"What are the benefits or pitfalls of entrepreneurship at your age? Do you think you have an advantage over older people starting out so young? Is it better to start a business so young? Is it not better to start out young, before buying a house or having a family, when you have less to lose?"
This question comes from a face to face interview and was asked in reference to my business plan for starting a food truck. Before answering this question, I asked how old the asker thought I was. The answer I got back was "you look 19".
Uhm...no. Way off. Try added about 20 years to that guess. The question implied however (via a long winded explanation to say as much) that people in their 20s are better suited to starting a small business than someone later in life and therefor youth was a benefit of entrepreneurship. Of course they had slanted their question in that direction ahead of time, under the false assumption of thinking I was only 19, so who knows how they would have worded it knowing my correct age.
But this got me to thinking: Is youth really a benefit in entrepreneurship? How young is too young? How old is too old? Does age even matter at all? And more importantly, how does this effect authors, who are in fact themselves entrepreneurs? Will a younger author have more success than an older author or vice versa?
I've known people who started out at a young age getting into huge credit card debts than had to spend their lives in Section 8 apartments because they were never able to get a house or even a good job because of bad credit history. Very sad.
As to having less to lose when young. Yeah, age really has nothing to do with it. When I was young my family had a ton of money. My dad owned 2 businesses AND worked a job for someone else, AND was a volunteer fireman. He was one of those got-to-be-busy-every-second types. My mom at the same time owned a brick&mortar store in downtown Old Orchard Beach.
My dad's income was $37,000, an incredibly large income in 1975 when the average income was $7,500. We had everything - literally my parents bought me a horse for my 4th birthday, I was wearing mink coats as a teenager, I bought my first car when I was 8 years old, didn't matter that I couldn't drive it, heck, no, I wanted a car just to put in my rose garden and pretend to drive it - I still have it, it's still sitting in my garden 30 years later! And by 8 years old I was already a multi-published author and in the process of setting up The Twighlight Manor Press. Yep. I was 8 years old when I founded/incorporated the publishing house which I still run today all these decades later.
Looking back I think maybe I was sort of like Verruca Salt as a kid. Starting mini-businesses was a thing I did because I liked doing it. I've started dozens of "businesses" over the years, but never tried to make any money with any of them. If they made money fine, in not who care, I didn't need the money. I call them "hobby ventures" because it was me taking my hobbies to big scales.
And than Hurricane Katrina hit Old Orchard. Hit us hard. If it hadn't just wiped out New Orleans on it's way up here the damage it did to OOB would have made national news - 80 families saw their houses leveled, just completely flattened - it wasn't even on the local news, the town applied for emergency disaster, couldn't get it because Katrina had hit EVERY SINGLE STATE on the East Coast so bad that by the time it reached us up here in Maine FEMA, HUD and the rest were out of funds. Local Red Cross was closed because they had packed up and headed to New Orleans a week earlier - Katrina got stuck in Saco Bay and dumped 9 days and 9 nights of rain on us.
The town hall went under water - do you know what OOB looks like? do you know how far away from the beach the town hall is? on the top of a hill - that's how high the water was - people died - people in MY FAMILY died - 80 houses - including ours - were literally lifted off the land and washed away - 80 families - most with children were homeless, several of them are STILL homeless RIGHT NOW 7 years later, because York Country doesn't have a single shelter - not even one. People lost businesses and lively hood, many became disabled for life and will never work again. My dad was in a coma on full life support (on a machine that cost $13,000 a day) for 6 months, and lost all of his jobs and businesses, and spent 2 year relearning how to talk and walk and use his hands. His medical bills, topped $3million. And there were 80 families is the same situation as us - homeless, dead, dieing, and not able to find help. Hurricane Katrina did this, right here, in Old Orchard Beach, Maine and yet not one single newspaper or news station even mentioned what happened AT ALL! Did you know those 80 families are still today, 7 years later on a wait list for HUDs emergency disaster relief housing vouchers to get them in Section8 apartments?
I was homeless 7 years. I lived under a 8x6' tarp without running water, toilet, or electricity for most of those 7 years - including through 3 blizzards, 5 more hurricanes, and an ice storm. People often ask me why did I start glueing things to my car? Short answer: it was me home decorating after I moved out from under the tarp and into my car. It was as simple as that. I now live in a 22' motorhome. My dad's name JUST came up as next in line for an emergency housing voucher from HUD this summer - June 2013.
