Independence Day - isn't that what we're celebrating on the Fourth of July? Independence has been a goal of Americans since the founding of our country, and those of us who've started our own companies tend to be particularly independent. We revolt against bosses like the colonists revolted against the King. No matter how risky starting a business seems, to us it's the only route to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
But even if one of the reasons we start our own companies is to be independent, some of us lose much of that freedom along the way. We let our business rule our lives more thoroughly than any despot, depriving us of our time with our family and friends, of our sense of security and well-being, of our creativity -- and sometimes, even our health!
If you find yourself in this situation, then it's time for you to come up with your own Small Business Declaration of Independence:
- Independence from 80-hour work weeks. If you've given your whole life to your business, then you've completely lost your independence (not to mention a whole host of other things that tend to chip at your sanity). Know when to close the door, turn off the phone, and go out and have a barbecue. Set yourself free!
- Independence to pursue your own vision. Starting your own business often results in criticism or concern from others. You have to learn how to listen to other people and learn from them, yet still have the confidence to follow your own dream.
- Independence from overly-powerful customers. If you get most or all of your income from one or two sources, they can end up dictating the quality of your life and the security of your business. Don't declare your independence by losing these customers; instead, make it a priority to expand your base.
- Independence from overly-powerful vendors. Just like the unbalanced influence of too few clients, an overdependence on only one or two sources for critical supplies can leave you at their mercy. Find other sources, and give them at least some of your business. Even if you've been using one source for years, from time to time ask for bids from other vendors.
- Independence from overly-dependent employees. If your employees are not allowed, encouraged, or developed to make independent decisions, then you're going to be constantly burdened by their dependence. Create a working environment that gives employees responsibility and authority, making certain that employees are also given the training and support to handle such authority.
- Independence from huge overhead. Few things are more enslaving than high fixed expenses. Balance this by financing growth as much as possible through revenues rather than debt. Use outsourcing to keep your costs flexible.
- Independence from bureaucracy and paperwork. You're not a Fortune 500 company, so don't act like one. Give your employees more flexibility than they could get from a big employer, and even if you work alone, set up simple ways to keep track of taxes, expenses, accounts, so you're not controlled by paperwork.
- Independence from a sour work environment. You started your own business so you could enjoy going to work; you certainly donÃt want petty office politics, personality spats, and malicious gossip to ruin your daily life. Treat your employees, customers, and vendors with respect, and they're less likely to want to declare their independence from you!
- Independence from constant insecurity. Being in business is never completely secure, but once youÃre past the start-up years, you should be able to free yourself from constant worry. Build a base of ongoing customers, establish a cash reserve, and diversify your personal assets so you have financial resources other than just your business.
- Independence to express your gratitude. With all the things going on in the world, with so many people who have less and suffer more, Independence Day is a good time to remember how much each of us to be grateful for. We are fortunate, indeed, to have the freedom to pursue our goals, build our companies, and to create jobs for others. It's a good time to wave the flag in gratitude.