Hump Day: Running your own business can be very “taxing”

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

There’s one thing about working from home, your schedule gets completely out of whack. Unless you’re really self-disciplined, gone are the structured days that start at around 9 a.m. and end at around 5 p.m., give or take a half-hour here and there.

What I’ve found since I started my own business and working from home, though, is that structure and routine have gone out the window. Now, that’s not necessarily a horrible thing. I come from a long line of routine-obsessed males who did the same thing at the same time every day. They found comfort in it. Far be it from to judge (not that it ever stopped me, eh?), but I just didn’t want that for myself.

Oh, we all have our routines, and there’s nothing wrong with that. My pets get fed at the same times each day — around 6:30 a.m. and then 6:30 p.m. A couple of hours before going to bed, I’ll turn on the small lamp next to my bed so that I can see as I go in and out of the bedroom throughout the evening. And then there’s my habit of doing the dishes within five minutes of finishing up a meal. Oh, how my 25-year-old self would be proud! I wasn’t a fan of doing the dishes at that age.

My bad habit of going to bed extremely late and getting up extremely early isn’t getting much better. A doctor friend even recently told me that lack of sleep can lead to an early death. Well, so be it. I’m way too busy to sleep lately. I worked Friday night until midnight, all day Saturday and then on Sunday evening until 11:30 p.m.

When you’re a consultant, you have to make hay while the sun shines! As they say, it’s either feast of famine. I’m currently in the feast stage — actually, I’m more like in a Roman orgy stage, because that’s how busy it is.

Am I tired? You betcha! Am I happy? You betcha! It’s great being busy when you work for yourself. Trust me, the opposite is no fun. Been there, bought the tee-shirt. I had my own similar business more than 20 years ago and remember those long scary days of sitting by the telephone waiting for people to call. And they never did. Oh, I had a few clients, of course, but comparing those days to today is like comparing apples and oranges. This time around, business is very good and I’m very happy.

I learned a long time ago never to say never, but I can’t see myself working for someone ever again as an employee. I can do what I want when I want now — at least that’s the theory. It’s just that instead of having one boss, I have many — my clients. Luckily, my clients are all quite pleasant to work with, so I really can’t complain. And if they weren’t, we’d just go our separate ways. It’s really all you can do, right?

This week, I’m speaking to a group of new entrepreneurs who want to know what it’s like to own your own business. I think I can give a pretty good perspective because I went through that disastrous business experience in the past, only to be followed (a couple of decades later, mind you) by a very positive experience now.

In a nutshell, here’s what I plan on telling them. You know the HST you have to collect on all your invoices? Well, it doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the government. Don’t spend it. Punch yourself in the face if you’re tempted. Hold your hand on a hot stove element. Do whatever you have to. Just don’t do it. I’ve heard of so many professionals who have gotten in trouble because they spent the HST they collected when going through lean times in their businesses. And it runs the gamut from lawyers to everyone else.

Open multiple bank accounts and filter your HST, emergency savings, etc., into those accounts as you get paid by clients. Personally, I pay 25 per cent of an invoice (not including HST) to the government for income tax right off the top within 24 hours of depositing an invoice payment. (By the time business expenses and personal deductions are calculated, that percentage ends up being much higher.)

I put five per cent aside in an emergency fund, i.e. if you get have an unexpected bill or are running short. For example, I recently dipped into mine when I had a weekend plumbing emergency. The bill came in – and no sweat! I also put five per cent aside in a tech fund to pay for computer upgrades, new software, etc. Trust me, the amount balances in those accounts add up quickly.

Be diligent about invoicing your clients. A couple of times, I’ve invoiced too quickly, so use your judgment. In the end, let’s just say this: the only way you can get paid is if you send out your invoices. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of entrepreneurs (especially ”solopreneurs” — ones working on their own) who procrastinate on this. It sometimes takes 30 days or more to get paid, so get in the habit of invoicing the minute you can or you will literally have no cash flow.

Go to networking events sponsored by your local chamber of commerce or join a service organization such as Rotary. If you work from home, especially, you need to talk to adults from time to time. You’ll get bored of talking to your pets pretty quickly.

And finally, learn from my biggest mistakes: schedule vacations and regular (i.e. reasonable) office hours. The only week I’ve taken off since July 2010 is the week my father died last August. That’s a horrible reason to take a vacation, folks. As for office hours, I find myself working a lot at night now when I should really be relaxing or socializing. Get some balance. All work and no play is not good for the soul.

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