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Photo: Connection
Photo: Connection
January 10, 2022 8:40 AM CST

Building More: The Fine Line.


A hundred feet in the air, standing on a 1” steel cable. There are hundreds of people watching. Holding their collective breath as you begin your journey across. Some of those watching want you to fall. There are no safety nets this time. It is do or die. 

As you take your first step, the cable begins to shake. Why did I do this? What am I doing? This was a mistake. All the doubts flood in as you look around at all the faces. They are staring at you like you have grown a second head. You can read their minds. Why would he try this? Do you think he will make it?

This is precisely how starting and running a business feels—walking a fine line with no safety nets. It is a thrill ride like no other. 

Around 20 years ago, a chance statement significantly impacted my belief system. We were all sitting around, just having a few adult beverages, chewing the fat as people used to call it. One of the guys was proudly boasting that he had been self-employed since graduating high school. At the time, he had only been out of school five years, which is long enough but not earth-shattering. 

As often men do, we gave him a little pushback in the form of jokes, comments, and good old-fashioned prods. What ended the conversation was a random statement meant to be funny, and I will admit at the time it was, but it hit me with an irrevocable truth of self-employment. “There is a fine line between self-employed and unemployed, do you know which side you’re on?” 

Bingo! That is exactly what entrepreneurship is. A fine line where we put everything we have on the line almost daily. Much like the high wire walker in a circus. We must walk that line with confidence and discipline, or we will fail—much to the delight of some cynics around us. 

The most significant difference between the high wire walker and us doesn’t need to be different. The high wire walker practices, trains, studies, and learns from the walkers that came before him. Business owners, as a common practice, wing it. Can you imagine walking a high wire with no safety nets, training, or practice? Probably not a good result. This is why 20% of new businesses fail in the first year, 45% fail in the first five, and only 25% make it to ten. 

As you wake up tomorrow looking out over that 1” steel cable that lies before you, remember; you are not alone unless you choose to be. There are tons of resources out there for you to train, practice, and learn. Chances are, you already know someone, or of someone, that has already walked that fine line before you. They have a wealth of knowledge that you should be leaning on. 

I cannot tell you who you should listen to and who you shouldn’t, but here are a couple of thoughts on selecting.

  1. Diversify your peer group. Have a few business owners that you can lean on in different portions of their careers. I like to have a few that are just one step above where I am currently, one or two that are multiples of where I am, and a couple in the same position. As you grow, your network should change as well. If you are the largest contractor in your group of peers, you are the teacher more than the student. 

  2. Be careful of non-industry “gurus.” They do have some good insight on specific topics, but without direct construction experience and application, a good bit of their information is not a good idea. 

  3. Stop holding information. We have a long-standing issue with withholding information because we think it is proprietary or embarrassing. Both are false. Talk openly with who you trust. Honesty is the only way to get an honest answer. 

  4. The majority is often wrong. If the majority were right, the failing business numbers would be flipped. 

Training yourself and mastering aspects of the business will help stabilize your fine line. As you look upon the faces around you, wondering what you are doing, you will know that you are in control and on the right path. 

The fine line of an entrepreneur’s life doesn’t have to be navigated alone. Do you think the high wire walker is shooting from the hip halfway out?

About the Author

Corey Adams Is Vice President of Kelly Lang Contractors, Inc. He also speaks on entrepreneurship to trade schools, and is a Certified CE instructor.


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