The Dark Side of Success for Small Business Owners
The world loves a winner. The most popular success stories involve situations where seemingly insurmountable obstacles are overcome to finally reach the finish line. It might be called the Rocky syndrome or rags-to-riches, but the message glorifies surviving the struggle.
Whether it is sports, war or business, the price of victory is often extreme in what it demands from individuals. The circumstances can cause great stress and drive some to the point of breaking and beyond. Yet, supposedly, if victory does come, the metrics of success make the price paid worthwhile.
Millions of vehicles are on the road at any one moment with the name Goodyear plastered on their tires. Those, and all others, owe their existence to the efforts of Charles Goodyear, one of this country’s most tenacious entrepreneurs. However, few know the terrible price paid by this man and his family in the pursuit of his dream.
In the book The Noble Quest, we are told:
“…42 years old— sick, tired, poor and exhausted. For Nearly a decade he had devoted himself with monomaniacal zeal to his quest. He had endured poverty, ridicule, life threatening illnesses, a half-dozen times being put in jail and long self-torment in the knowledge that his wife and children has suffered as much or more than he.
He had lived his product. He spent every waking moment stirring it, boiling it, reeking of it. He had turned himself into a walking laboratory. He had involved every friend, family member, business associate and even strangers — and even now all had to show were failures and broken dreams . . .”
This was the period when success was still years away. Even when he did finally develop the process of vulcanization, Goodyear was robbed of much of his financial success because he was too exhausted from the stress to fight any longer.
Pressures on Small Business Owners
Unfortunately, literally millions of small business owners pursue their own Impossible Dream and are broken in the process. For many, it is not only financial failure; it is also a breaking of the heart and spirit.
The pressures of the start up are often quite extreme. In fact, it is the rarest of situations where small business owners don’t operate on a full overload of stress and worry. Much of this stress is from financial issues, including such scenarios as:
Making the next payroll
Finding the funds to buy needed inventory
Dealing with overdue loans at the bank
- Collecting from delinquent customers
The irony of small businesses is that success and growth will often make cash flow problems even worse, up to and including the failure of the business. It is axiomatic that growth consumes cash, and fast growth consumes cash fast.
More than Dollars
However, the stresses of small business ownership are not limited to those related to finances. The crushing hours create stresses in relationships and on the home front. Partners and management teams often have personality conflicts and intense disagreements over even small issues. Competition, product deadlines, problems with new products – the list is virtually endless.
Part of the job description of entrepreneurship is the ability to function under stress and pressure. The simple fact is, however, many simply reach their limit and can’t continue to fight the daily fight necessary for small business people. Just as some soldiers reach a point of battle fatigue and shell shock and get pulled out of the line, so do many entrepreneurs lose their battles with stress and pressure.
While there are many different reasons companies fail, close scrutiny often reveals the real, final cause is the total effect of all those factors. An entrepreneur running a small business simply loses the ability to juggle all that leads to success. If Goodyear had quit and failed, stress and fatigue would have beat him, but that is not how his story ended.
Milan Heger built a successful architectural and design business in Seattle. By 2005, his success spurred him to add a new furniture line. While he enjoyed early success, the recession that started in 2008 quickly eliminated his customer base. He progressively reduced his staff, finally being the only remaining employee. After endless sleepless nights and losing his retirement funds, he finally reached the end. He stated at one point, “I’d sit in the car in the driveway and not want to get out. It’s hard and continues to be hard.” While the recession built the coffin, stress drove in the nails.
Any entrepreneur must evaluate the reality of running a small business and understand that it is often like continually being in a combat situation. Both Goodyear and Heger show that if stress is left uncontrolled, it can cause failure. If the stress becomes unbearable, it may be time to methodically close a business before all is lost. That leaves the entrepreneur with the potential to fight yet another day. Just because one venture fails, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be future success. Sometimes a break and stress management strategies can give the entrepreneur enough energy and creativity to tackle challenges in new ways.
For more about small business success from those who have endured the hard road check out advice for small business owners.