How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.
Health Insurance. I would guess that one of the most cited reasons for not starting your own business (and getting out of the corporate world) is health insurance. I know that it was one of the big hairy monsters I was afraid of.
I have found, however, that it is very interesting to delve into the many different medical insurance options available to individuals. I have always been a believer in being a consumer of health care rather than a passive recipient. It amazes me when someone who would spend hours researching the best model of refrigerator to buy spends no time researching the medication their doctor prescribed for them. I never had the opportunity, though, to choose my health care coverage. It was always just provided for me by my employer.
What I have decided to do is to get a high-deductible health plan that is HSA compatible. This seems to be the best option for me and my son, as we are both healthy individuals with no chronic medical conditions. (knock on every piece of wood and fiberboard around). I am certainly not an expert on these matters and as yet have no practical experience using these products, but here is what I understand so far.
Step One: select a HDHP (high-deductible health plan). I have reviewed plans from Blue Cross, Aetna, and Kaiser. Basically, what you get is low monthly premiums (around $200 or less per month), but you must pay 100% of all medical expenses until you fulfill your annual deductible. The annual deductible on the plan I chose is $7000 for me and my son combined. Once that deductible is fulfilled, all coverage is at 100%. If I would have stayed on COBRA, my costs would be $578 per month for my medical plan. That amounts to $6936 a year--the same (less $64) as my deductible with the HDHP. My monthly costs in the HDHP will be about $2352 a year. That saves me $4584 in premium payments per year. If my son and I each go to the doctor once a year and have one prescription a year (antibiotics lets say), then my guess is I will pay an additional $300 or so for those office visits and prescriptions. Still, a savings of $4284. One of the reasons for this savings involves maternity coverage. If you want/need maternity coverage, your costs will be higher. This option may not be beneficial for you if you have or anticipate other high-cost medical procedures or care.
Step Two: open an HSA account. There are medical plans that have partnered with a bank or other financial agency to offer an HSA account in conjunction with the HDHP plan. This would certainly be an easy option and eliminate the step of researching where and how to open an HSA account. I have just finished researching this piece and have identified the following resources: HSA Bank USA, Sterling HSA, HSA Resources Bank. Major banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo also have HSA options. With an HSA, you save money in the account up to the IRS limits and can use that money to pay the qualified medical expenses you have until you meet your deductible. Each of these resources offer a debit card and check writing options to use to pay your expenses, as well as online banking options. Some have fees to use these services, some offer them at no additional charge. Each offers a tiered interest plan that pays 1-4% on the account balance. Each also partners with a brokerage house which would then allow you to invest your account balance in stock & bonds, etc. as you wish. Your account with the brokerage is separate, with its own fees and charges for trades. You cannot, however, invest money into this account separately from your HSA. All monies for investment must pass through the HSA account and be transferred into the brokerage account. Conversely, any money made from investments sold must go into the HSA account.
As you can well imagine, there are IRS guidelines, restrictions and forms involved. So please, take the time to review those before you do anything else.
Starting your own business is mostly about freedom. Freedom to do something you want to do. Freedom (eventually) from working long hours for someone else's ultimate benefit. Freedom to spend your time and money in a way that gets you closer to where you really want to be. Look at the task of shopping for your own medical coverage as part of your newfound freedom and the big hairy monster will turn into a pussycat.
The three "M"'s required for starting a business: Money, Market, and Moxie. You need some (or a lot) of each in order to get started as a business owner.
I see many articles with titles like "Starting a business with no capital", "How to start your dream business with no money", "Turning nothing into a million dollar business", etc. These titles do tend to pique my interest. They are right up there with "How to lose 10 lbs without any effort" and "Finding the perfect mate". My take on starting a business with no money is that it is like buying a lottery ticket. I know that someone wins the big jackpot. Just not me. Or anyone I know. Or anyone who knows anyone I know. There are certainly different levels of investment needed for different types of businesses. But you don't get something for nothing, and the chances of building a viable business that can comfortably support you and your family from a $1000 initial investment is slim to none. Buy a $5 lottery ticket if you must, but don't make that your investment strategy for your business.
There is a market for just about anything. The real question is whether you understand your market and if the market is big enough to propel your business to success. It sounds simple enough to figure these out, but it takes some time and a large dose of realism. I would imagine I could round up a room full of people who have attempted a direct sales business who could testify that even the best ideas or products aren't always enough.
My favorite "M" on this list is moxie: the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage. We are back now to my earlier post--know thyself. Look back on your life experiences to see if you have a history of facing challenges and difficulties with spirit and courage. There certainly have been times when life has sent me to my bed with the covers over my head. But not for long. And not without growth and determination to follow.
I believe that owning my own business will be "Mmm good". It already has taken plenty of money! I am confident that I have the moxie. I understand my market (although I am sure I will understand it more and more as I go) and I believe that there is a large enough market for my business to succeed in my city.
So, I forge ahead. Are there others forging a similar path? I am sure you're out there. If you find me, let me know. I'll be looking for you along the way.
Or at least that is the plan of a franchise business. One option I had never considered until speaking with my coach from The Entrepreneur Source was a franchise business. But, at that stage of the game, I was in the mode of investigation and research, so I agreed to allow him to introduce me to some franchise options. He questioned me thoroughly about my business experience and my likes and dislikes, and the next week presented me 5 franchise options.
I had given a "no food" mandate, so there were no food franchise concepts in the bunch. It was a wide variety of businesses, which was interesting in and of itself. He urged me to listen with an open mind to each concept, and do my best not to hastily discount any of the options at this juncture. I did some research on each concept that week, and the following week narrowed the list down to two options which were most interesting to me.
In the end, I did choose to buy a franchise business concept. There were two main reasons why I felt it was the smartest move for me. First, I know that I work best in a collaborative environment. Collaborative meaning that I have someone or something that provides a starting place for a conversation or idea from which I can embellish, improve or simply internalize. And, collaborative meaning that I know I am not an expert in all areas, and I wanted to know that there were other people with different skill sets and different experience--from the franchise company as well as fellow franchisees-- to offer help and assistance when I needed them.
The other major reason I went the franchise route was that I had a pretty good idea how much work goes into creating something from scratch. I knew that I could spend too much time deciding on the color and design of a logo, writing marketing materials, creating personnel policies and procedures, determining the viability of a market, and on and on. I feared that trying to do all these things solo would prove too time-consuming and daunting (although it would be fun to design a logo and marketing materials!). There were, of course, cons to the franchise option. Primarily, the thrill of creating something from nothing. But, just because it is not the right time for me to do that now doesn't mean I won't do it in the future! After all, "if you are going to doubt something, doubt your limits" (Don Ward). Another magnet on my refrigerator.
I am a believer in honesty. I realize that most people would make the same statement about themselves because who would admit lack of support of honesty? In practice, however, I have found very few people are good with honesty. Part of the "Know Thyself" propostition is being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses.
Most women have stood in front of a mirror in a dressing room with a pair of jeans on that were too tight. Most women (and I am sure a good number of men too) have made the decision to buy those jeans anyway because they were determined to lose the 10 lbs. necessary for those jeans to fit properly. Being an optimist at heart, I am sure it worked out fine for some of those folks. Being a realist as well, I know that many times those jeans stayed in the closet for years until finally being donated or sold at a yard sale, with the tags still attached. Starting a business is no time to to buy the pants that don't quite fit. The loss of money, time, and self-esteem is too great this time.
When I realized that I had no motivation to pursue any of the job postings I was finding, I realized those pants didn't fit, and I started looking for businesses for sale in my area. What I found was that businesses put up for sale on sites like BizBuySell are businessess that everyone else has passed on. It occurred to me that the first potential buyers for a business are either its customers, its competitors, or its vendors, and if none of those buyers were interested, then there was probably a pretty good reason why. During that search, I was contacted by a business consultant from The Entreprenuer Source.
I would recommend this resource for three main reasons. One, there is no cost to you. Two, the consultant/coach uses tools that are designed to determine what your personality characteristics are and what your strengths and weaknesses are. If you have never taken any type of personality test, this can prove to be very insightful. It will also push you to be truly honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses and to see if you do, in fact, have the "stuff" of a business owner. The third reason I like this resource is that it is a coaching format. I have found that I benefit from having someone that I am accountable to in certain ways. Knowing that I will be talking to may coach next week, and knowing that he/she will be inquiring about my progress, keeps me on track and focused. Otherwise, I am inclined to meander a bit. One of my weaknesses. Knowing that about myself has helped me make strides forward.
As they say, the truth hurts. But it hurts worse when you ignore it. So get to know yourself. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Then use that knowledge and find ways to support yourself to be better and to get yourself on the journey that makes you happiest.
The ancient Greek philosophers gave us the concept. Know thyself. I believe it is the most important step in starting a business. Actually, I believe it is the most important endeavor in one's life, but that is a topic for another blog another time.
There are a couple ways this became a cornerstone of my entrepreneurship. In the past, I read books and articles about entrepreneurs. Two common characteristics of entrepreneurs were a willingness to take risks and an ability to run on only a few hours of sleep each night. Neither of these characteristcs seemed to fit me, so I figured I was not cut-out for entrepreneurship. At that time in my life, that was a wise assessment. However, a year ago, I had the opportunity to work on a project at work that revealed I did, in fact, have the ability to survive quite happily on only a few hours sleep each night. Why? Because my creative juices were flowing! I found that I thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating something new and having the autonomy to do things the way I believed they should be done. I found that I much preferred working 60+ hours a week on a project that tapped into my creative side than working 40 hours a week doing the tasks of my job.
I also learned a new way of thinking about taking risks. I have always been, and still am, a very responsible person. I am pragmatic, law-abiding, and live on the edge of what many would call a very boring life. That is how I see myself. What I hear others saying to me, is that I am so brave and courageous. Now, how can those two judgments co-exist? They co-exist because there are things in life that for me are not negotiable. It was not negotiable for me to miss the oppotunity to be a mother just because I didn't have, or want, a boyfriend or husband. So, I pursued motherhood as a single-mother-by-choice. It is also not an option for me to go back to working at a "job" once I tasted what it is like to work passionately. So, eventhough I am the sole provider for myself and my son, and have no family who can provide any type of safety net, it does not feel so risky to start a business at 45. It is really the only option.
I believe the best reason to start a business is because nothing else will do. The biggest mistake would be to start a business because nothing else is working out.
Know thyself. Know why you want to own your own business. Understand what makes you work passionately.
It is up to PAR. PAR...that's me. My initials. My business, my life, my decisions, my success, my failures, my wealth. All up to me. No longer up to my boss. Now, I'm the boss. I am part of the growing community of men and women who make the leap from employee/manager/executive to small business owner/creator/top dog.
I will document my journey here. First, for my own sake. I am good with details...if they are today's details. Once they become yesterday's details, they get pushed out of my memory rather easily by more of today's details. So, if I don't document this journey for myself, I will forget many of the steps I took along the way. And that lessens my ability to help others on their journey.
Which brings me to the second reason for this blog--to help others by sharing my learning, my experiences, and my process. There are many books to be read, many articles and blogs, many people to talk to about starting a business. Some are helpful, some not. This blog will be the same. Helpful to some, not helpful to others. What it will be is personal. My reasons for doing things a certain way, for better or worse. My resources, my choices, my thoughts, my process. My input and my output.
After all, it's up to me!