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by, Mike Kennedy

In April of 2011, Dawn and I decided to risk it all and start UNEQ consulting. I had spent the previous 14 years working at the Army’s Maneuver Battle Lab as an Experimentation Manager in the Unmanned Systems Team. My team and I conducted experiments with small unmanned aircraft systems, commonly referred to as drones, and unmanned ground systems, or ground robots. I loved my job; was very good at it; and had earned a great reputation in the unmanned systems community. But still, every day I got up and went to work at a government agency. Bureaucratic BS prevails at all government agencies and that was the part of the job that was troubling me. For months I had a nagging feeling that I was faced with a choice; succumb to the bureaucratic BS, keep my head down and just keep going; or resign my position and go do something else. I was making a six-figure salary, got to work around soldiers a lot, and my work helped to make their lives better. That was the good part. Putting up with the bureaucratic BS was the bad part. Go do something else won out and UNEQ Consulting was born. I closed my 401k, sold all my stock options, and away we went. Dawn agreed to keep working her job with the Army for the time being.

We thought briefly about renting some office space but after careful deliberation decided it was best to work from home. In the beginning, it was great. We had offices set up downstairs and called it the world headquarters of UNEQ Consulting. It was fun. I got to work in my pajamas most of the time and never had to drag myself to the car and drive to work. The first year we took a loss, but the second year we made more than $200,000. The problem with working from home, though, is that you are always at work. Soon enough, when the dogs got me up in the middle of the night to go outside, I would start working. From 2 or 3 am until 8 or 9 am I would be at my desk. I would take a short nap until 10 am or so then get back at it.

The thing is most of that work was just busy work. I was chasing clients. We had contracts with Georgia Tech Research Institute, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and several companies that developed unmanned technology for the Armed Forces and/or First Responders. We were making great money, but I was working 16-18 hours a day trying to get more contracts and was spending near zero quality time with Dawn and the kids we still had at home. It got worse when Dawn’s contract with the Army expired and she started running operations for the company. Her work was invaluable; a definite asset, and truly made a big difference. That wasn’t the problem. I had become an obsessed workaholic jerk. Obsessed workaholic jerks find a way to manufacture arguments and fights over things that are not important. That was me and argue and fight we did. What’s worse than becoming an obsessed workaholic jerk? Knowing that you are one and not caring. I would tell myself that things would get better with Dawn and the kids when we were making millions and none of the fighting and arguments would matter then. For our third year we were on track to make $375,000, then the best thing that has ever happened to me happened.

On Friday, November 1, 2013, my two oldest sons and I were planning to spend the day at our training site getting ready for an event with first responders that was scheduled for the next day. Kevin, Patrick and I went first to a local tire store so Patrick could get new tires put on his car. Patrick was going to catch up to Kevin and me later in the day. Kevin and I got to work and a few hours into it, I climbed a ladder to about 18 feet to hang something on a light post. That is when the best thing that has ever happened to me happened. I fell off that ladder, fell the 18 feet or so and landed on my head on concrete. Wait- that doesn’t sound quite right, does it? How in the world can falling off a ladder and landing on your head on concrete be the best thing that ever happened to anybody? I’ll tell you. In the second that it took to fall that 18 feet, UNEQ Consulting died and with it, so did the obsessed workaholic jerk.

Of course, I am not actually dead. But in that second I went from obsessed workaholic jerk to helpless guy with 4 skull fractures, severed VIII Cranial Nerve, diffuse bleeding in the brain and catastrophic Traumatic Brain Injury who would spend the next 2 and a half months in the hospital learning to walk again. In that second, UNEQ died, the obsessed workaholic jerk died, but our marriage was saved. We wouldn’t know that our marriage was saved until a few years later because I had to recover and learn how to live with hearing loss, Oscillopsia (google it), swimmy brain, and getting to know the new Mike. That was extremely frustrating. Looking back now though, six and half years later, it is clear the accident saved our marriage.
Now, I sometimes think about it all and reflect. UNEQ probably would have gone on to make the millions of dollars I was obsessed with reaching. But, more likely than not, Mike and Dawn would have divorced, and the obsessed workaholic jerk I was would be all alone. That, my friends, is not worth it.

Here are the things I want you to take away from reading my story:

1. If you are working 16-18 hour days and not spending quality time with the people you love and who love you- you are a workaholic. Stop. It is not worth it.
2. If you are working 16-18 hour days, work is all you think about, and you know you are not spending quality time with family- you are an obsessed workaholic. Stop. It is not worth it.
3. If you are working 16-18 hour days, work is all you think about, you know you are not spending quality time with family, and you are fighting with them- you are an obsessed workaholic. Stop. It is not worth it.
4. If you are working 16-18 hour days, work is all you think about, you know you are not spending quality time with family, you are fighting with family, and you don’t care- you are an obsessed workaholic jerk. Stop. It is not worth it.

Finally, running your own business is only worth it if you keep the reason why you are building your business in the first place, front and center. You want a better for life for your family, you want your business to impact a lot of people and change the world, but what good is all that if you lose yourself and your family in the process?

Entrepreneurship means always having to say, “no worries,” even when we are worried. And as a group, we worry a lot. We want to be relevant, successful, financially secure. We are, in many cases, able to separate what we can control, and what we can’t control. But where money is concerned, 60% of entrepreneurs lose sleep when there’s a crunch. It’s safe to say that we struggle with the control thing when we are talking about our money. I am guilty of this too and am still working on it.

