Life Lessons At The Lake

It’s amazing what you can learn at the Lake.

I was down at the Lake of the Ozarks with some friends of mine this weekend. I get the chance to take a weekend or two out there every year, and I absolutely love it every time. Even though this time was a little more low-key (it was an odd Fourth of July weekend down there) we had a great time riding around the lake on a 52′ cruiser, hitting some of the bars and Party Cove.

On Friday we stopped by a place that sold parts for the boat as well as serving as a fuel station and a dock slip for (mostly) the large boats that cruise the Lake (think $million+). Since it took about 20 minutes to fill up the tanks on the boat we decided to walk down the rows of slips to see what other boats were hanging out there. We walked past yachts of every size, as long as you define “every size” as “huge”. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the smallest one still measured 40 feet and cost 5x what my house did (and I don’t have a small house).

The last one on the row we walked down belonged to the owner of a specialty tool manufacturing company and was a 60-footer and was absolutely gorgeous. It had a fly bridge, a master bedroom you could walk around in at the front and a fully glassed-in main cockpit. It was absolutely beautiful, and apparently carried a price tag of somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.4m.

And as we were headed out to Topsiders for some drinks and socializing a couple other comments were made about various other large yachts on the Lake and their owners, who all had businesses of their own. It was a boat conversation kind of day.

But this isn’t a blog post about big boats, nor is it a blog post about the Lake (although there were no fly stories to tell after this weekend…thankfully) nor a blog post about me.

Instead it’s a post about the comment a friend of mine made that really got me thinking more about something I’d been thinking quite a bit about anyway. It really struck home with me this weekend; the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was one of those things that you hear at the moment you had questions; a reassurance when you had a doubt lingering (but not voiced); a coincidental comment that affirms the direction you were headed in.

The comment wasn’t anything earth shattering; it could have been made anywhere, and didn’t need the magic of looking out over a 54,000-acre lake on a beautiful summer day to give it legs. It was one of those simple truths that just rang true, and watching the boats we passed and those that passed us (more of the former than the latter – the cruiser can flat out run) just added a measure of beauty to it.

The comment I overheard: a toast made to being at the Lake all week, large smiles on faces with the finale of “isn’t it great; we’re sitting here and other people are making money for us“.

That hit 10 on the awesome meter. Forget the drinks, forget the Lake, forget the boat, forget the holiday. Just the sheer simplicity of the end of that statement is incredible – sitting on a 52′ cruising ship and making money all the while. It could have been sitting on a beach. Or sitting in Nepal. Or at home. Or sleeping. You name the place; the point is the time they were spending had nothing to do with making money at that point.

Now, technically, neither was I. I was on vacation and still getting paid, but that is a much different dynamic than what these two business owners were referring to. They don’t have vacation time. They don’t have to ask permission to take a day or a week off.

All that comes with a price, of course. If the company tanks their livelihood goes with it. If things don’t run well they have to make the hard choices about how to fix it. They have to live with the impact of decisions that they make.

But wait – don’t we all have to deal with that anyway? If the company we’re employed by goes belly up do we get to keep our paychecks? If the part of the business we’re in doesn’t run well do we just get to sit back and say “not my problem” and pretend it doesn’t impact us? If we make decisions do we get to get out of the consequences because we’re “just employed”, and not the owners? If you can point me to a company that runs that way let me know; I might have to make a career move.

So what’s the difference between someone who owns their own company and someone who is employed in someone else’s company?

I can see two main differences. First, they’re willing to accept the risk and make the hard decisions. If a business they own goes under they don’t get to claim anything but failure. The employees have to live with the impacts of not having a job, but the owner has to live with the fact that s/he is the reason those employees don’t have a job. That’s a pretty difficult cross to bear for anyone who has any level of a heart, knowing that kids may go hungry or houses may get foreclosed because of decisions s/he made (or didn’t make).

But with that risk and hard decision making comes the second difference: they make the rules. If they want to institute a dress code they do. If they want to offer beer Fridays they do. If they decide to do scheduled lunches that’s their prerogative; if they want to require certain hours in the office it’s their call; if they want to change the color of the product line that’s their choice.

And yes – if they want to go off and spend the week on the Lake while their employees sweat it out in 106 degree heat then so be it.

In the words of Mel Brooks:  “It’s good to be the king.

Incidentally, not everyone is made to be a business owner. Some folks just want others to tell them what to do – they’re probably not good business-owner material. Same for the people that expect things to be given to them (instead of earned). And those who are afraid of failure, not willing to make decisions or want a “safety net” of being able to bitch about someone higher on the corporate totem pole.

But for just about everyone else, being a business owner is a legitimate option – even if it’s only of a small gig. Have you considered turning your career or trying your hand at owning your own business? What’s keeping you back from making that jump, even if it’s just a part-time one? Leave a comment below if you don’t mind – I’m interested in what the barriers are, and if I can help I’m all over it.

One last aside – the two friends of mine have companies that employ people, but that’s not the only way to make money while you’re sipping a pina colada overlooking miles of shoreline. One of the easiest ways – which also carries some low risk – is by turning your expertise into an information product. An e-book, a video, a seminar – there are any number of ways you can take the knowledge you already have and turn it into a side business. You may not get rich off of it (or you may), but is it worth a few hours of work if you could bring in $100 or $1000 each month in extra cash?

And you can do it for a very small investment – if you can scrape together $100 you can get it started (check out this post for more information).

I happen to know the owner of Pen Your, an interesting business that’s getting ready to launch here in the next few weeks that can help, as well. Basically they do all the copywriting for you without charging you a thing – instead of writing them a check up-front they get a small piece of your sales. So if you’re successful they’re successful; if you don’t make a dime you don’t write them a check, period. Put your name on their mailing list (I will personally kick their butt if they spam you) and they’ll set you up with some information when they kick everything off.

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