Starting Small: A Declaration of Love to Small Business

Starting Small: A Declaration of Love to Small Business

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The first and only time I ever got fired, it was for starting a small business.

It happened like this. I was 23 years old, married, and a recent father. I was working for an electric sign company in Utah, where I planned on going back to school to finish my degree. I was never the greatest student, and didn’t find college all that stimulating, but what other choice did I have? I knew that I wanted to work for myself and have a successful career in business, but other than that my plans were … vague.

An unexpected opportunity arose when my boss suggested that I learn the sign business inside and out, move to Idaho, and start my own company. His largest customer at the time was Sinclair Oil, whom he invoiced for several hundred thousands of dollars a year. He helped me convince one of his contacts there to give me Sinclair’s Idaho business if I followed his advice and went out on my own.

Although Sinclair Oil never ended up being a meaningful account, it did serve as the tipping point that launched my career. I moved to Idaho and found a part-time job at another electric sign company while I arranged the licensing necessary for me to set up shop. After several months of working my part-time job, I was finally ready to take a shot at the American dream.

My aim was a little shaky at first. I’d penciled out my monthly expenses, and determined that if I continued to work part-time at my current place of employment, and if my wife continued her crappy full-time job, we could keep paying the bills even if my foal of a company stumbled right out of the gate.

I got fired two weeks later.

Understand, I was upfront with my boss from the beginning. We’d hammered out a deal in which I’d work three days a week for him, and three days for me. I was frank about my intentions to start a new sign business. He agreed. Half a month a passed, and he called me into his office in a rage. He said that another employee had spotted me working on a sign out of my pickup truck the previous Saturday and, worse, that the name of my new company was brazenly advertised on the side of the truck! What in the hell was I thinking?

I reminded him of our earlier conversation, but he shrugged me off and said that as I was only in my early twenties, he hadn’t believed I was serious. He advised me to give up immediately, return to a full-time position at his company, and repentantly climb my way up the ranks there. When I rejected his offer, he fired me on the spot.

That night was probably the defining moment of my life. I had a black-and-white decision to make: I could throw in the towel and return to college and an uncertain future in Utah, or suck it up in Idaho and make my small business a thing. Student or CEO?

The second one had a ring to it.

At the end of my first month as a bona fide entrepreneur, I tallied the numbers, subtracting all my expenses from the amount of money I’d invoiced, and somewhat blankly realized that the gross profit was $8,000. Somewhat more blankly, I multiplied that number in my head by 12 and realized that if I kept up the pace, I’d make $100,000 in a year. I nearly fainted. It looked as if my gamble for independence might pay off.

It’s a holiday, so I won’t detain you with war stories from the old days. But as a brother or sister entrepreneur, I know you understand what it means to look back at the beginning of your path and reflect on where it’s taken you.  I remember hustling business by driving around at night noting which electric signs needed repair, I remember begging clients to pay me early so that I could make payroll, I remember watching brand-new signs fly out of pickup beds and pulling all-nighters to repair them. It was intense and hard and scary, and I frequently felt insane, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

I’m sure you can relate.

Small businesses have driven the U.S. economy from its founding, and that’s still true today. But if the importance of small businesses is the same, the obstacles involved have increased dramatically—regulations, taxes, financing complexity and more.

I’m grateful that I quickly realized taking care of my business’s credit profile was one thing I actually had control over, and that it could solve big business challenges.

That’s why Nav helps business owners access and understand their personal and business credit data for free, and streamlines access to financing products they’re most qualified for.

When business owners qualify for affordable financing, they hire more people and confidently run and grow sustainable businesses. The economy thrives and quality of life improves for hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. as a result. We need you to succeed, and so does the country.

Happy Independence Day.

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About the Author — Levi King is co-founder and CEO of Nav, a free way for business owners to manage their entire credit and financial life. King is a six-time entrepreneur who has started successful businesses in the manufacturing, hospitality, retail financial services, and franchising spaces. He has accessed financing more than 30 times and founded Nav to provide small-business owners with a resource to help ease the process.

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