My first business was a restaurant, which, despite the common perception of it being a fun, glamourous businesses, actually really it’s hard work. About one month after opening we had the first super-busy Saturday dinner, which was very exciting, but we ran out of all fresh produce. Even though that Saturday had been a 14-hour day, Sunday was also a trading day, so everything had to be re-stocked before we opened again at 8am. There I was, 5am, dragging myself off to market. In the bleariness of those first few minutes of wakefulness, a new and green business owner, I thought ‘crap, this is like having a baby.
In the years since, through multiple businesses of my own and many small business clients, I see the parallels time and again. So here are my Top 11 reasons why having a business is like having a baby.
1. When it cries you get up
Once you have it, your life assumes part of a bigger purpose that can’t just be turned off at the end of the day. After hours calls? Difficult clients? Big sales pitches that have you working late? Thinking about the business at all hours or keeping you awake? Like baby, it doesn’t care so much about your personal schedule, tiredness or priorities.
2. It doesn't turn out exactly as you expected.
The dream of business ownership often comes with a slightly rosy tinge, of high income, autonomy and freedom. And whilst those things can be there in reality, it’s usually different in reality than what was imagined. Not worse or better, necessarily, but the great parts and challenging parts are often in different proportions and intensity than you might have imagined.
3. Despite your best efforts, it doesn’t always do what you say.
Business would be so much easier if it was predictable and there was a stepwise formula to follow. Like herding sheep, you can affect the direction that you want it to go, but it doesn’t do exactly what you want. Children have a mind of their own from a young age, and - like businesses - are very influenced by others and have a tendency to go on their own course.
4. There are times where it’s tough going.
Parents rarely openly complain about their lot, but there are knowing signs that (sometimes) things are tough. Sleep suffers, finances can be unpredictable, it’s time-demanding and to be honest, sometimes feels thankless. Like business, it can take a lot from you. Small breaks from it can do wonders to regain the passion.
5. The small moments are the real treasures of the experience.
In the day-to-day hard work of managing a family or a business, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. What brings that back into focus are small moments that bring real joy and sense of accomplishment. When baby smiles at you, hearing your name for the first time or taking first steps, all the hard work is forgotten. In business, simple things like great feedback, a new website, getting your first customer or happy team members can make your day. Whilst we look for the big wins, savour the small ones too.
6. You don't know for sure what you are doing
Neither businesses nor babies come with instructions. Those first few months and years the learning curve is steep and, even though you get better at knowing what to do over time, there are always curve balls. Being adaptable, flexible and always learning is crucial.
7. Its incredibly rewarding watching it grow
It’s not rocket science business a business owner or parent, but there’s a lot going on and many decisions to make. With so many balls in the air, getting it right and seeing it develop into something great is really rewarding. I quite often hear from commentators that all small business owners want to be big business owners. I don’t see that, as I think the reward of making the business work - on any scale - is very satisfying in itself. Most parents would agree that having a happy well-adjusted child is an endgame, even if it is not a superstar.
8. It will push you to your limits.
All of my businesses have given me sleepless nights, made me learn a huge amount, stressed me out and tested my nerve. Digging deep becomes a common occurrence as you navigate your way and your resilience and endurance is pushed to the limit at times. Babies and children are the same; where all your skills and resilience is tested.
9. It’s life changing. There’s a before and after.
When talking to a business owner, there is a certain unspoken understanding of shared experience; one of challenge understood and emotional distance covered. Parents have the same sense: the intensity of the journey, of both parenthood and business ownership permanently changed attitudes
10. There is shit.. and you have to clean it up.
It’s a common reaction from non-parents to the poop, goop, mess and smells that come with babies: ewwww! Yet when it comes along, practicality kicks in; there’s no point complaining when baby’s nappy needs changing, as it’s not going to change itself. It’s the same in business, with jobs that you probably don’t love doing but have to just get on with it. When you have to hassle people to get paid or performance manage team members, it just has to be done.
11. It's awesome.
All the ups and downs make business ownership one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Since the buck stops with you, it pushes you to be the best version of yourself. Once you are a parent, you can’t imagine life before and don’t want to. In business, there are few of us who would want to go back to employment. We wouldn’t have it any other way.