Corporate Life vs Self Employment

Introduction from Josh: Wayne Chapman, aka Trapper, as he is known in cowboy shooting circles is my awesome Dad.

He’s been encouraging me in business as early as primary school. As an example, when I was about 10 he helped printing flyers for a little lawn mowing business, to fundraise for my rugby trip. From memory I only had to raise $50 and was offering to mow lawns for $10. I ended up continuing it on for several years after that first rugby trip.

At the time, one of the kids at school laughed when he saw my flyer up at the local dairy. He made fun of the fact that I had to “work for it”. I felt ashamed, Dad explained he could give me the money but that wouldn’t teach me anything. He wanted me to think about ways to earn more when I needed something and how to work hard for the things I wanted.

All these years later I am thankful that he didn’t give me a handout. Those early lessons only further fueled my desire to own and run businesses. Since then I have directly managed over 20million in various businesses.

I remember as a kid visiting the Gun Shop with Dad on many an occasion. So years later when the opportunity came up to purchase the business, The Upper Hutt Gun Shop, and he asked me “what should he do” the shoe was on the other foot so to say. I could tell he didn’t love what he was currently doing.

I encouraged him to think about what he would regret more?

Doing it and it not working out, or 
Not doing it and always wondering…

He decided to chase after it and give it a go! Dad has worked traditional corporate jobs for as long as I can remember. To go from the centre of Wellington, hustle-and-bustle-large-team-office-job to a Main Street, Upper Hutt small-retail-shop-1 part-timer is a massive change. 

I worried that perhaps I had encouraged him to “leave the corporate world too early” I wondered if he missed the corporate life, and if so what? Was it a case of the grass is greener and now he realised he had given up something great?

So I asked him a couple of questions over coffee one morning and then suggested he write about it. Without further ado, here’s Wayne…

Corporate Life vs Self Employment by Wayne Chapman

From a recent herald article…

“Most businesses are tiny. According to 2017 stats, 97 per cent of the country’s enterprises have fewer than 20 employees. And those wee businesses employ nearly a third of us. Twenty-eight per cent of GDP is produced by those same small businesses.”

Like so many NZers I always dreamed of running my own business. Making our “own way” was a kiwi thing from my heritage

  • To be the boss
  • To have control over my time and efforts
  • To be able to make the decisions and run things my way
  • To stand tall in the crowd as “having my own business”

Now 5 years down the track a little reflection on the journey and pros v cons.

At the turn of this century the big marketing discussion was around those that had left corporate life to run their own businesses in the new internet age.

I started with a small online hobby business, while still working full time. Eventually, this morphed into a substantial online business, still while having a normal job in corporate life. But always the vision was to extend it to a Bricks and mortar business as well.

After 30+ years of working in organisations from small business right up to major Corporations, the opportunity came, and we took it.

I had been talking to a local business owner about buying his business for some time and merging my online into it. When he finally decided it was time to retire, I decided I had enough of the stress of working 50 hours a week in corporate life, and then an extra 10+ on my online business so I made the jump and pushed a retail Bricks and mortar store.

Now 5 years later, a little reflection on the journey, so I did what all good business strategy’s start with, I sat down and wrote a list of the pros and cons of self-employment.

One thing that always stands out with this action is it tends to show if you are a more a positive or a negative thinker, one side of the equation is always easier to fill with items.

For me I tend to more easily see the negatives, so it took a bit of deeper thinking to even it out, and this alone is worth doing as it helps to balance your thinking rather than just go with your initial thought patterns

To Be the Boss

This is the cornerstone of most small business people. To be in charge, able to make the decisions and run things our way, and to not feel like you are under the control of others with your actions, decisions, time and efforts.

Certainly, something worth striving for, or is it

To Have Control over My Time and Efforts

Corporate life is full of having to do tasks for other people of and to their timelines. Reports, marketing plans, proposals, presentations, not to mention often having set times for actually “being at work”. 

Well, surprise, surprise, so does self-employment. Yes, I can do some of those at home, early in the morning, late at night, or on weekends if I want. But although you aren’t answering to management, you are still needing to produce things often to timelines out of your control.

Our business has seasons, so I need to prepare purchasing plans and think about advertising at set times. Advertising always has deadlines, provided by someone else to meet print or production deadlines. Managing the finances/GST etc is still very date-based, and I still need to open the doors at regular times and be in the business when customers expect us to be there 

I have modified the hours with a hump day afternoon off, as I found Wednesday afternoons the quietest time of the week, so use that to do field testing or research, schedule things that I need to be away from the business for, or sometimes just a bit of me time. 

We employ a parttime staff member, which frees me up to have time away from the business, but you never really leave. In corporate life, you get annual and sick leave, and yes, I know a lot of people think about work when they are away, but the reality is it’s still there when you get back, probably with more work to do to catch up.

When you’re running your own business, it’s “your Business” and often its hard to get someone that runs it like you. It’s easy to find yourself on holiday wondering what is happening, what sales are like, and how cashflow is going.

And of course, in a small business there is no one doing all the other stuff you do when you’re there, marketing, stock management, sales promotions, finances, etc.

Its certainly easier going for a decent holiday in the corporate world. 

To Be Able to Make the Decisions and Run Things My Way

With 30 odd years of sales and marketing, it’s fair to say I have had a range of real-world experience, and it was this experience that I wanted to put into my own business. Sure, in the corporate world I’d had plenty of chances to use it and overseen projects as well as working in a team alongside others, but there was always a desire to have a go in my own business.

