Small-Business Owner Shame

Last week I muttered about waves and troughs.

This small business gig is not for the fainthearted. I’m not talking about “entrepreneurs” starting up in Moms garage. I’m talking about folk facing no other choice.

It doesn’t matter what went wrong. Job loss. Divorce. Illness. Pick one.

I’m not here because I chose it. I’m here because I had no other choice. It’s too late now to change. But it’s been a helluva ride.

A business has the same legal rights as a human being. But it doesn’t have any of the caring, the “heart”, the charity, and the shame integral to being human. “Business” is all about money. Nothing else matters.

Imagine polluting the only pristine river in the United States. As long as you make more money than the cost of the fines, you’re OK. Much the same applies to polony production in SA. At least, that’s the mandate government and shareholders give business. And that’s a valid business strategy as long as you don’t need to look your neighbours in the eyes.

But you and me? We’re human first. And that changes how we play this game.

We don’t screw clients or shareholders. Although I must confess to sleeping with my biggest stakeholder.

Yet when a month-end arrives and we don’t have enough money to pay the bills, we endure intense shame. And that “shame” sucks. We see it as failure. It isn’t. It might be a setback. But, it’s only temporary. It’s only a trough. Surf’s back up soon.

That “shame” is debilitating. We can’t think past it. This is way past “business”. “Human Beings” might have the same legal rights as a “Juristic Entity” like Enron. But we are patently, potently different.

It’s not only the shame of not meeting this month’s car payment. It’s the shame of the kids not eating until Sunday.

About that car payment… Compare how that salaried eedjit chases you with the way you treat customers who owe you money…

During these challenges we forget normal mortals think we’re magicians. They don’t like us. They see us when we crest waves. They want to be just like us, if only they dared. They don’t see us in the troughs because we’re too busy.

When the surf favours us, we create money where no money existed before. We add value to people happy to pay for what we offer. And we do this without asking for charity. We do this because we have no other option.

And if we have no other option, if this is our only path, why feel embarrassed by the occasional trough?

Our feelings about money come from our parents and school. The dream of a real job was drummed into us. That dream is a regular salary from 18 to 68, leveraging that into credit to buy stuff we don’t need.

When we say we are “financially embarrassed” this might be true if we have a job as we overcommit to credit. This is not true when we lose that job. And if we run out of sales, it’s not so much “embarrassment” as it is par for the course. And temporary. A nudge to stop “working” and start “selling”.

You are not too blame for how bankers behaved in 2008. Nor for Zuma choosing chumps. Nor for global warming. And yet, like me, you spent a lot of time in a deep trough afterwards.

Welcome to small-business life. As I write this I’m watching YouTube, a list of the most played music videos. Incredible musicians doing the wildest things. When it works they go viral. And when it doesn’t, they try again.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that ourselves? Without our brains feeding us all sorts of BS?

I try to stick to one rule. Don’t buy anything on credit. No matter how well times are now, I don’t know whether I will earn enough income every month. Nor do you.

Miss one payment and creditors forget all those payments you did make. Given that, an old car bought cash, is always a much better deal than a new car purchased on credit.

Sam Walton started a small grocery store which you know as Walmart. He had a wonderful approach to life. “Buy cheap cars and expensive houses.”

You have the right to learn from things going wrong. You have the right to enjoy when things go right. But shame?

This is life: The only one you get.