Murray Logan trudges along the beach on Singer Island, Florida, dragging his cart along behind him in the blazing sun; the large, puffy tires barely leave a track in the sand. Looking at the four giant surf rods lashed to the cart, it would be easy to mistake Murray for one of the sport fisherman that are a permanent fixture on the beach. But in his case it’s a little different — Murray is on his way to work.
“This is how I make my living,” Murray explains. “I’m a professional fisherman.” After retiring from his life as a building contractor, Murray found a way to get paid to spend all day fishing — and business is good. He sells his catch to local restaurants, which pay anywhere from $10 to $14 dollars a pound for the fresh Pompano he drags out of the surf in the summer, and the Mahi Mahi, Wahoo and Yellowfin Tuna he brings in from his fishing boat.
It’s easy to look on with envy at people who have figured out how to make a living out of something most of us consider a hobby, to feel the tug of independence and the desire to shed your 9-to-5 cubicle job and start your own business. Before doing so, there are a number of things to consider carefully, and some hard questions you’ll need to ask yourself.
Can’t Do a Thing without the Bling
Starting any new business will require cash — and lots of it. Not only will you need to fund startup costs, but you’ll need enough capital to operate until your business is profitable. When confronted with the reality of the size of the investment they’ll need, many seek to borrow the money, sometimes putting their house on the line as collateral. Borrowing startup or operating costs is a virtual guarantee of failure for a small business owner.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the story behind the movie The Blair Witch Project, which was funded by the producers maxing out their credit cards. That is a one-in-a-million shot, and for every widely touted success there are ten thousand obscure failures, where people are saddled with a decade of crippling debt. If you don’t have the discipline to save money and to bank the cash to fund your own business until it’s profitable, you’ll never be able to get off the ground.
While it’s easy to envy our buddy Murray, what you don’t see are the days when the weather is cold and bleak, and Murray still has to go out fishing to satisfy his customers. What defeats many new to running a small business is the nearly relentless dedication and focus it takes to scratch out a living.
Another difficult skill for many to acquire is the near constant self-promotion and focus on sales it takes to make it in a small business. When you’re the sole proprietor, you’re also the sales manager and sales team.
The Taxman Cometh
Another area new small business owners get sideways is taxes. On the federal level, that means filing quarterly estimated tax payments, even if you don’t think you made a lot of money. Your state may or may not require similar quarterly tax reporting. Falling behind on tax payments is all too common for new small business owners, and it can be a fatal mistake. The IRS can levy some eye-popping fines, and seize the assets of people trying to cheat their tax responsibility.
Doing The Hard Things
Some people daydream about being their own boss and living life free of an alarm clock. My standard joke when people ask about my business is that I traded working regular hours for working all the time. I get up earlier and work longer in the evening. When my customers need something, I’m there. My neighbors seldom see me.
Some days you’ll end up working for less than minimum wage, sometimes a lot less. You’ll have to make calls you dread, and there’s nowhere to dump the work you don’t want to do. You’ll have to grind through details you’d rather avoid.
Anyone who thinks running their own business is easy has never done it. If you’ve got a decent day job, think twice before striking out on your own.