Self-employed or an enterprise: Which are you building?

I had a matter-a-fact conversation with a  new acquaintance – a business woman. She was serving me, and while we waited for my product to be ready, she mentioned that she had just finished a shift at the supermarket. You see, while she and her husband “owned and ran a shop”, they both had other jobs. She worked at a supermarket most afternoons, and cleaned two mornings per week, while once a week he drove hire buses. She was also an apprentice in the store, working and studying, so she could be soon qualified to work in be store alone. She also “did the books”. He, clearly handy with code, had written their store’s unique (and complicated) point of sale system.

In that brief ten minute interaction, I was impressed with these two local hardworking business owners. It’s not clear to me, what their long term goals were. Were they content with their one shop? Did they hope to develop their business further so that they could eventually own more stores? Maybe even branch to become a franchise? But it was their dedication to building their business, and their willingness to take part-time and casual work while still running the shop, was an excellent and grounding reminder of what it takes to build a business.

I believe there are at least two different ways to build a business. There’s the person who builds or creates for themselves a job. They work, accumulating enough clients over time to generate a wage. The trade-offs are lifestyle (more time with family, not having to worry about 9 to 5 in many instances), and a degree of freedom to run the show you want. The cost however, is that once you are no longer offering that service, the business ceases to exist. Consultants and artists often fall into this category.

The second way is to build a business that eventually you personally do not have to run. You create an enterprise that you can dispose of in the future. The cost here is an increased burden, you will more than likely need a staff, you will have to invest time into building organisational infrastructure like policies and procedures across human resources, quality control, finance, marketing. The pay off is that you create an asset, one that can be sold or bequeathed.

Both models of business are valuable, and both are businesses. When you’re choosing what type of business you want to be in, it’s more than just choosing sole-trader, partnership, or company, it’s about your vision.

Ask yourself what do you want to create? What do you want to leave behind?  How do you want to live?