The double shift of the start-up entrepreneur

If you’re starting a new enterprise, are you clear about the difference between working ‘on the business’ and working ‘in the business’?

This has been a hot topic at our problem-solving action learning set sessions at the Lloyds Bank Start-up programme at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich. It manifests itself in different challenges.

Since few people have the luxury of working full time on their start-up business, there’s the division of time and energy on the paid-for work and on developing the would-be enterprise. Assuming we’re talking about a six or seven day working week, you’ll find that social enterprise development is worryingly-often squeezed into evenings and weekends (to compete with childcare and other domestic duties). Commitment to make the world a better place can make us the hardest of taskmasters.

The two areas of work may be quite separate or complementary. On the face of it, having overlapping areas of paid and unpaid work may seem like a good thing – working in one domain helping the other – but this brings with it other issues. What if, down the line, you hope your current clients will buy from your new social enterprise? Or maybe your current employer/line manager might be a future customer or competitor? Murmurs about conflicts of interest and accusations of double-dealing, however unjustified, may circulate.

And if you’re starting a business and need to go looking for a part-time job to pay the bills, another issue is whether recruiters think you’ll be using their time to develop your start-up. The interview panel could never admit to such discrimination but the unspoken suspicion may remain and harm your chances of getting a job offer. One answer is not to mention your ‘other business’ (could be tricky…) but if you do, how do you convince the would-be employers of complete separation between the two ‘shifts’?

The core of the discussion is about how soon you might expect to take money out of the business to pay yourself and, ultimately, be able to leave the financial security of your current employment. Unless you have unlimited savings (and even this is not without its problems…) or a start-up subsidy of some kind, you may have to work the double-shift – bill-paying work and business-development – for years rather than months.

In a great blog about start-up for social entrepreneurs, Lynn Sarafinn suggests that seeing your company’s income as your salary is a mistake “You are one part of the ‘machine’ that makes your business work. You are not an employee but the CEO; you have to steer and nurture the business. The income from the business is for the company first. Your salary might not come for a long time.”

Another issue for me (and perhaps others?) is that I find working ‘in the business’ much more fun than some of the necessary drudge associated with developing it. I’m setting up The Repair Shed because I would have loved to have had something like it around when I was unemployed.

IMG_5073I love making stuff (and now call it ‘product development’!) I’ve just finished making a second product – a patio palletable (see photo) – having just sold one of our first, a pallet pub. When I’m designing and making furniture (it used to be beds, now it’s pallet furniture) I experience ‘flow’ – a total absorption in what I’m doing to the exclusion of everything else, including food and the passing of time. I simply don’t get that with any aspect of business development; the only other activities that give me a comparable mental state are cross-country running and singing in a choir.

I know I’m going to have to work until I drop; a career in the not-for-private-profit is not a route to later-life travel and golf, as many will know. The sooner I can get someone else to start a Repair Shed that I can join as a member, rather than an entrepreneur, the better.

Read Lynn Serafinn’s blog at http://bit.ly/VslZBh

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