 

So why are we so crazy about the money? For many of us, it’s our metric of success. When we are responsible for every aspect of our business, from finding clients to keeping staff happy, juggling vendors and paying the bills, we gauge how we are doing by the amount of money we make. But when we use the bottom line as the only metric of our success any changes in the cash can increase the stress to unbearable levels. So, what can we do when we feel the financial stress rising up?

 

  1. Recognize the stress. Stress can zap your creativity and ability to make the best decisions you can make to get through a rough patch. If you can see stress rising in yourself when you review the financials you can take action to mitigate its effects. Don’t wait until you can’t sleep or turn off your brain to take action.

 

  1. Admit what you can’t control, and act accordingly. I have worked on this one for a long time. I can’t control if my invoice gets paid on time. I can’t control when people cancel appointments. I can’t control when packages arrive late. I can take affirmative steps to prevent these things from happening, but I cannot control these events when they happen. When I realize I cannot control the event, I give myself grace and a timeline for being upset.

 

  1. Don’t lie in bed and worry about money. Worry at the desk. Fine. The dinner table, fine. Not in bed. That’s not fine. If it’s not in the bank when the bank closes, it’s not in the bank. Your being up at 2am worrying about the money in the bank won’t affect your balance one bit. It will affect your ability to show up the next day. It will affect your health. Train yourself to keep financial stress outside the bedroom. If you wake up in the middle of the night and have financial worry- get up. Take it outside your sanctuary.

 

  1. Find non-monetary measures of progress and success. In today’s business world there are metrics everywhere. Websites and social media platforms can show you how you are reaching out and impacting the world. You don’t only need to measure by the money. What are a few ways you can look at your progress now without the bank book?

 

  1. Give yourself CEO space. No people. No projects. No progress reports. Schedule an hour or two a week to close yourself off to think, reflect, and to be by yourself. Use this time to brainstorm, meditate, listen to music. To Just BE. I’m still working on this. Entrepreneurs by nature are human doings much more than we are human beings.

 

Money stress when you are not in control does nothing to impact your bottom line and everything to affect your health and creativity. These skills are a work in progress for most of us. But managing to keep money stress at bay by focusing on other measures of success, ensuring a good night’s sleep, and reminding ourselves where we aren’t in control will make running your business less stressful. Happy Entrepreneuring!

The 2016 American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor reported that  only 51%  of entrepreneurs pay themselves a salary. By 2019,  the statistic flipped,and 51% of entrepreneurs did NOT pay themselves a salary. In fact, 26% of business owners skipped pay for 2-6 months, and another 25% went OVER six months without a paycheck. What in the world?

Truth be told, many entrepreneurs pay themselves as an afterthought. I spoke with a restaurant owner just yesterday who admitted, “I could probably take a check, but I’m afraid if we slow down the business would struggle.” That’s a fairly common sentiment. Cash flow concerns have caused lost sleep and anxiety in  63% of entrepreneurs in a recent survey.

It is my personal experience that foregoing a paycheck caused even more anxiety because our personal income became unstable. I hear the wishful thinking that entrepreneurs can pay themselves, “someday.” Well, let’s start the habit now. You may not be able to pay yourself your dream salary, yet, but you need to get into the habit of budgeting for yourself.

1. Make sure you know your business “4 walls.” I like to envision your business as having 4 sides, like a house or a box, and your priority must be the expenses on the inside of that box. Expenses that cover your access to buyers, critical operating expenses and minimum inventory spend and a paycheck for yourself should be your priorities over anything else you may owe. The anxiety of worrying whether you have made “enough” this month will be alleviated by having this number. You can get the free worksheets on my website www.entremoneycoach.com.

2. Pick a number. Pick a number to pay yourself. Many entrepreneurs get stuck here. There are a few different ways to calculate your salary. One is to total up the personal expenses you need to cover your personal “four walls;” food, utilities, rent or mortgage, and transportation. When your electric and water is paid, you will be able to show up and serve with less stress.

Another method is to decide your ideal check, and take a percentage of it, say 40%. For example, if your ideal check is $1,000.00/ week, your 40% is $400/ week. Then add your taxes on top of that. So, you may take base pay of $500 week with a 20% tax rate. Every two weeks you write a $1000.00 check, deposit it and pay $200 to your self-employment taxes. Every dollar over that amount remains in operating account. As the business grows you can incrementally increase your salary.

3. Put your paydays on a calendar. And commit to paying yourself, even if it’s only $10.00. Do it. Celebrate your business, and yourself, with a tangible reward for two weeks of hard work. This pay must be in a paycheck. You are not going to live out of the till anymore. The money you earn between paydays stays in the operating account. Many entrepreneurs go through “petty cash” or take money directly from the business to pay personal expenses. This co-mingling is a nightmare for taxes and your personal finances.

The picture of the struggling entrepreneur working hard, starving even, until they make it big is the Cinderella story we love to read. But most small businesses grow slowly and incrementally. Those “overnight successes” we read about were likely in business for years before the “big break.” So, let’s pay ourselves, something, every other week in 2020. If you need a reminder, sign up for the Entre Pay Day newsletter at Entre Money Coach