is golf all there is?” You may get more involved with your family or church. You might buy another business and start over again, leaving someone else to run the shop. You might just resign yourself to this and say, “I guess this is all I will ever be”. That can be a bad road to go down. Your life can actually get very depressing and you can feel very lost. These shop owners are unhappy, angry, cynical people. There is very little joy in their life. They might drop out of the local trade association, if they were ever a member. It is this stage that decisions are more critical that any other.
Some will never make it here, but others do. Some shop owners get stuck in one of the three stages mentioned earlier. This can be the best or worse time of your business life. This is when you get to do what you want, when you want, on your own terms. This is when we won’t put up with the whiners and complainers any more. Life takes on a new meaning. You may call this your businesses mid-life crisis. What you end up doing no longer benefits just you. It is more about family, community and your industry. It is when all the parts of your life can come together and they all fit. When ethics, disciplines, your values and the world can all co-exists.
The Cycle Repeats
If your shop is over 15 years old and you feel stuck, join the local trade association, take in a foster kid, raise money for your favorite charity, learn how to play the trombone. How about a 9 month vacation on a sailboat like Ed Ormston from Hyannis Brake and Auto did a few years back. Want to make more money? Have more fun doing it. This cycle repeats itself every 15 years.