So my point? Well, at 20 years old I had a hell of a lot to lose. I never took any big risks, my mini-businesses were all small easily cast off if they failed. The only one I held on to was the publishing house, simply because I absolutely loved that job, and when Hurricane Katrina hit, it was a good thing I had it, because it was the only income I had for several years. It only brought in $200 to $600 a month, not a good income at all, but if I hadn't had that I'd been with no income at all and $200 a month is a heck of a lot compared to ZERO a month.
I never risked anything because I didn't think I could survive losing everything. Hurricane Katrina taught me otherwise. I literally lost everything in less than 30 seconds when a wave crashed over our house and took it with it (and we ain't no where's near the beach, I'll tell you - we are on the outskirts up by the Ross Rd!
Any body remember that big huge egg farm on Portland Ave - the one with all the giant poultry barns - you know where the empty lot now is, no house, no barns, nothing - that was us, and that's why the buildings are gone - Katrina didn't just take our house - it took our barns and livestock too - last thing you expect up here on the corner of Portland ave and Ross Rd is the ocean knocking on your front door. We were well out of the flood zone. but we had a brook on our land that dumps into the ocean and the ocean sent a back wave flash flood inland up the brook, and that's how it hit us.) Me and my brothers were outside when it happened or we'd probably be dead now, my dad was in the house when the wave hit it, he nearly died, and he'd still not recovered, he can barely get around even today.
Katrina opened my eyes. I technically only "needed" to be homeless and living under the tarp for 6 months, I was perfectly able to get into housing 6 months later, but I'm strange and I decided to remain homeless willingly, after a few really snobby neighbors treated my family really bad once we were homeless. I'm an author, well known in some circles (one of my non-fiction books got really famous) and before Katrina a lot of people wanted to be my "friend" just so they could say to their other friend, "Hey I know her!" Becoming homeless, revealed their true colors, when they suddenly "couldn't be seen hanging out with a homeless person". So I willfully remained homeless, even long after I no longer needed to be, just to see how other people reacted to homeless people.
But thing of it is, this whole situation, every bit of it, changed me - A LOT - I am a hugely different person today than I was 8 years ago. 8 years ago I would have been too worried about losing my house, my belongs, to take the risk of a business that could become a full time income, rather than a part-time hobby income. Hobby businesses are "safe" no-risk.
So in answering the question: when I was in my 20s I had a lot to lose and I would not have taken big risks. In my 30s I did lose everything - but not through a failed business, instead through a flood. In my 40s I no longer see material lose as a risk at and have no issues throwing everything to the wind to start a business. So younger people don't always have less to lose than older people. It really depends on their situation. I think it was losing everything that just doing things I want to do (like rhinestoning my car - I talked about wanting to do that for the past 40 years - never did it, used to worry about what other people would think if I did), rather than waiting and worrying. I think that was the biggest lesson I learned from Katrina - you never know what tomorrow may bring, you could be financially stable, no money worries, take no risks, and still lose everything, so you might as well take risks, do the things you want to do, because you may not be alive tomorrow and than it'll be too late to do the things you wanted to do.
"What are the benefits of entrepreneurship at your age?"
Well, I think one of the major advantages a person my age (40s) has is experience. Not that a younger person doesn’t have experiences, because heck, a kid who survived Hurricane Katrina has a lot more experience than an elderly person who never faced any disaster at all. So, I’m not saying that age ALWAYS means more experience. But as a general rule someone in their 40s has gone through more life lessons. But having experience is a huge benefit in entrepreneurship.
A person in their 40s has gone through marriages, divorces, births, deaths, jobs, careers, wars, etc, while a person in their 20s is usually only just starting to discover those things.
A person in their 40s has also had time to test out many things, figure out what they like, what they don’t like, made lots of mistakes and knows what mistakes not to make again, while a person in their 20s is just starting to test those waters.
If they are like me and have started lots of mini-businesses over the years, by the time you are my age, you start to see the pattern of what works and what doesn’t, so you start making fewer mistakes.
And if you are like me, someone who has had one business for years (since 1983 in my case) and work closely with your clients (in my case readers) after a while you get to know what they like, what they want, what they expect, and you can adjust your business to meet their needs. But this takes time and someone younger will not yet have that kind of knowledge/research into what their customers want.
course, too much experience can be a bad thing too, if you reach the
point of “Well I know that won’t work, I already tried, I’m not going to
bother trying again.”If you have to try 1,001 ways that don't work before you reach the 1 way that does work, than so be it. But you'll never succeed if you give up and stop trying.
