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Entrepreneurial Poverty. Is your business causing lifestyle poverty in the pursuit of survival?

When times are difficult, survival mode can take over, causing business owners to forsake their values and forget about their ideals. All that matters is surviving to fight another day.

I started to listen to an audiobook this morning. I hadn’t got through one chapter when it ‘punched me in the gut’ with a single phrase, ‘entrepreneurial poverty’.

Without listening any further, I knew exactly what it meant. I remember a time in my life when I definitely suffered from ‘entrepreneurial poverty’ and it wasn’t anything to do with money. That was also a problem at the time but it’s never been my priority for happiness.

My poverty stemmed from the quality of life and that of my children. It’s horribly painful for me to remember, or admit, that emotionally, my children were neglected. Hearing this phrase led me to bring out the letter that is a constant reminder to me. I keep it in my treasure box. I don’t look at it too often but still, I never want to lose it.

I adore my children and was self-employed because I wanted them to have a quality of life that included me being there for them.

As a single parent, I had chosen to be self-employed. I wanted to pick them up from school and hear about their day. The theory worked well…until it didn’t. (I’ll tell this quickly because I want to get to the main point).

I started my business with a blinds franchise. It took off immediately and seemed to be ideal. Unfortunately, the problems set in immediately with constant faulty deliveries and although I was busy, I was losing money. The stress of having to send a fitter out again with replacements and placating unhappy customers took its toll. I had no choice but to terminate the franchise arrangement and start on my own with independent suppliers. I rebuilt the business, adding soft furnishing, awnings and shutters and used all the money I had to open a shop. Life was working out well.

The Postman brought me a bombshell.

On an ordinary day when everything was going well, I opened a letter to find I was being sued for £190,000 for future lost profits plus costs, from the blinds franchise. After talking to friends and making an appointment with a specialist franchise lawyer, I settled again, knowing it was a ridiculous claim that would go away when they realised they had no chance. I paid the lawyer £2,000 to write the letters that would make it go away. It didn’t. The claimant wanted a £50,000 settlement but I wasn’t prepared to pay that. With hindsight, it may have been better for me if I had settled but I couldn’t bear the idea that having almost bankrupt me, they would get to spend my hard-earned money.

I’d reached a point where I had paid the lawyer £15,000 and wasn’t getting anywhere. She then asked for £2,000 to prepare a list that was required the next day. I sacked her and prepared the list myself. I stayed up all night and drove from Guildford to Leeds to deliver the list to the court by 4 pm. From there I proceeded as a litigant in person.  It was a big case which I could write a whole book about. When someone sues you, no matter how ridiculous it is, you have to fight or you lose. They didn’t win. Any self-respecting lawyer would have shut it down immediately but they had no-win-no-fee lawyers who wanted their costs covered. It was all a complete waste of time and money but it was two years of absolute misery and here is the point of writing this.

Survival Mode.

During these 2 years, I lost sight of all of my ideals for the business and the way I wanted to live. Money was flowing out faster than it was coming in. I started accepting any kind of work just to keep going. I worked until the girls came home from school, made the quickest possible food for them then worked until late on the court case. I stopped going out. Stopped spending money. I stopped talking to my friends. I was sick of them asking about the case. Sick of them giving me suggestions and sick of my own voice talking about it. I couldn’t plan for a future that I didn’t know I had and I didn’t have the headspace to take a step back and view the situation objectively.

Then I found the letter under my pillow.

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It was two pages of heartbreak but the line that broke my heart and still does so many years later is, ‘I say a joke and you basically walk away’. The idea of my daughter trying to make me happy and I wasn’t even able to hear her is so painful to me. I had no defence or excuses. I had neglected my children. They are adults now and appear to show no signs of childhood trauma. They’ve always been wonderfully supportive but I’m glad that she was able to express her feelings to me, even though she had to do it writing to get me to listen.

When I heard the phrase ‘entrepreneurial poverty’ this morning, I thought of all of the business owners who will be going through what I did, because of COVID. I feel sad for the children who will bring their parents a picture that will barely receive a cursory glance because mummy or daddy is too wrapped up in their own misery and survival to notice. I feel sad for the working parents too, who will have their planned futures wiped out through no fault of their own. I don’t have any advice that doesn’t sound patronising or trite. It was a dreadful time for me and it took years to recover.

I do recommend the book though. I’ve barely started it but it may help you to see your business more objectively. Survival mode, where you accept any work whether profitable or not, is the road to disaster. That I do know.

It’s called Clockwork by Michael Michalowicz You can get it at Amazon Here

Speech Marks

Survival mode, where you accept any work whether profitable or not, is the road to personal and professional disaster.