Along with the risks and the responsibility of earning enough money to pay the bills there are plenty of good reasons to run your own business. Here in the UK there were over 5.8 million small businesses in 2019 according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Of course, the situation will be different in the post-pandemic world but that is still a staggering number of small businesses compared to our population size.
Small businesses, those with less than 50 employees, make up 99.3% of all businesses and around half of all turnover in the UK private sector. 4.5 million of those small businesses have zero employees, which means they are sole-director, archetypal “one-man bands” or, of course, “one-woman bands”.
By any standards that is a significant number of people – so to glean some more insights into what is so attractive about running your own business I spoke to Mark Harris of Enterprise Doctor about why he started his business. Mark has a portfolio career involving paid, self-employed and voluntary work so he’s well placed to see the benefits from many angles.
Here’s what we talked about:
Being in control
Mark told me that running his own business allows him to set his own agenda – it gives him power and control over his diary. It means he can play squash on a Tuesday afternoon if he wants to or work on Sunday mornings if he wants to. Setting the agenda is a key attraction of running a business but it is just one small part.
As Mark says, “It’s very important to me to be in control of all aspects of my life. I have a family, hobbies and work and all are important parts of my life. Even more important is the complete control I have over who I work with.”
I’m sure many people have been in the situation where they are working for a boss who simply doesn’t do a good job, takes credit for other people’s achievements and assigns blame to others when things go wrong. As your own boss you take the blame and the praise. No more putting up with an incompetent boss is a benefit many would cite, I’m sure.
Mark goes on to say: “It’s not that I want an easy life and in many ways I’m not an easy boss to myself, but I do at least have control over work and life. In fact I don’t like the phrase ‘work-life balance’ because to me work is part of my life so it’s not about balancing two different parts of my life”
“…work is part of my life so it’s not about balancing two different parts of my life”
Building/Creating something to be proud of
Self-esteem is very important to Mark as it is to everyone and he simply doesn’t understand people who think it’s not. He is extremely proud of Enterprise Doctor, which celebrated its 10th birthday earlier this year. That’s 10 years of earning an income – indeed generating an income from nothing – this has allowed him to do what he wants, when and how; being master of his own time.
As he says, “I genuinely think Wow! I have created a recognisable brand from nothing.”
He wonders why people say things like “I’m ‘just’ self-employed” or “I ‘just’ run a small business” There’s no “just” about it – it’s a great achievement and something many people couldn’t do.
We can’t mention running a small business without mentioning making money. Money is important – we all have bills to pay – but for Mark running a business is not all about the money. It’s also about the freedom to do things that don’t generate an income.
Mark always asks his Enterprise Doctor clients: “How Do You Define Success?”
For some it is earning 2 or 3 times (or more) what they earn now, but for others it’s about earning the same but in a shorter working week eg 3 days instead of 5 to free up time for sport or voluntary work to help others.
Mark is a business mentor for the Prince’s Trust on a voluntary basis and he finds this just as satisfying as his paid work. That’s because it’s what he wants to do.
He’s also a local Councillor and runs a co-working group in addition to his Enterprise Doctor role. In all of these roles he actively grasps opportunities to help people but is in the fortunate position to refuse the opportunities he doesn’t want. The beauty of running his own business is that he doesn’t have to explain or justify why he doesn’t want to work on a particular project or with particular people.
Relishing a challenge
When asked how important it was to challenge himself as a business owner, Mark gave an example that neatly sums up his view:
When working with a philanthropic foundation they required a professional bid to be written for a project. They could have employed a professional bid writing company at significant cost or the project manager could have written it. Instead the foundation knew Mark and trusted him so asked him to write the bid. With his marketing skills it was a task he was capable of but had never actually done before. A challenge he actively relished.
Following a passion
If you are lucky, you love your job and love what you do in life but, as Mark says, it’s not always possible to follow your passion and make it a career.
If you love tennis, for example, but are not a particularly good player then trying to follow your passion as a career is unlikely to end well.
There are two ways to look at this according to Mark:
- 1: Some people would be happy to get involved in a role connected to tennis (in his example). Setting up and running a tennis club could keep you involved in the sport but allow the coaching to be left to those with the relevant skills.
- 2: On the other hand being close to a sport without ever achieving the giddy heights of sporting fame might simply highlight the activities that you are not good at. It would be like a kid on a diet in a sweetshop.
So following your passion isn’t necessary to have a successful career as an entrepreneur and may even hamper your choice of business. But doing something you enjoy, every day, is important
So Mark’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is “Try it – you might like it!” Consider the pros and cons, do some thinking and planning but get started…
My thanks to Mark for his insights on running, or thinking about running, a small business.
About Mark Harris:
Mark Harris is the Enterprise Doctor. He has over 10 years experience in that role, building on a range of roles with businesses large and small; including starting, building and then selling his own office stationery company.
If you want to work with someone who understands the challenges of being a solopreneur, perhaps employing a few people, having to watch every penny of expenditure, needing to work smarter, not harder, then there’s nothing stopping you – Mark is available.
Connect with him on LinkedIn