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My Dad: Lessons In How NOT to Own A Small Business

March 3, 2011

My Dad: Small Business Owner Mickey PowellToday is the anniversary of my dad’s passing. I learned a lot from him, many lessons to share with all of you about small business ownership. In summary: do not do it the way my Dad did!

First, to alleviate any perception that I am speaking ill of him, I want to share what a fine man he was. My love of community service comes from him. His dedication to making this world a better place is clear in this tribute:

http://www.fedflyfishers.org/Default.aspx?tabid=4520

Even his business ownership was, in a way, community service. He was ‘saving the family business.’ http://www.davidlnelson.md/FFF_FlyTyingGroup/Buszeks/BuszekHistory.htm

Now, on to telling the truth. As a child I watched my father work, work, work, and then work some more. He came home late for dinner, went back to work at night, and worked most weekends. Even our few vacations were often spent at work-related fly fishing conclaves or networking conferences. Both of my parents worked, hard, yet we never seemed to have any money. We weren’t destitute; dinner was always on the table. But money was always an uncomfortable issue. Always having a keen sense of numbers and business, even at a young age it was apparent to me that something wasn’t right. I often wondered, weren’t business owners supposed to be rich?

As a teenager, I became the bookkeeper for my dad’s business, and my childhood observations were clarified. The business was barely profitable. My dad either trusted me enough to let me see his truth, or he thought I was so inexperienced I wouldn’t get it. It wasn’t my place to ask.

But the questions I kept to myself then are the exact kinds of questions I ask clients now. And they are questions I want you to ask yourself if you own a business, no matter how large or small. Yes, even a side Tupperware business, or a little consulting gig, or do a bit of wedding photography. These are all businesses, and they do impact your family!

Here are 12 questions to ask yourself.

  • Do you spend less time with your children, spouse, or friends as a result of your business?
  • Have you ever paid an employee late?
  • Are there months that your business doesn’t pay you?
  • Do you ever put off buying basic things your family needs because your business needs the money more?
  • Have you ever lied (or avoided the truth) about your business’ finances to your spouse?
  • When was the last time you took a real vacation?
  • Do you avoid asking for professional advice about your business’ health?
  • Do you truly know how profitable your business is?
  • Is your business contributing to a retirement fund?
  • Do you have partnership agreements that aren’t in writing?
  • How much have you borrowed against your family’s home, retirement, savings, children’s college fund or inheritance?
  • Does your spouse’s income support your business?

If you don’t like your answer to more than a couple of these questions, it’s time to find a trusted advisor, a business coach, an external CFO, or a mastermind group and tell the truth. Print this blog out and put it in the front of a binder titled “Making My Business Better.” Make an action plan. Make it better. In six months, ask yourself the questions again. Then repeat.

What would my dad’s answers to these questions have been? 100% not good. In the 32 years I watched him run his business, I only saw his business run him. I’ve taken these lessons and have been committed to reverse engineer his mistakes into a balanced plan for running my business. I haven’t always been successful, but one of my life’s quests is to be just like my dad when it comes to community service, and exactly opposite my dad when it comes to small business ownership.

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6 comments

  1. Thank you for this thought-provoking article. It’s so refreshing to have such an honest, open look at what many of us face but sometimes can’t even identify.


    • Thanks Eileen. We always make the outsides look so shiny. I hope that by my jumping in and telling my truth, and my fathers truth, I’ll be able to help others not go as far down path of not asking for guidance and support around money issues and business issues.


  2. Stacey: thank you for your courage and for helping folks share that courage. I know my life would be less without your coaching.


    • Thanks for your kind words Amanda. I’m honored to work with you, be a part of your team, and watch Amanda Johnson, CFP, continue to grow in its health each and every year. Your business rocks!


  3. Good insight and lessons learned. Balance is the key. I lost my father last March 2010 and there were many lessons that I am still learning. Thanks for the introspection.


    • Thanks Kevin. Sorry to hear about your father; it certainly makes us look at life just a little differently. Great to meet you at Sac Speakers Network! See you next month.



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