Entrepreneurial Treadmill Can Be Sweat Or Joy

By Dan Nielsen The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Treadmills do not excite me. I'd much rather be breathing fresh outside air while I perspire, much rather watch trees slide by than watch someone else's shirttail slowly change from dry to wet, much rather feel dirt under my shoes than trudge atop an endless loop of plastic.

I don't mind sweating. It cleanses the pores, frees the mind. I just would prefer to sweat in a setting that adds to the joy of the moment.

Maybe that's the way entrepreneurs feel when they launch a project. They may not have enough cash to pay for a swanky office with a view of the bay, or a fast new computer or a leather executive chair with adjustable armrests and lumbar support. Instead, their limited budget decrees they rent a cramped basement office, get by with an 8-year-old computer and sit on a duct-tape-decorated refugee from the dumpster.

The work would be the same in either atmosphere. The expensive ambiance would just make the work more fun.

Unless an entrepreneur has a generous rich aunt or can arrange a bundle of financing, he or she likely will need to start out with a limited budget. What cash she or he can float needs to go toward whatever will make the business succeed. Product, employees, manufacturing space, contract services. Behind-the-scenes office furnishings don't matter nearly as much as grease for commerce. Cash on hand must be invested in whatever generates return.

The beginning entrepreneur must sweat it out on a treadmill of long hours, cramped office space and hard work.

For some, work itself is reward. Start a business revolving around a personal fascination, then spend every day working in that field. Income certainly is necessary to survive, but is just one factor in success. Personal happiness may be more important in the long run. These people are on a treadmill of success. The work itself is the goal, each work day an interesting journey.

For other entrepreneurs, work is merely a means to an end. Start a business in a field that doesn't hold any particularly interest, and spend every day working on tasks that are nothing more than work, nothing but a treadmill of repetition. For these folks, work is just work.

I've chatted with a wide range of successful small business owners in Traverse City during the past months. Most have a spark of personal appeal in their business endeavors that shows in their enthusiasm and in their entrepreneurial spirit.

A skateboard shop owner who loves skateboarding. A bookseller who loves to read. An outdoor gear dealer who loves to backpack. A clothing designer/dealer who loves to work with fabric. A brewer who delights in crafting and tasting nuanced beers. An industrial manufacturer who loves solving design problems. A motel owner who can imagine nothing more personally satisfying than helping travelers get a good night's sleep.

For these folks, a day on the entrepreneurial treadmill is an adventure worth repeating week after month after year. For them, it's not a treadmill. It's business exercise that takes them along a fascinating trail through beautiful forests, along sandy beaches and over snow-capped mountains. They look forward to each day's sweat as worthwhile in it's own right.

Entrepreneurs who choose a field of endeavor based solely on its potential for income must keep their eventual goal in mind every minute. Money. Retirement. The journey is a means to an end. The journey is not rewarding. The promised reward awaits at the end of the harrowing journey.

I'd like to say that my regular jaunt on the treadmill is as exciting as a work day for that first type of entrepreneur. It's not. For me, regular excursions on the endless belt sometimes seem truly endless. But those repeated sessions are a required part of the journey to my goal of better health. Sweat is just sweat when I'm on a treadmill. But that sweat must flow if I am to reach my eventual goal. The treadmill is a necessity.

I try to make use of my time atop the plastic belt to think. That's where the idea for this column originated. A drop of perspiration ran down my temple and inspiration struck.

But most treadmill sessions leave my body hot and my imagination cold. The only thing that keeps me going is the end goal -- a healthier body. My treadmill journey continues. It is far from over. Like those entrepreneurs who toil a lifetime in a field that doesn't particularly excite them, I will continue my trek on the endless loop. The reward will come in the form of more joyful summer treks across the dunes, more satisfying swims in the bay, more precise turns at Mt. Holiday.

My New Year's resolution is to keep on treadmilling.

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