Probably one of the larger disadvantages a person my age has is not growing up with the technology (computers, internet, phones, etc) that is pretty mandatory to run (most) businesses in this day and age. I’ve had to learn this stuff, make an effort to go out of my way to learn it. It wasn’t something I was taught as a kid and I still don’t own a phone. When I was a kid, there were only a few houses on our street that had phones, and those were party lines that had to wait for a switchboard operator to plug you in from one line to another. I was about 10 when they started running standard phone lines on poles through the neighborhood. (of course in the 1970s there weren’t even 1,000 year round residents -there are 7,000 today - and Portland Ave was a dirt road back than with exactly 5 houses on it and now it’s the main road through Old Orchard compete with two lanes and a yellow stripe and the last time our house was renumbered it came out at 146.) It was a big thing people getting phones brought into their houses. I never saw the point of putting one in. Now people have cell phones they take with them, and I’m still looking at them and asking: Why? What possible use can a phone have? Why on God’s green earth do you need to talk to other people? How in heck can you talk to a person if you can’t see them? I don’t get it.
Of course, this is the perspective of an Autistic person with bad hearing since childhood, “hears” predominantly through reading lips, and near mutism resulting in communication through pen and paper, not spoken words. So yeah, phones, not exactly a useful item for someone like me. My boyfriend has been trying to teach me how to use a phone for about 10 years now - he hasn’t gotten very far. He progressed in leaps and bounds with the invention of Skype however - online phones with video so you can see who you are talking to. I was able to learn Skype in spite of my difficulties learning phones.
I think older folks are set in their ways, thus “teaching an old dog new tricks” is close to impossible unless that person is self motivated to learn. Something has to make them WANT to change otherwise they won’t. So I can see how this can become a huge stumbling block for older business starters, and the older they are, the harder change will be.
Are there other benefits of entrepreneurship at my age? Probably. I suppose more to the point for my readers the question should be not "What are the benefits of entrepreneurship?" but rather "What are the benefits of publishing house start up?" or maybe "What are the benefits of being a self-published author?" or even "What are the benefits of being a traditionally published author?" For the purposes of this answer they are all one in the same thing are they not? I think so. After all, being an author is running your own business, whether you are self-published, traditionally published or go the long haul and start a publishing house to publish other authors as well, and therefore no matter which road you take to get your book published you are still an entrepreneur. So for the sake of simplicity we shall continue to use the phrase: "What are the benefits of entrepreneurship?"
So far I have looked at the benefits of entrepreneurship through a very narrow focused and limited view. The reason for this being that the original question was much more narrow focused, asking directly about my personal life, and I answered that, but does it really help my readers in general? Not so much. It is for that reason which I am now going to alter the original question (which was far longer and more detailed that what little of it I had posted here for you) so that now it reads as two simple questions:
"What are the benefits of entrepreneurship?"
"What are the pitfalls of entrepreneurship?"
The benefits of entrepreneurship are many. Let's look at a few shall we?
For myself, the benefit I rank highest on the list would be the ability to control one's own life. You are the maker of your own destiny. You are the boss. There is no one over you telling you what to do. I don't like being pushed around. I don't like bullies. I don't like taking orders. I don't like people giving me "My way or the highway" commands. It is very important to me, to have the freedom to do things the way I want to do them without someone lording over me, breathing down my neck, and bombarding me with all the negative reasons why it is wrong, wrong, wrong. Thus the biggest benefit of entrepreneurship (in my view) is the ability to control one's own life.
Of course, there are many who will see this as one of the biggest pitfalls, because many folks don't want the responsibility of having to be in control and doing it all. If you find yourself needing someone to look up to, someone to justify your ideas, someone to be there to pat your back each step of the way telling you, you are doing it right, than seriously, entrepreneurship (working for yourself, being the author of your career 100%) is not for you. You will not be happy managing everything from the biggest tax bill to the smallest paper cut. And that's okay. Entrepreneurship is not for every body. Some people love it, most don't. A few take the lead, but most would rather follow. Just know right now that if you are the type of person who would rather follow the leader, you will find yourself very unhappy in your career choice of being an author. You should decide if you really burn with the passion of authorship or do you simple like "the idea" of being an author?
But really, who doesn't sometimes want the independence and dream of being their own boss and making all the important decisions? When you succeed you take all the credit. Of course when you fail, there's no one but yourself to blame, but isn't that worth the risk of success?
In this same vein is freedom and flexibility. Authors, being entrepreneurs can work whenever they want, wherever they want, and however they want. You as an author can schedule your work hours to spend quality time with family and friends, never miss your child's first steps, never miss another soccer practice, never miss another dance recital, never miss another doctor's appointment. Need to take a 3 week vacation? Guess what, you can do it anytime, and best of all, being a writer, you can take your work with you and work on the road without disrupting the family vacation.
