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Is starting a business an escape from the rat race?

  1. Kat Haylock

    Kat Haylock Community Editor Administrator

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    In Jerry Zucker’s 2001 movie Rat Race, six contestants race each other to New Mexico for the chance to win $2 million. In the end, competing in the race is a self-defeating pursuit. The money’s gone by the time they get there.

    At one point, Jon Lovitz is forced to explain why he manipulated his family into cancelling their holiday and stealing a car to join the race. “I do not,” he shouts emphatically, “want to work at Home Depot.”

    Real life is less dramatic of course, but our desire to escape the rat race is the same. When another Monday rolls around of cramming into a stuffy train or staring out over a stagnant office, everyone harbors a secret get-out plan.

    For countless forum visitors, starting up a business is their means of escape.

    As UKBF’s business owners will testify, having your own business can be a rewarding experience. Many of our users have been running businesses for ten or twenty years, and enjoy the challenges and freedom that comes with it.

    But starting up a business to escape something else is rarely a good idea. It can lead you to rush into decisions you haven’t thought through and blind you to business risk. Ultimately, you can end up gambling on something that’s untested, unfunded, and little more than a pipe dream.

    “How to start up a cafe with no experience”

    To our regulars, the businesses that tend to fall into pipe dream territory will be familiar.

    “How to start up a cafe with no experience” is one of our most frequently asked questions. It’s followed by threads on a similar vein: how to open a bar, a bookshop, a restaurant or a B&B.

    These businesses are all well-trodden ground in popular culture. The problem is, their portrayal tends to depict an image that’s far from reality.

    While no one would expect Black Books to trawl through the ins and outs of VAT registration or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to grapple with Google Ads, the shows tend to neglect one critical point about the characters’ businesses -- how hard it is to keep the damn thing open.

    “People get romantic about what opening a cafe is”

    Last year, I spoke to Karen, who’s better known on UKBF as Cafe Course.

    Karen started up Cafe Plum in London in 1997. She’d worked in the industry for a while, so opening up her own cafe felt like a natural progression. Back then, coffee shops were still a novelty -- this was a pre-Starbucks world.

    Twenty years on, Cafe Plum continues to thrive in a competitive market and has three central London locations. But Karen’s the first to acknowledge that the dream of opening a cafe is very different to the reality.

    “People get romantic about what opening a cafe is,” Karen said. “They think it’s all about coffee and being creative and chatting to people. It’s superficially sociable, because you say hello to your regulars but that’s as far as it goes. It can be quite lonely and people don’t expect that.”

    If you’re starting up your own cafe, you’ll need to be realistic and have a good grip on your budget. You’ll need to know how much you’re making from day one -- and have enough funds in the bank to tide you over if you’re not making enough.

    You’ll also need to get to grips with things like VAT, national insurance, business rates, and HMRC straight away.

    Karen talks about working sixteen-hour days, seven days a week. When she came home at night, there was still bookkeeping to do.

    “It was a challenge,” she says. “I was fully expecting hard work, but it was very, very hard work.”

    “I think I want to get out of the rat race and run a guest house”

    One of the most frequently quoted reasons for businesses failing is that founders focus on building the business and not solving a problem for other people.

    It’s fine to start a business because you want to move on to something new. But it’s crucial that you’re solving a market need, especially if you’re entering an oversaturated market.

    When one recently surfaced thread uttered the immortal “I think I want to get out of the rat race and run a guest house”, other small business owners were quick to emphasise that starting up in the hospitality industry is tough.

    “The UK has some of the most beautiful, independent inns and B&Bs in the world,” Chawton said. “It’s partly because of the wealth of historic, characterful buildings we have in the country, and partly because of the serious operators who’ve entered the market. This has set an incredibly high standard and one which, if you’re a one-man band, is extremely hard to consistently hit.

    “Unless you’re a destination for food, a destination for decadence or within spitting distance of a major tourist attraction, then it’s something you should avoid doing. Or you’ll need to be in a position where you won’t be reliant on it for income.”

    “It’s all a rat race!”

    Like the Rat Race characters who chase after an unachievable dream, getting out of the rat race isn’t as simple as reaching an exit door or finding the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Starting up on your own can be exhilarating and fulfilling. Maybe running your own cafe will be exactly what you’re looking for.

    But don’t let the fantasy of a cosy coffee shop or coastal hotel stop you from doing your market research, looking hard at the figures, getting industry experience and running an unbiased analysis of whether your venture will succeed.

    Most of all, see your move for what it is -- just business.

    “Business is business,” The Byre says. “Whether you’re running a radio station, a TV studio, a guest house or a news agency, the gig is the same.

    “Staff issues. VAT and other tax issues. Cash flow. Quality issues. Competition. Stock control. Pilfering. Customers complaining. Suppliers complaining. Suppliers not supplying. Equipment breaking down.

    “Everyone who dreams of the guesthouse, pub, bar, restaurant -- whatever -- as the great retirement plan seems to forget one thing. It's all a rat race!

    “If you don't like the rat race, you shouldn't have been born as a rat!”

  2. jim_gold

    jim_gold UKBF Regular Full Member

    429 83
    Good article. Whether it is escaping from the rat race or not, if the buyer is thinking from the outset about how he/she might be able to exit (sell) the business, then this could result in a proper escape a couple of years down the track. I've seen many people starting or buying a small business, working hard to build sales and profits, and then realise an attractive gain upon successful sale - often enough to retire upon.
    Posted: Nov 26, 2018 By: jim_gold Member since: Dec 5, 2007
  3. Julia Sta Romana

    Julia Sta Romana UKBF Contributor Free Member

    99 30
    I agree. Running a business is no vacation. You have to put in the work. You have to deal with a lot of people. There are so many things you need to worry about. Being your own boss isn't as easy as most people believe. When you're an employee, you can leave your work behind as soon as you clock out. As long as you deliver on your responsibilities, you don't really have to worry about everything else. But when you're a business owner, you have to worry about your business 24/7.
    Posted: Nov 26, 2018 By: Julia Sta Romana Member since: Apr 18, 2017
    Kat Haylock and Jessica A. like this.
  4. ViktorijaS

    ViktorijaS UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    12 0
    I agree that whatever you do needs to fill certain need. In some cases people do not know what they want so you need to be creative when starting a business.
    Whatever you decide to do, make sure you love it because it will become a big part of your life!

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    Posted: Dec 11, 2018 By: ViktorijaS Member since: Dec 11, 2018

    ÜZEYİR UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    Bir iş kurmak o kadar kolay değil
    Posted: Jan 25, 2019 By: ÜZEYİR Member since: Jan 25, 2019
  6. Oui Madam

    Oui Madam UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    5 1
    Swopping the daily commute and stale office air, though 9-5pm has many benefits if a regular income is the dominating factor for an individual. I think the statistics are that most start-ups fail during the first year, so doing the homework and been totally realistic is something I would highly recommend.
    Aside from the joy and self-fulfillment of running your own business, is the 24 hr roller coaster of never switching off and responsibility for everything from branding to ROI. Whilst you may be the key decision maker, it is a lonely life with no-one to bounce ideas off or understand your business as well as you do. Whilst you may have customers coming through the door, those relationships are business relationships so you cannot relate to them in the same way as you would your work colleagues.
    Before taking the plunge, its worth starting up a part-time venture and learning the ropes before diving in with both feet
    Posted: Feb 4, 2019 By: Oui Madam Member since: Jan 30, 2019
    Lara15 likes this.