Entrepreneurs aren’t great with backup plans.
Between the ages of 25 and 38 I was a full-time business owner. I bought my first business, an after school center, from the founder/owner when she decided to retire. I had been working there through college, loved it, and had been dreaming of what I would do if it were mine. And then it was.
I ran that wonderful place joyfully for three years. And then it happened.
Before my fourth school year as owner, our enrollment was down 50%. I, of course, panicked. I called parents to ask if something was wrong. Nothing was. I talked to other owners, nothing there. I advertised. I did all I could to remedy this and get enrollment to where it had always been.
It never recovered. I’m still not totally sure why, but it didn’t. We bled for two humiliating years before we had to shut down.
At this point I was 30 years old, had a mortgage and a fabulous family – my wife and two daughters. I was no longer the gunslinging youngster who could live on beans while I pursued my next big idea. I was a business man who had failed and a family man in crisis.
Get a job, right?
Remember my backup plan comment? I didn’t have one. Frankly, it never occurred to 25-year old Kevin that he would need one (common among entrepreneurial types). My plan was to dominate the after-school world, not be crushed by it.
And you know how your parents tell you to “have a degree in your back pocket,” to fall back on? Well I had a degree. In Theology (long story). An interesting topic for sure but not, I repeat, not marketable unless you want to be a minister, and I didn’t.
We can dissect and judge my career and education choices (trust me, I have), but that is not the point of this post.
I’m trying to paint a picture of where I was in life when my skills in home repair saved us.
In my years at the after school center, I learned to fix stuff. Had to. Couldn’t afford to hire out. When I was an employee and something would break, the owner and I would do the repair and then she would always say to me, “Now you have another skill. You never know when you’ll use that.” Brother, was she right.
Before our youngest daughter was born, my wife worked at Sears unloading trucks. A perk of that job was that she saw all the tools that would be on sale before they hit the sales floor. She’d tuck back tools I wanted so I could buy them before they sold out.
So, at the lowest point of my professional life, devastated and ashamed, I had just two assets to immediately offer the world – my tools and a little know how.
And, as a caveat, our parents. They jumped in and generously got us through the first year, covering the mortgage and other necessities until we got on our feet. Forever grateful.
Before that year was out, we were shaky but stable. I had started Service Meisters, the home repair and property maintenance business that we would build for the next nine years, each year more profitable than the last.
It was exhausting and scary as hell, as all start-up business ventures are. And I didn’t know it all when I started, by a long shot (thank goodness for the internet), but we beat the odds. I never made a million bucks, but I’m proud that I fed my family and paid my bills quite literally through the work of my two hands.
I’m passionate about teaching people home and garden skills, for many reasons. But most of all, I know how truly life-changing they can be.
If all else fails, you have some tools and a little know-how.