The Last 8 Years Were Pretty Good for Many Entrepreneurs
Oh, it was no walk in the park, but the structural transformation begun in 2008 has offered opportunity, too.
This is not a political piece. Well, it's unpolitical as much as any can be said to be about anything written in our post-fact, accusation-as-condemnation and everything-is-emotionally-charged world. Some facts do remain while others are opinions, yet the truth, it would appear, is in the eye of the beholder. It's hard not to get political in such a climate, but I just wanted to look back on the last eight years, which were for me, and many other entrepreneurs, pretty fruitful.
So, I will stay away from politics except for raging against the Mayans for convincing me the world was going to end five Decembers ago, which naturally prompted me to borrow six figures from Joey "The Mackeral" MacInosh at usurious vig because, well, I reasoned that once the world ended I would finally be debt free.
Let's go back in time.
Just a little over eight years ago, the U.S. was plunged into an abyss that’s been dubbed the Great Recession. Great, as in really, really awful; not great, as in I just put on a pair of jeans from the dryer and found $20 in the pocket. Wallstreet was bailed out and even the once mighty "Big 3" automakers needed a loan to stay a float. Well, except for Ford that neither asked for or needed a loan, and for Chrysler because it’s tough to argue that it was still one of the "Big 3."
My clients cancelled contracts, prospects dried up, and on October 15, 2010, I was summarily dismissed from a company for which I had busted my hump for nine, often grueling and torturous years. (OK: anyone who worked for me there just laughed at me so hard they sprayed iced tea out their noses.)
But, I was unemployed for a mere six weeks. Actually, I was offered a job the Monday after Thanksgiving and was told to report for work after the first of the year. There, I helped to found Rockford Greene International, a company a friend had incorporated just a couple of months earlier. During those six weeks, I was busy with small contracts, but ones big enough to pay for Rockford Greene International’s initial start up expenses.
We launch into uncertain seas.
Things looked grim when an inexperienced senator from Illinois won the oval office, and there were a lot of people preaching doom and gloom. But it never came to pass. In a matter of months things picked up, and soon Rockford Greene International was almost to the point of turning away work. Almost. To be sure, there were entrepreneurs who didn’t fare as well, but that is true in any economy; if you don’t believe me ask the people selling whaling harpoons or Betamax recorders.
It's true, too, that for those working in domestic oil and gas, things haven’t been all that great, either. But, again, that is true in any economy. And, uh, likewise, the ice industry... As it turns out, I guess, when it comes to entrepreneurship, there are only the quick and the dead.
If you aren’t catching fish, don’t blame the boat.
Another reality is that poorly run businesses can survive and even thrive in boom times, but poorly run businesses will almost certainly fail when the economic climate turns darkness. It’s a natural, almost Darwinian necessity that companies with poor quality, unsafe working conditions, demoralized workers and water-headed managers must go the way of the mighty T-Rex -- the dinosaur, not the 1970s glam rock band (they're eternal). Such companies were artificially propped up by excessive demand and when the demand disappeared so did they, as well they should.
The Great Recession scared a lot of companies which quickly divested themselves of all but the most necessary employees and began outsourcing all work that they could no longer do inhouse. It was bad news for the employees who were laid off, but great news for small companies that specialized in a given business service, which in my particular case was worker safety, training and organizational development.
The Great Recession had a sobering effect on businesses. It left them wondering whether Obama’s policies would further damage the economy, and many business owners were reluctant to hire new workers. Wages and benefits were slashed, and many people were forced to take unpaid furlough days. Even so, the work, what little dribbled in, still needed to get done.
Sailing with a skeleton crew.
Now understaffed companies found themselves scrambling to find people to fill incoming orders. The long predicted “gig” economy became reality, and for many entrepreneurs this was a period of unprecedented prosperity and growth. For many of us who made money, we wondered when the other shoe would drop: When would our customers realize that they could have hired us, three times over, for what they had paid us in fees?
But it never did. Even as the politicos argued over job growth and a stagnate economy, entrepreneurs kept plugging along, cashing checks and finding themselves with a measure of security heretofore unheard of. We even found ourselves projecting beyond the usual five-day window of continued existence through which the entrepreneur typically views the world.
Pundits screamed that Obama’s second term would be horrific for entrepreneurs, and yet things just seem to get better for me and my coterie of entrepreneurs. The world, if not our oyster, was at least our clam or some other slimy mollusk. Sure the entrepreneurial opportunities shifted and changed like sand in the surf, but the world didn’t end. Not Mayan, anyway. We entrepreneurs floated merrily along.
Who knows what the next decade will bring? I don't know, but for now I prefer to sit back and reflect on the last eight-plus years; ones that were supposed to bring nothing but grief and suffering. And by the way, thanks Obama.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer