An Introduction to F-Words Every Entrepreneur should Master in Their Business.
So, I am sitting in a courtroom for four or five hours pondering what went wrong. I had a plan, a good plan. Build my business, grow my business, sell my business, and then retire early and live the life I want. Simple plan, but totally achievable. Several weeks earlier, I got a call while traveling on business, it’s the wife, “I filed for divorce today, emptied the accounts, you should stay at the lake house when you get back”. My dumbfounded response: “Ok”. Fast forward to the courtroom, where some Harvard Law guy is walking me through some new common core math on the stand, trying to establish an inflated income figure for alimony. The result: a five figure monthly alimony payment, a new single dad life, and still a business to try to run.
F**K !!! I didn’t realize at the time, but this was the moment that F-words for Entrepreneurs is born.
I was faced with a challenge to rebuild my life, my family, and my business. I had spent more than 20 years as a management consultant solving complex problems for many of the largest financial services companies in the world. Surely, those skills and that experience, could guide me through the trivial issues and complexities of my new life. I was right, remove some of the zeros, break down the issues, focus on execution, and my skills were transferable to a much smaller scale of challenges. Although the stakes were far more important and personal for me than increasing the profits of mega banks.
This blog is my therapeutic journey to building or re-building a business engineered around an entrepreneurial lifestyle design that works for you, not vice versa. It is for those who chase the dream of owning your own business, only to wake up to the nightmare of 60-70 hour weeks, client calls from soccer fields, interrupted vacations, and an unsustainable roller coaster financial position that your family has become ‘accustomed to’. The blog shares the cold hard truth about the entrepreneurial lifestyle and my journey to scream F-words at it until it conformed to my will. Not the F-word from the courtroom experience, but strategic F-words that matter to your life and business. Words like freedom, the antonym to the slave life you had in the corporate cubical farms. Words we don’t say like fear and failure, because we have to maintain that illusion of success found in our profiles and bios. Words like focus and finish, which we struggle to understand without extra doses of Adderall chased by double espressos. And of course, the almighty F-word of finances, which is at the core of this capitalistic lifestyle that has robbed us of the moments that matter most.
As harsh as that sounds, the truth I found is, it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to engineer the life you want and have a successful business to fund it. More time for family and friendships, less time spent in continuous fear of failure. I have found my new life is another F-word, fantastic! I spend not just more time, but quality time with my children. I have a new wife, that just so happens to be an entrepreneur and a true partner. I have fulfilling relationships with my friends, and now began at least thinking of a more fit and healthy lifestyle. All of this, and the business is better than ever. The point is, it is possible to have a successful business and a quality personal life. It simply takes some courage to take time out of working in the business, and spend focused time working on the business. It takes a change of mindset, to become vulnerable and honest with the missing parts of your life and the bravery to reengineer your business to your lifestyle desires and demands.
To say entrepreneurship is a passion of mine, would be an understatement. My entire family as far back as the civil war were entrepreneurs. My grandfather and his sons were all electrical contractors, with never ending side hustles of businesses ranging from waterslides, driving ranges, office copiers, and oil leases. The entire family was involved in family businesses. Holiday gatherings with family were filled with deal making and ideas for startups. In elementary school, I figured out the benefits of outsourcing by taking the $20 my dad paid me to mow the lawn and paying my friend to mow it for $10, while I sat in the air conditioning playing Atari. In junior high, I taught myself Basic programming and databases on a PC Junior with my Dad’s company parking lot lighting leases. And in high school, I taught myself QuickBooks and did the companies accounting, which came in handy to breeze through seven fun filled college years at Oklahoma State earning an Accounting degree. There isn’t a time of my life that I wasn’t working on building a business. In hindsight, maybe serial entrepreneurism was the addiction or the mistress that inevitably led to my failed marriage, but it also provided a wonderful prosperous life for my family.
My breakthrough business came from management consulting. I was working for a global management consulting firm, as a subject matters expert in cost and profitability analytics for large banks. Racking up crazy frequent flyer miles on projects around the world, my travel schedule was hectic at best, and at the worst exhausting. The week of 9/11, I was on client site in New Jersey when the terrorist attack occurred. Forced to drive home to Tulsa in a rental car after the attack, as I reached the Poconos with the smoke from the towers visible in the distance, it finally occurred to me. I need to start my own consulting practice, call my own shots, and do things my way. As with every great story of entrepreneurism, it starts with taking a leap of faith, a risk that defies reason. Here I was with a great career, salary, and fast track opportunity to partner, and I resigned without a clue of what was coming next. It was what I call an Indiana Jones moment, looking down at what looks like a bottomless chasm and a fall to my death, and stepping out anyway. It paid off, within 24 hours of making the leap, a former client called needing some help with a major project. I confessed that I was no longer with the consulting firm and starting my own company, she responded “fine, does that mean your rates will be cheaper?”, I replied, “yes ma’am they will” and like that I was a full-time business owner.
Little did I know the time commitment, stress, and sacrifices I would make for the next fifteen years leading up to that day in the courtroom. The company grew, we added employees, the money was rolling in, but I became like a mouse on a spinning wheel with too much momentum to stop. I took on more and more projects, never saying no, and filled the holes I had created in my life with big houses, nice cars, and expensive vacations. I now carried not only the weight of my own family, but the families of employees and clients counting on me to deliver. I went from working for a firm 60 plus hours a week, to owning a firm that occupied my thoughts every waking moment. I was always believing just a few more deals and I will be ready to sell the company and get back to a normal slower paced life. Offers to purchase my company came and having never defined what was enough, I would turn them down and stretch to go a little further. Inevitably, as with Icarus, you fly too high and eventually the fall comes. But as with all great fables, the best part of the story is how you rise stronger, learn from your mistakes, and pass the wisdom on to those following a similar path or dealing with the same struggles.
It has been three years since I dropped my transformational F-bomb that day in the courtroom. I have learned and loved my way through some challenging times. I had to rebuild from the ground up, learn to let go of some responsibilities, and redesign the life I wanted for myself and my new family. Along the journey, I have had the pleasure of working with other small business owners who also struggle with balancing the crazy life of an entrepreneur with their personal dreams and desires. I have found camaraderie in their shared experience, able to help them identify areas to improve their business, and always encourage them to design the life they want. Along this transformational journey, I gained the insights to:
gain the Freedom expected from entrepreneurship
overcome Fears and use them to propel my business forward
generate the necessary Finances to fund the life I desire
intensely Focus on the work that matter’s most
define my own Finish lines and run a patient but profitable race
F-words That Every Entrepreneur Should Master In Their Business, captures my journey and hopefully helps others who dare to reimagine their business and gain the freedom in their life that they desire.