(Bear with me through this fairly self-indulgent article for quite a good bit near the end.)
Last Wednesday, I had five straight hours of intense Zoom calls.
Thursday was all about cashflow forecasts and budgeting for 2021.
Yesterday, I had to deal with a medium-size cockup that made the company look bad.
None of these things are what I’m best at, or what I enjoy most. Both of those honours would go to writing – of which I’m currently managing 20 minutes per day (because I have it ingrained as a daily habit to do first thing in the morning).
But hang on a minute. I’ve had some success as a writer. My hamster’s cage isn’t lined with torn up rejection letters from publishers. Actually I don’t have a publisher at all, yet I make money from my books and could probably make a full-time living from writing if I dedicated more time to it.
So why aren’t I doing it?
I get asked this a lot by people who know me reasonably well. To be honest, there are tough days when I ask it of myself. There are a few reasons:
The impact of a business is more tangible
To be satisfied with my work, I need to believe there’s some kind of point to it.
I’ve not set the bar particularly high on “the point”: helping people to invest in property isn’t exactly feeding the hungry.
But there is a bar: I have absolutely no interest in doing things that just make money and are completely neutral for other people. For example, day trading: one day you’ll make £1,000 and some combination of other people will lose £1,000. The next day, the same will happen in reverse. So what?
Writing a book can help people make positive changes, but you rarely get to know about the impact – and when you do, really it was them doing all the work and you just happened to give them a push at the right time.
Building a business makes a difference more directly: it “feels real”. And on top of that, you can see the impact you’re having on your employees and their families.
It gives incredible variety
Rather than my to-do list for a day looking like this:
“Write X words”
It looks like this:
- Review financial numbers
- Help three different people solve three completely different problems
- Try to come up with a solution for something that totally isn’t working
- Give input on the creation of a new system
- Meet two new people who have different knowledge from me and approach the world from a novel angle
- Think about time periods ranging from tomorrow to 10 years into the future
And that’s before accounting for all the new experiences that my particular business gives me – like learning to be on camera, presenting to large groups and touring exciting new developments.
Running a company is amazing for personal growth
Writers like to bang on about how hard writing is. And OK, it requires a lot of hard thinking and it can be frustrating. But c’mon, out of all the options in the world for earning money, are there many that are easier than sitting in a room on your own tapping on a keyboard?
I could publish a book or two every year without much stress, but without stress you can’t grow. Business forces me out of my comfort zone repeatedly, with the natural result that my comfort zone expands and I become more able to handle different situations.
I’m not saying it’s harder to start a successful business than it is to become a successful writer. I have no idea if that’s true, or if it’s even possible to say. I’m saying that the day-to-day experience of running a business is unarguably more taxing than the day-to-day experience of writing…and that’s (usually) a good thing.
Go with me on this strange analogy
Writing a book is like being pregnant then giving birth to an adult. You have all the pains and joys of the book developing inside you, but as soon as it’s published there’s nothing you can do to nurture or shape it. It’s out there in the world doing its own thing, people are reacting to it, and you’re mildly resentful that it seems to think a WhatsApp message on your birthday is sufficient recognition of everything you’ve done for it.
Growing a business is like giving birth to a normal human baby. In the early days, all you can do is focus on keeping it alive. Over time it can do gradually more and more on its own, and you can shape (to some extent) its character through the choices you make. Then you get sick of it and sell it. OK, that analogy should’ve ended sooner.
It’s an annoying truism of having children that they make the highs much higher, and the lows much lower. With children and in business, there are very few uneventful “OK” days: it’s constant drama and heartbreak and euphoria, then you realise somehow it’s not even 9am yet.
So that’s why I spend most of my time on business instead of writing. But I’m writing this for fun on a Sunday afternoon and I certainly wouldn’t agree to a Zoom call at this time, so writing is clearly still special to me.