Growing Up With Small Business: Keep True to Your Why

I grew up with a milk crate for a basketball goal, where hand-me-down blankets and handmade gifts were the norm for Christmas. We never starved, but there were times my mother would take us all to my grandparents and make a meal for them.  This was because there was no food in the house and doing the work of making the meal and cleaning up was more palatable than just coming over for free food.  My mother has shared stories about people donating and gifting clothes to us kids growing up and how my father one time tried to keep a tire onto a car with ‘liquid nail’ (with hilarious results).  Dad worked three jobs and rarely got to see his family, especially when he landed a higher paying gig that sent him all across the world.

That was the start of things for our family.  By God and by hard unending work, my parents were determined to forge a better life for themselves and for their kids.

Eventually my father, without a college degree, decided he would start a business because while we weren’t starving anymore, he wasn’t getting to spend time with us as we grew up. Some of you who run small businesses may be laughing right now because the idea of having extra free time, especially at the beginning, when running a small business is hilariously naive.

I deeply respect and love my father for the hell he put himself through.  He survived not one, not two, but 6 failed businesses into the current two he runs now and the third he sold.  He is a true David and Goliath story and it did provide for us as a family and even gave us some luxuries we otherwise would not have had.

But I lost my dad to small business.

I’m going to share a lot of stories of what it was like to grow up in a family that adores small business and how it really turned me off to the concept for a long time.  There were a lot of great times, but I want to put a word of caution to parents who might be making “So I Can Spend More Time with My Family” as your “Why”.

This was one of our biggest points of family fighting.  Anytime I told my father I would like to see more of him, he would wave at the newest TV he had bought or the gift he had brought home and say I couldn’t have those if I wanted him home more.  No amount of insisting I would rather forgo those to have him around would win an argument or change his mind about how much work he had to do.  Maybe that would have been fine, if he wouldn’t change his tune in a fit of forgetfulness and insist he started his business so he could see more of his family.

Don’t lie to your family, or yourself, about the biggest goal of your enterprise.  If it’s really about spending more time with your family, then understand the growth of your company may suffer because of this.  You may lose customers because you have to say NO to running out on a Saturday to do a repair. You may turn down tradeshow or speaking engagements because you promised to not travel more than two weeks out of the month.

Jon Acuff in his book Quitter talks about this problem and it’s one that really hit home for me. My father was a rock star and as hard a worker as any I have ever met… but I don’t really know him.

My mother who (is anyone surprised here?) eventually divorced my father also now owns her own small business.  Unlike my father’s business model, she makes time to spend with each of her sons and myself every week or so. Sometimes I see her several days in a row; whereas I’m lucky to see my father once a month and that’s if I fight for it.

The thing is, when your Why is really in alignment, you’re going to do better at business. My grandfather who runs an auditing business refuses any business after his yearly limit so he can have time with his family and is so highly sought after that he can hand-pick the jobs he wants to take (and make special caveats like getting to go to the North Pole).  My mother’s company is seeing so much growth in periods the previous owner said were slow, that she’s booked solid.  People are calling begging for her to come in but she refuses because she has certain weeks carved out for family and rest.  The business has nearly doubled since she took over!

Please don’t be discouraged or caught in a trap that working harder and sacrificing what’s important to you will make your business grow.  Working yourself sick, hurting your family and running your company into deep debt shows in the hundreds of micro-signals we send when talking with customers. You won’t be at the top game just by killing yourself and everything important to you.  Maybe you can do that for a short run, but it’s not going to help in the long run.


Keep true to your Why, and be open to input from the people you care about.

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