Sacrifices and Rewards of Being the Boss

As a person who worked for other companies for 20 years and now owns and operates a small business, I have several issues to take up with the author of "What It Takes to Run Your Own Show" (Sept. 10).

Perhaps H. Irving Grousbeck and his Stanford Business School approach work well when starting something huge like the next Federal Express or a cable television system, as he did. No doubt, on a multi-million-dollar project a person should not use his own money nor limit his imagination.

But those businesses are far different from what is attempted by most self-employed persons - and therefore those concepts about financing are too lofty. For 99 percent of new businesses - a restaurant or a day-care center or a computer repair business - you need cash, and however much you think you need, you will need more! The "venture capital" that most of us use comes from Visa and Mastercard. Anyone who states that their working definition of entrepreneurship is "the pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources currently controlled" has been in an ivory tower too long!

Beyond the challenge of start-up financing, people thinking about starting a small business need to be sure that they can work longer and harder than their corporate brothers and sisters, with lots of perseverance, and a great deal of patience (with your customers, contractors, and vendors).

Here is the basic trade-off if you start a business: On the positive side, you have no boss(es), no endless committee meetings, and no fickle, arbitrary stockholders.

On the negative side, there will be no holidays, no vacations, no insurance, less pay, and no guarantees. Is it worth it? I don't know. I've only been at it six years. It is possible that my business will continue to grow and produce a decent income for my family, or I can sell the business at some point for a handsome profit. It is also possible that a low-budget competitor will open across the street and I will soon be out of business, and $250,000 in debt. There is no safety net.

Small-business owners can take pride in the fact that they participate in a great, individualized, highly diversified, social and economic system. As an enthusiastic believer in small business, you have something almost like a religion: a devoutly held set of principles on which you operate. You are one of the independent, middle-class merchants who survives on his wits and the quality of his work. Your fellow believers even tend to patronize your services instead of going over to the evil discount chain stores.

And, maybe - just maybe - you will earn a good living for several years, then at some point you can hire someone else to do the day-to-day work and continue to earn money while working less.

If you love what you do, you can keep at it as long as you want; there is no one to tell you there is a forced retirement age. Or you might go into "semi-retirement" at some point, in which case you will have beaten the odds, by providing a purposeful activity and an income for your later years, and still have something of value to pass on to your children.

If you are still considering entrepreneurship, good luck to you. You will need it!

Robert L. Thatch

Kansas City, Mo.

Encouraging two-parent families

At last! Your headline on Marilyn Gardner's column, "A Man Raised by One Parent Advocates for Two" (Sept. 25) makes the whole point.

I've been wondering for years why the adult kids of single parents aren't raising a ruckus.

I suppose a great many go on to repeat the same pattern, figuring marriage is the pits. But where are the millions who realize they have missed out? It's time to hear from them!

Helen S. Ullmann

Acton, Mass.

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