(originally published in Screen Magazine 6/6/12)
In early 1996, I was sitting in an accountant’s office discussing new business strategies. Towards the end of the meeting, the accountant asked, “how much money do you want to make? At the time, I thought it was a stupid question. Two weeks after the meeting I finally realized the point that accountant was trying to make. How much are you willing to spend/risk in order to achieve your goals?
A few months ago, I made an appointment with a frustrated employee who was thinking about starting his own creative editorial shop. He had several questions for me, like: How important is it to have a downtown presence? Should I seek out a partner or angel investor? What is the right number of initial employees? After listening to his questions and concerns, I had only one question of my own… “How much money do you want to make?”
The great thing about starting your own business is that you have the opportunity to set your own goals. You can set out to build a national chain of auto repair shops or, like my mechanic, choose to have one small garage and refuse to open your doors on Fridays.
I have great respect for both types of business owners. Those who have unshakeable ambition, and set no limits to what they can accomplish, and those who have a clear understanding of what they need to be truly happy.
When I first started a business, my annual sales goal was a million dollars. When I reached that goal, I set my sights on two million a year. I never reached that two million annual sales goal. In fact, I fell well short of it. In retrospect, I wish I would have been honest with myself and picked an obtainable business sweet spot. I should have kept updating my annual goals to reflect my changing priorities, but I didn’t. It’s kind of like sitting at a blackjack table with a solid goal of how much you want to win. When you hit that point, it’s best to walk away. If you don’t, you’ll find your stack of chips dwindling before your eyes. In business, I chased a number that didn’t exist, and ultimately couldn’t exist.
So my advice to those of you who (by choice or not) are starting a business of your own would be… Find your own sweet spot. Understand your personal priorities, your goals, and how much money you need to have the life you want to live. Once you have that number, you’re better suited to answer those hard questions that face new business owners. Best of luck, be bold and experiment. Above everything else, enjoy the ride.