Once upon a time I almost opened a muffin shoppe. Well, at least that’s what my Godfather called it. I imagined it as more of an artisan bakery – a dreamy space with wide plank wood floors and a chalkboard menu and stacks of thick white plates and sturdy mugs. I envisioned gleaming floor to ceiling wood-trimmed windows with flower boxes inviting passers-by to peek inside. I saw shelves of crusty breads and cake stands full of pastries and little pewter pitchers of half and half.
I had a name, and a business plan, and a menu complete with pricing. I’d all but chosen the flatware and to-go bags. I was completely in LOVE with this idea.
And yet, if I’d opened that shop, it would have been a travesty. Don’t get me wrong, I bake a killer muffin. (And coffee cake. And babka. And cheese danish.) And our little town sorely lacked the charm and delight an artisan bakery would bring.
But my reasons for wanting to open that “muffin shoppe” were all wrong. This dream surfaced during a time when I was done with a capital D with my 24-7-global-hyper-connected life at a big company and I was yearning for something small and beautiful that I could get my arms around. I wanted to drink in the aroma of cinnamon and vanilla and see brightly smiling faces peering into my pastry case. I wanted to brew strong coffee and serve it up to commuters heading into the office and tired mamas with toddlers in tow. I wanted brown paper packages tied up with string and a key to my own shop.
And while I may have loved that first spring morning when the store was bustling with happy customers, I would have lasted about 6 months before I got restless. Because it would have been a resting place for me, not a place where I could grow.
I’m not alone in experiencing the psychology that was behind my bakery dream. Many women who leave a corporate career to start their own business begin by thinking small. They follow their passion into business. They yearn for a connection with their customer. They subconsciously, or maybe even overtly, want a simpler life. These can be beautiful, noble, worthy longings. They can make perfect sense within the ever-increasing demands of a thriving home life. And they are incredibly common.
In fact, according to Forbes, “Many women start businesses that align with personal values and offer freedom and flexibility when it comes to things like scheduling.” But I’d argue that unless that business allows the entrepreneur to earn a living, build new skills, and express her creativity every single day, then she might be better off instead taking a sabbatical to immerse herself in a hobby or her home life until she is recharged and ready to tackle the next worthy challenge.
Otherwise, she may find that her business actually IS a hobby, a rather expensive and time-consuming one, barely paying for itself, and certainly not enabling her to earn a living. Businesses, even muffin shoppes (okay, especially muffin shoppes) are a lot of work. Unless you’re prepared to invest in building systems and hiring help and delegating liberally, what is supposed to feel like your resting place will instead feel even more exhausting than the corporate life you left behind, and it will lack the paycheck to boot.
If you really want to earn a living by following your passion, you MUST train yourself think bigger. A 2014 American Express OPEN study says that “women-owned businesses have average annual revenues of just under $155,000, far less than the $400,000 figure of the typical privately held business.” And that’s REVENUE, not profit. The same study showed that when female entrepreneurs do pay themselves a salary (which they do just 41% of the time as compared with 53% of men), they earn barely $60,000. That’s respectable, but when you consider the corporate careers many of these entrepreneurs are leaving behind, it’s a substantial pay cut.
Future entrepreneurs: If you’re sitting in an office tower, romanticizing and falling in a love with a business idea of your own, please, please, please ask yourself to dream bigger. Start a business, not a hobby. If you need a break from your corporate life, then take one and rest up so you can play big when you launch. Show us what you can really do. Hang a sign above your desk with this excellent reminder.