There are good and bad reasons to start a business. If you're hoping to get rich quick, never work again, or be the next ZuckerJobs, you might be disappointed. The odds of becoming a billionaire are only somewhat better than being struck by lightning.
On the other hand, you don't have to spend all your time chasing huge valuations and grand exits. Many people, myself included, start businesses because it makes their lives work better for them.
In this article, I'll share some reasons why I started my own cloud consulting business, to show that even a modest business can add value to your life, and give you something to talk about forever.
How much free time do you want? How hard do you want to work? How much money is enough? How often will you get to visit your friends and family?
Whatever you do in life, there will be tens or hundreds of other things that you won't be able to do. This is our good friend, opportunity cost.
As a small business owner, I've found that I have a choice in how I spend my time. I don't ask for permission to take time off, I can plan meetings around my schedule, and no one is looking over my shoulder.
Whenever I've left a company in the past, my whole life has been disrupted: the work changes, the tech changes, my insurance changes, and I have to start all over at my new job.
Starting a business has been a good solution for many of these life disruptions:
I maintain my own tech stack, tools, and knowledge base, which means I can deliver higher quality work more quickly for new clients.
I have a consistent online presence that doesn't need to be rebuilt all the time, so my network can grow with each new job instead of starting over.
My insurance doesn't change because it's provided by my own company.
With a stable foundation, I spend much less time worrying about retooling and spend more time doing useful work.
In a corporate setting, there is almost always tension between what you want to build and what they want you to build, but when you're directly employed by an organization, you can't really say "no", or at least not for long.
When you work for yourself, it's not like that. If your business has any amount of traction, you have the option to say "no" to jobs that don't work for you, are outside your expertise, or are for clients that you just don't feel comfortable with.
Someone is asking you to violate the laws of physics? Your boss wants you to lie about the fitness of a product for a purpose? If it's your company, you can just say no, allowing you to dodge that bullet and possibly sleep better at night too.
Remarkably, exercising your right to say "no" can make you more attractive to customers you want to have: ones that deal fairly and treat you like a human.
There is a handbook for interacting with customers, writing about what you're doing, or what your organization values. To the extent allowable by law, you get to define all of these relationships, and you get to ask yourself: who am I? What am I building?
When you have your own small, closely held entity, you are, in large part, the business, and the identity of you and your business are difficult to distinguish (except for tax purposes).
Starting a business has forced me to communicate more often, to many audiences with different ideas about things. In doing so, I have continued to refine my messaging, understand my own identity, and put on paper what my values actually are. It is forever a work in progress, but it's a task that I did not expect would shape my life in the way that it has.
Having a business, your own business, forces you to think about what's truly important to you.
What's important enough that would be worth taking a massive pay cut? Or being stressed out? Or needing to learn a bunch about tax code? I personally know people who have tried to have their own business, and in the process, realized that, ya know, maybe having their own business isn't for them and that the working world wasn't so bad.
If you're looking for powerful self-reflection, starting a business provides lots of opportunities for that.
When you start a business, your job on any given day is always changing. Whether it's code-slinging, hardware, documentation, bookkeeping, marketing, filming, editing, paperwork; there is always something more to do, and often it's something you've never done before.
I've learned a lot from regular jobs, but I'd wager that every one year I've worked as a solo founder has been worth ten plugging away at a job somewhere. It's not enough to do your little part at a startup. You have to know everything, you have to understand everything, and you have to be able to communicate everything to everyone.
On top of that, every second counts. Every conversation, every email, every line of code counts, and there is a visceral connection between the work you do and what value it does or doesn't bring to the organization.
You just don't get that kind of feedback from a performance review.
You don't have to sell your soul to live a good life. It's okay to be small, and there are lots of ways to go about it:
Becoming a consultant
Building a tiny SaaS product
Franchising a business
Selling things online
It's different for everyone, and it won't be easy; I'm not getting rich any time soon with BrettOps. But I like to set my own hours, I don't like asking for permission, and I like having an interesting story to tell at the end of the day.
If any of that sounds like you, then starting your own small business might be just what the doctor ordered.