I now realise, after running a consulting business for 12 years, that when I was a partner in a large accounting firm – technically and on the face of it, a business owner – I was, in a practical sense, the equivalent of an employee in a large corporate.
Despite the numerous partner conferences and away days that seemed to indicate collaboration, the core values and cultural norms were determined far away in Head Office. Inevitably, these were a synthesis of the values held by key board members of the firm. These values in turn dictated the key performance measures. The measures drove behaviours and everyone either adopted those behaviours or chose to work elsewhere. Pretty standard for the average large, profit-making organisation. We used to call it the FIFO principle – fit in or…
You can imagine how refreshing it was to start a business from scratch, with no pre-formed values, measures and behaviours. The freedom to choose client centricity over profit, community over department and pricing based on value rather than time. The ability to control the drivers was tangible, but was the business really controlling me?
There are certain imperatives that do not feel chosen – the need to pay the mortgage, put food on the table, deliver a return from the investment of resources and manage the daily issues of sales, client service, finance, IT, marketing and admin., let alone delivering the product personally, as in my case. It’s a simple choice – either do these things yourself, or pay someone else.
I can confidently say that running a business is one of the most formative experiences in any career. If you yearn the free-spiritness and sense of achievement that such a choice can deliver and feel able to back yourself to succeed, you should give it a go. After all, what’s the worst that can happen if it doesn’t go to plan? It’s only money (as I used to say to my accounting clients – with a rather mixed response).
Fundamentally, as I sit here, electing to write a blog rather than having to attend a tiresome meeting called to resolve some insoluble issue, it occurs to me that the freedom to decide how to spend one’s time must ultimately be the determinant of whether you feel truly free and happy in your work.