Recently I was having dinner with friends and the conversation turned to entrepreneurship. One woman said she would love to start her own business but was afraid of the risks. A couple of folks around the table agreed with her.
I suggested that the woman try looking at starting a business more as an opportunity than a risk. Needless to say, several who had never been in business argued that owning your own company is risky business.
This week's column is dedicated to the folks who keep reminding us that owning your own business is risky.
Because we live in an unpredictable and complex world, there is always risk involved in our effort to make a living, whether we work for ourselves or someone else.
We can see this complexity and unpredictability when things happen to us that we don't understand or weren't expecting. This is the nature of existence.
Modern mathematics claims that complex systems bring unpredictability. In meteorology this is called the Butterfly Effect. The theory says a butterfly flapping its wings in China can affect the weather as far away as New York City. And that weather could be wonderful or destructive.
The idea of a Butterfly Effect can be easily applied to our daily lives. Decisions are made every day by people we don't know who are flapping their wings and affecting our lives in powerful ways. Sometimes their decisions work in our favor and sometimes they don't, whether you are in your own business or working for someone has nothing to do with the risk factor.
For example, the travel industry, along with many other industries, has spent the larger portion of this decade trying to recover from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The attacks, along with the meltdown on Wall Street, left many future retirees with minimal money for retirement. Many of those people thought after years of working for someone they would be able to retire in comfort, only to learn that they will have to supplement their retirement income for the rest of their lives.
A number of these people have started small, part-time businesses to make ends meet. I know this because I coach and advise some of these folks.
Most recently, Hurricane Irene may leave many trying to recover for years.
Life is complex and unpredictable; risk abounds, and we can't escape it. Jobs are eliminated every day and many people are only able to find employment by creating their own businesses.
New and future entrepreneurs often hear that according to statistics 85% of small businesses fail within three to five years. Constantly hearing and reading this kind of statistic can erode the most capable person's self-confidence. And, I am not certain that the statistic is correct, in spite of its popularity.
My success in business has been a result of many people reminding me that I am capable of success. I shudder to think where I might have landed had I been constantly reminded that I stood a bigger chance of failing than succeeding.
If we are to address the concept of risk in total, then we must admit that any way we choose to make a living is risky. So, as a writer, speaker and entrepreneur I will always encourage the entry into what has been, is, and always will be the backbone of this country's economy: small business.
Every single person working today is working for what is, or used to be a small business.
Between 1979 and 1996, corporate America erased 43 million jobs. Perhaps we should reread The New York Times 1996 series on the "Downsizing of America." They put a face on what life looks like when a person's income has been snatched away. And, things haven't changed.
We are still reading and hearing about layoffs regularly. Those news stories are a reminder of the risks in the world of employment.
A great number of those people had to look to self-employment and small business to make a living.
Should we remove any hope by repeating a statistic that says they have a slim chance of success? We should no more tell new and future entrepreneurs that than we should tell the young, eager, just out of college student, who has landed his or her first corporate job that they run the risk of being terminated in a few years because corporations are still making adjustments in employment.
Nothing is without risk in this life. The best we can do in this unpredictable environment is to hope the Butterfly Effect that comes our way is manageable.
As I write this, somewhere a "butterfly" is flapping its wings. That butterfly may be in the form of a politician preparing legislation that will have a far-reaching effect on all of us. Or, it could be a major stockholder having lunch with a CEO and informing him/her to cut the budget, or else. Whatever it is, you can be certain you will feel it in the days, weeks or months to come. We have no control over those butterflies.
But what we can control is the ability to give support in every way to everyone who takes the risk of venturing into the world of work, regardless of who owns the company.
Gladys Edmunds' Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays. As a single, teen-age mom, Gladys made money doing laundry, cooking dinners for taxi drivers and selling fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door. Today, Edmunds, founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh, is a private coach/consultant in business development and author of There's No Business Like Your Own Business, published by Viking. See an index of Edmunds' columns. Her website is www.gladysedmunds.com. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.