A Personal Experience: A Taste of Entrepreneurship

This year marks my 25th year anniversary in business running my certified public accounting firm.  I started the firm as a relatively young man of 29 who decided to make a break from the corporate environs.  I absolutely detested everything about those environs and would have driven myself nuts had I stayed, so in part, my business was born out of a highly negative emotional response I had to corporate America.  I’m not so sure that I feel any differently today. Now that I have more grey hair, I might have dealt with things differently, but I also know that I’m simply not made for that particular environment.  I just need the freedom that being in one’s own business brings and I’m willing to  shoulder the burdens that come along with it.  I’ve decided to share some of my experiences here.

I really got started with entrepreneurship as a youth. My first entrepreneurial experience was as a 12 year old newspaper carrier for the Indianapolis Star and the Indianapolis News, the city’s  morning and evening newspapers, respectively, formerly published by the Pulliam family.    The routes were right in my neighborhood and I had to be responsible enough to deliver the newspapers, collect money, pay my weekly newspaper bill and make sure that I had profits at the end of the week. Although this seems simple enough, it was not without difficulties. If you’ve ever worked outside, particularly walking a few blocks like a postman, then you’re very aware that dogs can become quite problematic. I don’t know what is was about me, but the same Fido that would be wagging his tail in the presence of his owner while I was reassured that “he doesn’t bite”, would be the same dog snarling in preparation to sink his teeth in me when the owner wasn’t present! Another risk was the older kids who were prepared to bully me and try to take my paper money. (This particular problem was quickly remedied by a growth spurt I had between age 12 and 13.) I had challenges with collection. There were a few people who didn’t want to pay the $ 0.45 weekly subscription fee and had the nerve to get upset when confronted with it. There were customer relations issues. I had two neighbors (two busybodies) who complained to my mother that they’d never let me deliver their newspapers to them because “he walks like he thinks he’s cute” (an assertion that bordered on the ridiculous). I wound up getting them to subscribe later. I had to learn how to manage all of this and as I look back, the experience was definitely developmental.

One of basic principles I learned from this experience revolved around staying on agenda. In business, one’s agenda usually is concerned with serving customers well and making a profit. It’s been my experience that there are times when people can take you off agenda and if you’re not careful, someone else will substitute their agenda for your agenda. Staying on agenda requires focus, determination and clarity in your own mind what your agenda is. Don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by the agendas of others like my neighbors.

I learned not to be shy about collecting money and to be upfront and direct about it. For a twelve year old kid, this was quite a transition as I was taught to be respectful and deferential to adults. Unfortunately, some of these adults weren’t paying their weekly paper bill which directly impacted upon my profits. I had to learn to be firm and respectful and, if necessary, suspend deliveries until I got paid. Oftentimes, after struggling to get business, the new entrepreneur feels so fortunate to get a customer that they’d prefer not to press them to collect money. You can’t afford to service non paying customers and it’s best to set expectations upfront regarding terms and settlement of fees. Never ever undervalue yourself and your service.

Another principle I learned was being my own self reference point and surrounding myself with positive people. Being your own self reference point means knowing yourself and what you’re capable of even when other people refuse to acknowledge you or your abilities. Being your own self reference point is also important in another way. It’s been my experience that if one is attempting to do something that other people don’t envision themselves doing, these same people will attempt to impose the limitations they have on themselves on you. You have to be confident enough in yourself and your abilities to hand their limitations right back to them and proceed on agenda. Surround yourself with positive people.

At times being an entrepreneur is a lonely undertaking mainly because not everyone can relate to your challenges and how you may feel with the ups and downs of your business. Opening and running a business is an undertaking that should not be underestimated and it’s not for the faint hearted. Achieving even a small measure of success requires hard work, extraordinary focus and the ability to punch back whenever the inevitable challenges present themselves. There are times where one must be prepared to do battle.

Staying on agenda, collecting your money and self affirmation are some of the things that I learned from that early entrepreneurial experience. What I’ve learned from running a small accounting practice would fill volumes. I’ll share a little of that later.


2 Responses to “A Personal Experience: A Taste of Entrepreneurship”
  1. Preach brother.

    I hear you on this one.

    Our community needs to be more aggressive at stomping out destructive messages that are streamed our way which profit others. They need to be replaced by straight forward messages like your which, if followed, would correct 90% of the problems that we face in our community.

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