A few years ago, I found myself in a discussion with a fascinating woman – on her way out of Washington to become a U.S. Ambassador abroad. We were talking about ways to keep more women in Corporate America. She kept coming back to one very big point – “they need to think about all the money they’re leaving on the table.”
At the time I understood what she meant, but I didn’t have enough context to really completely agree. But today I do.
There are weeks like this past one where I see more than just a handful of women decide to close down their businesses and re-enter the work place. And while I mourn the time and effort they have put into those businesses, I also often agree with their decision. Because it is about the money, and it’s okay to be about the money.
Small business owners spend on average 2 years getting their new business off the ground. If they’re lucky, they start paying themselves a regular salary after two years. But most likely, that salary looks nothing like what they used to make, and they may not be contributing to a retirement plan. And things like college savings and regular savings… those have either fallen off or are added to the tab that someone else (a spouse, a grandparent,) is now managing.
That’s a lot of money that gets left on the table: money that a larger company would have contributed to a retirement plan or salary that could have been set aside for education.
And while we hear from our own members that the number one reason women go off and start their own business is children, and more flexibility to be with them, I can’t help but remind these women that there are also lots of women who have children and also work for someone else. This notion that it can’t be done has to be undone.
So why am I bringing this up? “Aren’t you all about entrepreneurship, Fred?”
I am. But not blindly.
I bring it up because there are a few things I want women to know, both the business owners and the women in business:
- I don’t want the women business owners to ever feel like a failure if they are not paying themselves those first few years. Know this – it’s normal.
- I also want the women business owners to know that sometimes making the hard decision to go back to a job is the right decision to make – for you personally, for your family, and for your finances. It’s okay to go back.
- It’s okay to shut it down. My partner recently shared a story of a hugely successful yoga teacher, speaker and thought leader, who shut down her New York City studio. Yes, it was successful – but it became a headache she no longer wanted. So she closed it.
- For women in Corporate America, leaving could very well mean leaving money on the table. Starting your own business may, or may not, get you back to where you were (or more.) But it’s one place with a lot of uncertainty, and with conditions you can’t always control.
Those of us who are entrepreneurs often paint a rosy picture of “freedom,” “flexibility” and “limitless potential,” but the truth about owning a business is it’s risky, almost entirely self-originating, with no infrastructure to support growth, and timelines that are self-imposed (and easily ignored with no accountability). What’s the common denominator? It starts and ends with you, and that applies to finances as well.
Our sisters in corporate America are hired for skills they’ve built on and leveraged, that the market will pay for regularly and without re-applying. Entrepreneurs and small business owners have to TELL the world their stuff is worth buying – every single day.
No matter which way you go, do it with eyes wide open. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, and it’s not always for life. There are other options, and a job – the kind someone else pays you to do – can be a very appropriate road.
Frederique is passionate about helping women take their businesses to the next level of growth and success. As founder and CEO of Her Corner, she applies her entrepreneurial spirit, management consulting background and business operations expertise to give women the springboard they need to move forward.