Small Business

The First Law of Business: Be Good to Yourself


By Nicholas Hall Small-business owners take the initial plunge for different reasons. Some figure they can make more money and do a better job without a boss's interference. Others get downsized by their companies and figure that now is as good a time as any to give business ownership a shot. But most want more freedom, flexibility, and control over their lives.

Unfortunately, those three most cherished things are often the first to go when small-business owners start a business. In my previous businesses I worked long hours, my waistline expanded, I forgot about my friends, and my hobbies and interests outside of work became afterthoughts. I became the lifeless, boring, overweight entrepreneur that we all read about in magazines, except I didn't have the millions of IPO dollars that somehow make it appear the sacrifice was worthwhile.

Like many entrepreneurs, I got caught up in the dot-com mania. I was one of the many in that long, hapless line of wannabe moguls hoping to raise millions of dollars and become an overnight success with my picture on the cover of, well, BusinessWeek.

NEW PHILOSOPHY. I can still remember wondering how I was going to explain to the venture capitalists that I had the lead in a local musical production and would have to leave work every day by 5 p.m. Or, thinking how much I would miss my home office, lunch with my wife, and baking bread in the afternoon.

I came to the painful realization that I was not being true to myself and had not created a business that served me, but rather one I would have to serve. It is no surprise, and thankfully so, that the business never materialized.

About 18 months ago, I adopted a new philosophy. Within several months, my energy, friends, interests, and proper waistline returned. The move put freedom, flexibility, and control -- those things I so desperately wanted when I joined the entrepreneurial world seven years ago -- back in my life. The philosophy was not developed over a long period of time, but in a moment of reflection while walking my new puppy.

I realized that when I considered the type of business to start I never thought about how it would fit into my life. Therefore, I always ended up struggling to fit my life into my business. I made the choice that, from that moment on, I would always be involved in a business designed to serve my life.

SUPPORT SYSTEM. Writing about it in a few sentences makes it sound easy. It wasn't. Making the commitment was easy, but sticking with it was a daily process. Having a support system that included my wife, business coach, mentors, and peers was essential to my sticking to my commitment. Over the years I have learned that we are always the first ones to give up on ourselves.

My new philosophy had a significant impact on the creation of my most recent business. My wife's promotion prompted a move from San Francisco to Westport (Conn.) in June, 2001. This relocation provided the opportunity for me to start the company.

Keeping in mind my "business that fits in my life" philosophy, I realized I wanted a business I could run from my home, would be able to grow in a virtual environment, could be operated from any location -- as long as I had a phone line and an Internet connection -- and, most importantly, was simple and straightforward. I know myself well enough to be aware that I often get involved in businesses that do not have straightforward business models, meaning I end up getting stuck in the complexities and avoid important things like generating revenue.

EUREKA! So when I thought about my areas of expertise and where people needed help, I realized that, with the downturn in the high-tech economy, conference organizers have been struggling to sell tickets to their events. My initial strategy failed because -- no surprise -- the revenue model was a bit too complex.

However, I stumbled across the idea of negotiating "last-minute" discount tickets to high-tech conferences. Bingo! Several conference organizers appreciate the opportunity to sell a few extra seats and cover some expenses, and my subscribers, like just about everyone, love a good deal.

Simple, straightforward, clear path of organic growth, ability to operate from anywhere, four virtual contractors working with me, and plenty of long afternoon walks with my new puppy. Now that is what I call being good to myself. Nicholas Hall is the founder of Possibility Productions, a company that sells discounts tickets to high-tech conferences. Before starting Possibility Productions in 2001, he was president of the Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs and founded the international success, Startupfailures.com.


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