The lifestyle of a small-business owner often reads like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster: There’s boundless action, enduring suspense, and constant drama. Mix in a few laughs, the obligatory blood, sweat, and tears, and at that point, who needs Bruce Willis? The exploits of a small-business owner can make even the most hair-raising antics on the silver screen seem tame.
According to Chris Mahlmann, CEO of Ideas in Motion Media, running a small business is more of an adventure than most anticipate.
“It’s pretty harried, but I think it comes with the territory,” Mahlmann says of his own entrepreneurial lifestyle. “There’s a lot to get done every single day. I think a lot of people believe that when you own your own company you can make your own hours and work whenever you want. And that’s just not the case.”
The workload is virtually inescapable, Mahlmann warns, particularly in the earliest days of a start-up, when there are financial plans to make, financial problems to solve, employees to hire, staff to train, a team to motivate, and products, services, and a promotional strategy to launch that must attract and — most importantly — retain customers.
Without a doubt, becoming a small-business owner is one of the gutsiest professional moves a person can make. And nowhere is such a risk-taking bunch of entrepreneurs more prevalent than in the United States. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, companies with fewer than 500 employees represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms. Collectively, the small-business community has produced 64 percent of all new jobs in the U.S. over the past 15 years.
Although many entrepreneurs have enjoyed staggering success in their small-business pursuits, not all risks reap lasting rewards. The SBA reports that only seven out of 10 new employer firms survive at least two years. Only half reach the five-year mark. And the survival percentages grow smaller as time goes on.
Still, experts contend that one of the lesser understood factors prompting — or at least heavily contributing to — the small-business failure rate is the inability of entrepreneurs to plan for and cope with the burdens of business ownership that quickly monopolize their time, money, and former lifestyle.
But it’s this very challenge to succeed that provides the ultimate joy of being an entrepreneur, says Mahlmann, whose current venture is ValpoLife.com, a web-based company that spotlights all things positive in Valparaiso, Ind. “Every day you walk in that door, and you’re either going to win or lose. That pressure is always there, but that competitive nature is right there with it. It’s game day every day. And who wouldn’t want to get up and have it always be game day?”