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November 25, 2009

Why Did You Go Into Business?

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tags: , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 2:08 pm

from a LinkedIn question asked by my friend Christopher Richards. I think this is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves. In “Success in 2010,” our annual plan workshop, the first question is, “Why are you in business?” It completely stumps some people! But once you answer that, it really helps you to organize your business to give you what you want.

Here’s my answer:

I went into business by accident. I was at a party. I overheard these two engineers talking about a project they’d gotten to produce a big conference for Jet Propulsion Labs. They were puzzled how they were going to handle the group interaction, which wasn’t their strength.

I butted in and said, “I could do that for you.” I ended up as #3 guy on the project, which went really well, and we were offered follow-on conferences. The two engineers said, “This really isn’t our thing; we’re turning this over to you.” So there I was, sole owner of a technical conference production company, with up to ten employees.

Since that time, I’ve only had one “real job” (i.e., one with paid vacation), when I made the mistake of going to work for my best client. That lasted two years. Since then I’ve owned an export management company (which lasted till Japan’s economy went in the tank), and my current company, The Business Group.

I’m in business because I like to create and organize big things. Yes, I like the money, and yes, I like contributing to others, but those aren’t the main drivers.

At heart I’m a teacher and  communicator and organizer, and my businesses have all been designed as venues for me to exercise these strengths in various ways.

And to schedule time off when I want it.

Oh yes, then there’s the fact that I’m such a hard-headed, autonomous sumbeech that no employer could long put up with me!


  1. Great question. There were two main elements that launched me into entrepreneurship: 1) I was beginning to hate my job and I could see my career path was diverging into “leave soon” or “get fired later.” 2) Having been an editorial staffer for 10 years, it was obvious that truly reliable freelancers were few and far between, and I figured that represented an opportunity. (I was right.)

    Now that I’ve been on my own for longer than I spent in the corporate world, the reasons for staying in business for myself have evolved much along those you state: freedom, challenge, money, and the fact that I would make the world’s worst employee!

    Comment by Jake P — December 5, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

  2. Thanks, Jake
    I like your name, “Boomvang Creative.” A tiny adjustment to the boomvang makes a huge difference to sailing performance.

    However, on your website, you don’t seem to take advantage of that aspect of your brand in your messaging. (Sorry, I can’t help being a business advisor!)

    Comment by mvh — December 5, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

  3. Mike,
    After deeming myself unemployable many years ago, I started working one-to-one with “solopreneurs” and entrepreneurs on their small business marketing. For me, it’s the satisfaction knowing that people are better off as a result of my work and that I’m making a difference in their business.

    Comment by Roberta Guise — December 16, 2009 @ 8:59 pm

  4. Yes, that’s right, Roberta. How many of us are like this? We start our own business because we feel nobody would hire us. Then we pursue our passion, which gives us the satisfaction of a worthwhile job well done. You know what? We’re right. Nobody would hire us to pursue our passion. If we get a job, it’s to help pursue somebody else’s passion.

    So it behooves us as people whose passion is providing worthwhile services to others to learn how to run our businesses in an efficient, productive, and profitable way, so that we can make the largest contribution to the most people.


    Comment by mvh — December 16, 2009 @ 11:10 pm

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