When I graduated from college in 1982, interest rates were in the high teens and companies were beginning to treat employees not as family, but as disposable parts. I watched friends' fathers lose longtime jobs and wonder how they were going to support their families. They felt betrayed, as if their wife had left them for another man.
Even out of college, at the tail end of the paternal corporate employer, the real risk-takers, at least from my perspective, were the people who worked for one company. It was like buying one stock and believing that stock was going to grow and support you in retirement. There's little worse, especially for a man, than losing your job, if your self-worth is tied up in your work. Your identity is based on who you work for and your position.
Being an entrepreneur means no one can fire you. For a woman who wants to have children it means not totally sacrificing your career. The 65-plus executive who is told he must retire but isn't ready doesn't have to. What prevents a disabled person from starting and running their own business? It's really mind over matter.
As an entrepreneur, you get up every day and try to secure as many different clients (sources of income) as you can. That diversity gives you and your family peace of mind. Entrepreneurs worry about designing products and services that make clients happy, but they don't worry about having a job, and they know who they are.
Good entrepreneurs are always thinking about multiple lines of revenue. They never want to bet all of their money on a single service or product because they know the odds are very good that the revenue projections won't be met; the product/service will become obsolete; or others will enter the field, which will dilute the price.
Having multiple lines of revenue doesn't mean you aren't focused. You want to take your expertise and develop multiple lines of revenue. Here are some examples:
- Attorney: One of my marketing clients, Robert Bovarnick, was a famous bankruptcy attorney. He realized when times were good, bankruptcy business shrunk. My client listed various expertise he developed in handling bankruptcy such as employee contracts, financing, managerial buyouts, etc. So he let clients know that he could do more than bankruptcy. He also realized that many small clients wanted to cap expenses, so he created a program for clients to buy his time in bulk and get a discount.
- Handyman: There was a guy named Phil who did handyman work for individuals. Phil realized that when the economy went south, people fixed things themselves. One of his clients was a banker and the banker said when times get tough and banks foreclose on a house they need someone to fix things until the house is sold. Phil uncovered another line of business.
- Technology: A Philadelphia-area company called Environmental Tectonics developed space simulators for NASA. It realized that NASA's budget went up and down, but what they know about giving people the illusion of being in space could be used to develop a line of products for the amusement industry.
To take the risk out of your life, you don't have to be a full-time entrepreneur; you can do it on a part-time basis. That is the beauty of the Internet and the accepting culture of entrepreneurship we now live in. Here are some examples of part-time entrepreneurial activities:
- Children's Books: My youngest daughter, Sydney, started writing and selling her own children's mystery books, Cookie Dalmatian Mysteries, through the Internet when she was 11. Now she sells her books throughout the world.
- Doll House Parts: There was a guy I interviewed that worked as a chemical engineer for DuPont. His daughter had a doll house that needed furniture, so he made the furniture himself. Friends and classmates of his daughter asked if he would make them furniture, and before he knew it he had an international business out of his home.
- E-Commerce: My wife and I started an online service to market business professionals to trade associations and corporations that were looking for experts to speak to their groups called ExpertSpeakers, which was bought by SpeakerMatch. Everything was done through the Internet, and 90% were members whom my wife, whose full-time job was mother to our two daughters, never met.
- Hand Bags: A friend of ours sold vintage handbags through eBay and generated a nice second income.
Being an entrepreneur doesn't mean you have to be the next Steve Jobs, Michael Dell or Estee Lauder. Today it means taking control of your financial future and diversifying your income.
Marc Kramer, a serial entrepreneur, is the author of five books and is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton's Global Consulting Practicum, where he serves as Country Manager for Chile.