When did you (almost) lose your passion for business?

When did you (almost) lose your passion for business?
Photo by Javier Allegue Barros / Unsplash

I was an average 24-year-old man, freshly laid off from my corporate job, I started my own marketing company. A local business owner took interest and offered me a job. I had a lot to learn about running a business, and after 6 months I was broke and took the job.

The pay was a 1/5th of what I was making at my last job, but after being moved 3 states away and laid off, there was no way I was going back to another corporate job. I learned how to get ahead once, I could do it again. The owner (54M) talked about how he wanted to retire and had no kids. I was the only employee, and my plan was to become a partner and take over the business.

My background was corporate sales and I have a knack for process optimization and technology. The business's processes were all out of wack and were using software older than me. For the first year, I was only allowed to do busywork. For each task I was given, I found a better way to do it. This frustrated and intrigued the owner.

After a year the owner agreed to sit down and hear my take on the business. I explained we couldn't handle any new business. It took 7 months to sell the customers and 5 months to complete the orders. I compartmentalized the business and showed how we needed 4 additional people to handle the workload that the owner and I were doing. 1 Manager (Me), 1 Salesperson (was Shared), 1 Support / Graphic Designer (was Me) and, 1 Accountant (was Shared).

After that, I showed expected salaries and a timeline showing when each hire would become profitable. I forecasted about 2 months after they were trained, we would break even with new sales. At this, the owner balked and said, "People just don't pay that well around here." I said, "You're right, which is why we're going to get the best talent and be able to hit these forecasts."

The owner was genuinely on board as we finished up my plan to upgrade the software and cut down the processing time. I went home satisfied and vindicated, glad that the owner heard my plan and valued my input.

The next morning, I walk in and the owner sits down next to me and says. "I liked what you said and it's a good plan, but we're not gonna do it. I'm too old for big changes and I'm no good at managing people. But I am going to have you optimize the process and upgrade the software."

I was crushed but agreed, I was given a raise and went home to work on my own business.

For the next 6 months, I was micro-managed at every stage with the upgrade and optimizations, all the while continuing my normal tasks. Once finished our workload and data entry were down by 80%. It was everything I wanted it to be, simple, user-friendly, and scalable.

About a month in using the new system I went to the owner to ask for another raise. I knew the value of what I created, and I wanted to see if the owner would give my first idea another look.

A while into the meeting it was clear the owner was playing dense, so I came out and said, "How much would you have paid for this system?" the owner responded, "Exactly what I paid you." and I said, "Do you think that's fair? Don't you think I went above and beyond my wage on this?"

Eventually, the owner says this. "Don't take this the wrong way, but you're an employee. I pay you hourly to work. If you choose to do more than you feel you're paid to, that is a benefit to me. Not to you, I don't owe you anything. I've always paid you on-time"

I was floored, I quit. But for some crazy reason, I agreed to work an additional 6 months to train my replacement and the owner on the new software I was given a small raise to compensate for my decision to stay. 6 months go by and I hold up my end of the bargain, I quit without incident.

Another 6 months go by working in my freelance marketing company and I have minor successes. I am getting married and I need to pay for the wedding. Neither of our families has much money so I bite the bullet and ask for my old job back.

This time the owner is back to what I remember, helpful, kind, and good-spirited. We go back to being the team I fell in love with. Alongside my handpicked replacement this is everything I wanted. The owner lends me the money for the wedding and things are perfect. The owner even rethought my plan and is calling it their "retirement plan."

We do it, I hire the people, earn their trust, fight for a fair wage for them. I train everyone personally, show patience, and care. We hit my forecast in 1 month, exactly to plan, minus my "maybe I'm wrong" buffer. Sales are higher than ever before, the workload is balanced and people are saying this is the best job they've ever had. I start to relax, we did it.

I'm still making the same amount as when I left, but like everyone's saying. This job is worth it. I start grabbing breakfast before work and routinely show up about 5 mins late. I felt this is fair because I usually stay late to tie off any loose ends the team has leftover. This goes on for about 3 weeks until I walk in and everyone has a letter on their desk.

"All employees are expected to be at their desk ready to work by 9:00 am. If an employee is late 3 times in a calendar year they will be terminated on the spot." "Breaks are 10mins each and are to be taken from 10:00 - 10:10 and 3:00 - 3:10. This is also the only time bathroom breaks are permitted."

I am beyond furious, I walk into the owner's office and yell, "You can't be serious, you expect 5 people to share a single bathroom in a span of 10 mins, that's bullshit, and you know it."

The owner explains how they've been listening to us laughing and having a good time while he pays all the bills. "This is hard work and I hope one day you know what it's like to sit in this chair and pay the bills." "But everything is paid for!" I scream. "We made you x amount of dollars in one month in new business!"

We go on yelling for the next 10 mins and it ends with me saying, "Do you really intend to enforce this letter?" "Yes," The owner replies. "Then I quit, and I'm leaving Friday."

Friday comes and the owner throws a party for me leaving, complete with a cake with my business's name in the icing. Tears all around, me included. It was the hardest, suckiest thing that I've been through. This has seriously soured me to ever pour my heart into something again. Even my own business.

TLDR; I poured my heart out for a company twice and was treated like crap, even worse I brought people into a situation that turned really bad.

But, I always knew this, the owner was at their ceiling, as high as he could go. Many would see his success and be satisfied. I think there's something more to business. A feeling I don't know how to explain, a longing for something more eternal. Something that is good forever, not ebb and flow with someone's mood.

Many feel like the American dream is dead, some circles think it was a ploy to create obedient workers. I'm not sure, but I worry for my generation.

Written by Cody W Tucker

Eternal optimist. Founder of TMV Social and Nebraska's Best business directory.
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