In the corporate world, we come up with ideas, sales and marketing plans, product launch or improvement projects. And we must work on budgets, sales analysis, customer feedback, stakeholder analysis and other supporting documentation either alone or with other units or outside contractors.

You can feel like a valued link in the chain, or just another cog churning in the engine room of a big business.

In my business I get to make the decisions. I can take choose to do in depth analysis or can decide on the spot based on experience, information in front of me or even just gut instinct.

It is after all my decision to make but weighed with that it I am completely responsible for the impact of that decisions.

If the advertising campaign doesn’t work, if the new stock item doesn’t sell, if the pricing is too high (or too low to sustain cashflow), if suppliers start to phone because the accounts are overdue (because I’ve used the money for something else) it all comes back on me.

I’ve felt pressure and been under stress before in business life, usually because of deadlines or impending large presentations/sales pitches. 

But when you run your own business the pressure can be that all things are your decision. And if things go slowly you feel the pressure to come up with a solution, and often that solution is needed urgently to meet a financial deadline.

Cashflow or lack of it is probably the biggest issue in small business.  It’s easy to start a business with a big bank balance, it’s much harder to build it from nothing.

It’s also most likely the single biggest area of worry, stress and concern to self employed or small business owners. And the real issue is often that if it all fails, you don’t just walk away from a job, but you often have your home involved it the finances of the business as well.

But the counter to that is getting advice, having a good relationship with your bank manager is a must, but also having good advice from an accountant, one that understands your business is a priority. And this is an area where you likely must spend money to get good advice.

Getting outside advice counters some of the cons of having to make all your own decisions. You still need to make the decisions, but it helps to get an outside view, especially for those with experience and knowledge.

To Stand Tall in Crowd as “Having My Own Business”

Like it or not, a big part of our self-identity is from what we do. Listen to any conversation between people meeting someone new, and it usually focuses on what they do, in business, sport or hobbies etc. But business is usually the most common discussion point.

In the corporate world we have a “status” based on what our role is, and this may have different significance based on who we are communicating with.  At work we have peers, those, we answer to and sometimes those that answer to us. In our private lives our business status can at time elevate us in a social environment or cause our opinion to be sought out. It has an impact on our social environment, remember the police advertising camping of “better works stories”.

Owning your own business can have those same impacts, and this can be negative or positive. We can be a small business owner or just a “shop keeper”.  And of course, in social environments, everyone has an opinion on things you could do to improve your business (although most don’t ever what to take the plunge of having their own and making all the decisions).

At times I must remind myself I’m a small business owner, one of the “97 per cent of the country’s enterprises have fewer than 20 employees” that creates around “Twenty-eight per cent of our national GDP”. That I run MY OWN business, rather than simply being employed by someone else.

But one area that does have its challenges is feeling part of something. In a corporate enviroment we are usually part of a team. That team has regular social as well as business interactions. Not just the formal meetings, but the water cooler conversations, the Monday morning “how did your weekend go”, Friday night nibbles and drinks and maybe the odd lunch of café coffee meeting.

Small business doesn’t have these, yes, we have plenty of interaction with customers and suppliers, but most are business based. 

It’s very easy in small business to get isolated, to feel alone or cut off. Sometimes to feel like your inside on nice day watching the world go by outside.

Before we brought the business, this was something I discussed with Josh, and although I didn’t really create any strategies to counter it, I at least was aware of it from the start.

This is part of the reason for closing early on Wednesdays, to ensure I don’t start to feel trapped in an empty shop by myself. Its also important that as my business is based around my hobby/sport, that I get a chance to get out and do it to ensure I continue to enjoy it as well.

And It’s also why I’ve reached out into the community of small businesses around me and build some business relationship there. I’ve proactively chosen that the business will be seen as a natural part of the local community, that it belongs, and that as a person I bring more to the community than just opening our shop doors.

Is It Worth It?

Yes – while there are times and things I miss, there are also benefits, enjoyment and satisfaction in running my own business.

On bad days, its tempting to look at the job vacancy lists and dream of just being an employee. 

But on good days it’s awesome – on good days you go home pleased not just with the days results, but also quietly proud that you did it. There’s a great satisfaction in seeing the reactions from customers when you help then obtain something they’ve been dreaming about, (then later hearing their success stories).  

But I Couldn’t Do It Alone!

Yes, it’s stressful, and with the full support of my wife Ainsley I’m not sure I would survive. Ainsley fully supports the business and helps me on Saturday mornings. She is been a great sounding board, and we schedule regular meetings where I present to her like I would to a board. Its important to be able to share, the positive and the negative, as they say a problem shared is a problem halved. Ainsley has a real positive attitude, and takes negative issues in her stride, enabling her to talk through them with me to find the best solution.

Josh has been a great encouragement and an important outside sounding board. He sees some things the same as me, but also challenges my thinking in areas that makes me really think through the issue. 

I’ve joined a national group of similar retailers. Just talking/sharing with these guys helps work through products, seasons, promotions etc. It’s like intravenously taking injecting their collective industry experience.

I chose an accountant that not only can do my EOY books, but can provide accounting support on a required basis, and provides a level of business knowledge and mentoring. They have helped me choose payroll software, rearrange the business finances and supply advice on business decisions.

So even though you run your own company, it works best if you ensure you have a support network, of both professional and relational support.

Dad and I on a hunt just before my first son was born.
Dad at the shop.