Of course the drawback to all this freedom and flexibility is it's easy to take advantage of it. It's easy to sit back, not do anything, and tell yourself "I'll do it tomorrow." If you are going to succeed as a writer, you have to be firm with yourself, set time tables and schedules and stick with them, otherwise you'll never get anything done.
The second biggest benefit of entrepreneurship, according to me, is originality and creativity. This is the excitement and joy with comes from the feeling that you can offer a new service, a new product, or as is the case of you as an author: a new story that no one else has ever offered before. Brand new. All original. And created by you. Think about it. You get to "play God" for a few days, creating new worlds, and putting new life into those worlds. The exhilaration that comes from creating brand new never before seen characters and giving them problems to solve, issues to face, and watching them come out on top is beyond anything you can imagine. But than you share those new people with the world by publishing your story and soon others get to share in your joy too. Fabulous. Utterly fabulous. Words simply can not describe it.
This leads to yet another benefit of entrepreneurship which I put very high on the ladder of importance: self-worth, closely followed by self awareness and self-motivation, which when all rolled together equal self-esteem. Self-esteem is one of the best benefits of entrepreneurship, one which many would rank at #1 in importance. Nothing boosts your self-esteem like being your own boss and getting thing done without having to rely on others.
There is a down side to this however, and that is that if you get lazy, slack off, and let your work slide, you'll find yourself failing and your self-esteem falling fast. Don't let this happen. Make sure you set time tables and schedules and stick with them. You got to do the work, and be motivated to do the work, in order to succeed.
I think the benefit of entrepreneurship which many (or even most?) authors are looking to hear about is income and/or salary potential. Unfortunately a large, substantial, or even moderately stable income is not one of the many benefits of entrepreneurship. Yes, you can succeed. Yes, you can make it big. Yes, you can even earn as much as minimum wage if you work hard enough, long enough,. and are able to live off your savings for the first 3 to 5 years before minimum wage earnings start kicking in.
Think being a millionaire is one of the top benefits of entrepreneurship? Think again. Only 3% of entrepreneurs are going to find themselves rolling in millions of extra spending cash. Sure you can earn a million dollars, but 60% of that goes to the IRS right off the top, and them there are expenses, overhead, bills to pay. If you are like most entrepreneurs you'll need an income of $3million a year just to pocket $75,000 in actual earnings, so don't get too hung up on the idea of being a millionaire.
Remember it's YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to withhold your taxes out of your income, you ain't got no boss doing that for you anymore. To be on the safe side of the IRS come tax time, set up a separate bank account, just for paying taxes with, and every time you receive a payday, deposit 60% of your paycheck into that account. Don't touch it. It's not yours. If you spend this money, you'll very likely spend the next 5 to 25 years in prison. In April when it's time to pay your taxes, you'll have the money safely tucked away in this bank account and you'll be able to withdraw it and hand it over to the IRS and have nothing to worry about.
Sure, there are writers who make lots and lots of money, super fast. Yes, it happens. Yes it happens far more often to self-publishers than to traditional published authors, however it only happens to 3% out of several hundred million authors. Every week hundreds of new titles are released. Every year about 10 of those will become huge money makers.
So don't not become an author to make money. Most authors work at least one part time job to pay their bills, while they slave away at a writing career that pays at best $5,000 a year for 70% of all actively writing authors. Authors earning minimum wage incomes of $24,000 a year are publishing no fewer than 4 new titles (full length 120,000 word novels) a year. If you are looking to get rich quick than you are in the wrong career. Aim for a steady, stable income and you'll do fine, if you work hard.
Remember that when you become an author (regardless of publishing method) you are starting your own business. Starting your own business means that you must be willing to give up the security of a regular paycheck. You really must be obsessively in love with the physical act of writing to be happy as an author, because chances are very high that you will never have a steady income or regular and reliable paycheck ever again. (And Amazon self-publishers have a better chance here as Amazon pays monthly, while publishing houses pay once, twice, or four times a year.)
One last huge pitfall to consider is how your friends and family will perceive you: Lazy, good-for-nothing, unemployed, welfare-bum, and other choice words are going to be tossed in your face FREQUENTLY. Negative and in some cases jealous, people will always be on hand to tell you that you will fail. Every time you release a new book and it doesn't become a best seller, they will be at your shoulder chiming: "I told you so!" and than lecturing you to get off your stupid lazy ass and get a real job like every one else has to do. Believe me, if you want to be an author, you need a thick skin and a place to esacpe from your nosy busybody, holier-than-thou, know-it-all relatives, because they are going to be harping on your case night and day and will never give you a moments peace.
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