It was a Monday morning – 8:30 to be exact – when the phone rang. I was the national sales manager for a publishing company, working out of my home office.
As a high school senior, I was the only member of my class to have what was essentially a full-time job. For the next 20 years, from flipping burgers to the C-Suite, I was never unemployed, even during the recessions of 1969, 1974, 1981 and 1983. But that all changed when, in 1988, I lost my VP job as my employer downsized itself, eventually to nothing. So, the irony wasn’t lost on me when I attended my 20-year high school reunion unemployed.
Back to that phone call. It was May 22, 1989, and my boss on the other end explained that the company had a new plan, but I wasn’t part of it. So, if you’re scoring at home, that was me getting fired, sacked, canned, downsized, (your unemployment idiom here) twice – in 1988 and 1989.
After hanging up the phone at 8:35, for about three seconds my first thought was to dust off my resume and hit the bricks. Two teenagers and two mortgages are strong motivators. But then, thinking out loud, said: “I don’t need any help screwing up my life, I can do that by myself.” So, I addressed the keyboard and gave birth to my new business, “Jim Blasingame and Associates, Business Consultants.” My “Associates” at that moment were a Macintosh Plus and a laser printer.
Thirty years later, a period that included a second entrepreneurial reinvention, I think I can declare myself a successful business owner. A professor friend of mine describes me this way: “My friend Jim is a small business owner; he lives by his wits.” No doubt you know how accurate that is.
What’s the big takeaway as I celebrate my business’s 30th anniversary?
Allow me to offer three:
1. No whining. The marketplace – indifferent to your very existence, let alone survival – offers no appeal process, do-overs or puppy room when something licks the red off your candy. So, if you’re thinking of starting a business but can’t get your head around buckling up for that kind of a rude ride, be sure to clock in at your regular job tomorrow – you’re not ready. Remember, there’s no crying in baseball and no whining in small business.
2. Ownership. As a business owner, I haven’t always liked how things have gone – like not knowing if I’d make it another hour, let alone another day. But I always loved being a business owner. Because if you survive long enough, you’ll thrive on knowing that regardless of what comes in your door – ugly challenge or elegant opportunity – it belongs to you. You own it 100% and it becomes whatever you make it.
3. Believe. For most small business owners, you’re often only one bad decision or lost customer away from being out of business. The marketplace will fail you, vendors will fail you, employees will fail you, (your disappointment co-conspirator here). But if you survive all of this and keep coming back for more, it will be because of one thing more than any other: you believe in yourself. The most powerful lesson I’ve learned in the past three decades is that when it all goes to Sheboygan in a handbasket, the more you believe in yourself, the greater chance you’ll have to survive and want to fight another day. If the marketplace were capable of respecting anything, surely believing in yourself would be it.
Being a small business owner is one of the hardest jobs in the world– harder than being the CEO of a major corporation. But I wouldn’t swap with anyone and can’t complain, because mine is what I made it, and it belongs to me – 100%. So does yours.
Write this on a rock … Remember those two downsizings I mentioned earlier? After being a business owner for a couple of years, I went back and thanked both men who fired me.