If you’ve found yourself analyzing businesses you see or deal with regularly, you’re probably an Armchair Entrepreneur.
That’s what I call someone who thinks frequently about becoming an entrepreneur and often wonders what it might be like to own their own business.
Armchair Entrepreneurs have been sitting in their comfortable chairs (sometimes for decades), slaving away for someone else and dreaming about the day they would be their own boss.
In some cases they’ve thought about having their own business for so long they can taste it.
They can see it.
They probably have named it and can vividly picture in their mind’s eye the storefront sidewalk façade and signage as well as the interior decor.
If you’ve dreamed of owning a restaurant, you probably already know what your menu would look like and what your best selling specials would be.
One Armchair Entrepreneur I know attended weekend auctions and collected antique store displays related to her chosen niche (quilting) for 11 years before actually opening her doors. Her purchases sat in the garage awaiting the ‘some day’ of her own business.
If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to have a business of your own, you’ve probably been making observations about other businesses you buy from as well as the business owners you interact with, learning what you can through their experiences.
Which is a wonderful starting place.
Observing other businesses and their owners helps you begin to determine the kind of companyyou might like to have yourself: how you believe you’d treat your own customers, or which products you just know would sell like hotcakes if only they were displayed in just the right store location.
It’s an adult version of ‘let’s pretend’ that allows us to learn through what we observe, by putting ourselves in the shoes of others.
But if you’re going to base decisions about creating a business on the observations and assumptions you’ve made about how others do things, it’s important that you make sure your observations are accurate and valid.
Your assumptions may be out of date and no longer valid as a basis for your business idea.
Having collected her store displays for 11 years before opening her business, Marianne knew exactly where each of her precious purchases would be showcased and could picture her space colorfully filled to the brim with her favorite fabric brands and products.
But after dreaming for a decade rather than doing, she found the quilting industry and market had changed dramatically.
By the time she opened her shop, Marianne discovered that the customers actually walking through her door didn’t want to buy her products.
Instead, they wanted her to teach them how to use the products they’d already purchased elsewhere — usually from online fabric stores.
Barely 90 days into a three year, very-iron-clad lease, Marianne felt little choice but to move forward in new ways. She annexed the physical space next door to create a classroom, began hiring instructors, and started marketing workshops and classes online.
Now Marianne’s days are spent handling online registrations, struggling to communicate with website designers and programmers to keep her site up to date, delegating email chores to any family member or friend she can draft, and introducing instructors to her customers — after which she retreats to the back of the classroom, sitting quietly, providing support to students and teachers as necessary.
NOT exactly what this Armchair Entrepreneur dreamt about all those years.
Marianne’s original motivation for her business was fueled by the animated conversations she envisioned having with customers about their shared hobby and passion in her spontaneous, interactive retail shop. Her fundamental source of enjoyment for this venture has been lost.
Just as time may change the industry and market of your desired business, there’s no question that time changes each of us as well.
It’s possible that a mis-match may exist between who you really are or have become over the years, and your dream business as you envisioned it.
Several years ago a local-to-me and much beloved used book shop was sold after a successful 20 year run. The buyer, “Will”, was a man age 50+, retiring as a CEO of a heavy manufacturing operation, who claimed his lifelong dream had always been to own a bookstore. Being quite rich, he happily paid the founding owner’s asking price on the spot.
Will immediately changed the name of the book shop — an action which defeats the purpose of purchasing an existing business – but that’s another blog post.
He wanted to emphasize what he believed to be the shop’s most important asset: the community exchange of used books, which were purchased or ‘bought back’ from customers who were then given store credit, enabling them to ‘buy‘ more books.
This good will tradition had been the backbone of the shop’s success for the twenty years since it was founded. It also provided easy inventory of popular books that had already sold once.
But even before the end of his first week, Will announced he was discontinuing the practice of buying back books from customers and issuing them store credit. He didn’t know how to evaluate the used books or price them, and found it a huge waste of his time.
His handwritten sign saying ‘We no longer buy books’ was placed in the window the very same day his new storefront sign arrived with the words ‘Book Exchange’ loudly proclaimed as part of the shop’s official new name.
Obviously irritated, Will described his frustrating interactions with customers who were excited about discussing their favorite books, authors or plotlines. They were another waste of his time.
What in theory seemed like a nice folksy and efficient strategy (buying back books), simply wasn’t a wise choice for this particular armchair entrepreneur.
He quickly hired a shop manager to handle the day-to-day interactions and transactions with customers while he watched them from his second floor window and office.
Not surprisingly, book shop sales quickly declined, loyal customers felt betrayed, word got out that the shop had ‘changed’ and wasn’t worth visiting anymore, and it took Will several angry years to unload the business.
The only saving grace in this situation is that Will’s personal wealth allowed him to sit on the property for years until it was sold, and just write off the losses against his other investments.
If an Armchair entrepreneur who was dependent on the book shop’s income for their livelihood had taken these same actions, the mismatch between the ‘dream business’ as it was envisioned versus their actual skills and preferences would have been more than emotionally devastating. It could’ve destroyed them financially.
Basing start up decisions on assumptions that may be incomplete or just plain wrong will obviously create problems for you and take your planning process off course.
And this is especially true when you make assumptions about YOU.
It’s easy for us to believe we haven’t changed since we were young.
‘I’m still the same’ most of us claim, even though we’ve lived through fifty plus years of experiences, successes and disappointments, tragedies and celebrations.
Can we really be the same person after all we’ve been through?
The ‘you’ that you are now is likely NOT the ‘you’ who made all those observations about business through the years, and dreamed about starting one of your own.
Begin looking at the assumptions and beliefs you’ve developed through the years, and ask yourself how or when did you develop them?
Our bodies have changed, as has our psychological hardiness to cope with change and stress. You may have caregiving responsibilities for a parent or your children’s children, so your time is not exactly your own.
Certainly not how you expected it to be at this point in your life.
The business you had in your mind’s eye may not generate enough income, or enough quickly enough, to bridge the financial gap you have between your retirement funds and the lifestyle you enjoy.
Or perhaps the business you’ve been dreaming about would require 60-hour work weeks or extensive start up monies to invest at the front end – more than you feel comfortable investing with your own funds.
So it’s possible your business idea might need to be scaled back in some way, or the idea set aside. Not because it’s a bad idea…but simply because it’s not the right idea for you, or the timing for your idea is no longer ‘right’.
It’s time to take a look at you as you are now at midlife, with the opportunities and constraints that this time of life puts in place for you, with your view of ‘WHAT YOU WANT NOW’ front and center. And then test out your theories.
The view from your Armchair is a great beginning.
But if you begin to seriously consider starting a business of your own, you’ll find the Armchair Entrepreneur’s perspective is limited: often fuzzy, incomplete, and sterile, rarely providing a true and accurate field of observation to learn from.
And could it be that seat is a little too comfortable?
You must conduct a ‘reality check’ before you take actions to create that business you’ve dreamed about for so long.
So if you really want to explore what it might be like for you to start your own business, I’ve got one last thing to say to you.
It’s time to get out of your chair.
Click here to schedule an appointment so we can talk about your next steps.