Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
Shy and Retiring
By Mike Gould
Well, maybe not shy (except for a couple of brain cells - see below), but I have retired from the University of Michigan, my paycheck provider for the last 20 years or so.
Why? Because I was ready for a change, somewhat burnt out on the work I was doing, and have possibly deluded myself into thinking I can make a go of it with the income my various small businesses provide.
...I hear you politely ask. Bailing on a steady paycheck in the middle of the worst recession seen since the collapse of the fur trapping industry in Michigan? Well, yeah. I'm bailing but I'm not sure I'm nuts. Ya see, I got a plan.
Most of us people running small biz retire when we are too old to physically or mentally to do the work. We are generally in businesses we started, enjoy, and are loathe to give up. "I'll retire when they pry the mouse from my cold dead hands..."
And that is the case with me - I have a number of irons in the fire (commercial photography, web development, Mac consulting, and, um, writing this column) and will continue to work these, just fanning the coals a little harder. Well, a lot harder, as I have half my income to make up for.
What I am giving up is my fall-back position, my steady money independent of the vagaries of the availability of my various gigs. Time was, I would get up, go to work at the UM, get off at noon, and then hit the mouse, the keyboard, or the tripod. Now I get up, hit the coffee machine, and stagger down the basement stairs to my office to run my businesses. And I could do this in my pajamas, if I wore any. Except for the photography part. Never mind.
Why This is a Good Idea
This will force me to crank my act to a higher gear: amp up my promotional efforts, re-bait my hook (that is, re-do my web site, which is in bad need of an overhaul), and start beating the bushes for new clients, to mix an impressive number of metaphors.
You can tell I've been eating our own dogfood here: all the articles in the last few issues of BizMo have been chock-full of tasty tidbits and how-to's on surviving the current unpleasantness. I intend to go back over the last issues looking for helpful hints. (You should too.)
And then there is my (currently) secret plan: I am part of a start-up which we hope will be successful in the coming recovery. I can't get into the details yet, but I've had a pretty good idea which we are in the process of market-researching. The focus groups are enthusiastic, so this might be the ticket out of Ramen-Ville for me. Everybody loves to point out that a recession is a great time to start a business; by the time you are ready to market, the recession has receded and people will be lining up to buy what you are selling. We'll see.
But Aren't You Going To Be Awfully Poor?
Well, yeah, for a while, but fret not, concerned reader. I have some bucks in my TIAA-CREF account, my wife is still working, and our financial advisor Glenn thinks we have a fighting chance of regaining and maintaining our extravagant lifestyle. (Though I think I will have to sell the chalet in Aruba, the yacht in Miami and give up our yearly month's stay in our condo in Rio. Good thing I still have that $80K a year I make writing this column...)
A financial planner is a good thing to have. We hooked up with our local Ameriprise office years ago, and their planners (Sue, now Glenn) have been very helpful. My wife Salli got us into this as a benefit at her workplace, and it has made a big difference. I am not exactly a financial whiz (as you can tell if you have been reading this column for a while) and having someone who is at your side can make a big difference in how you're going to survive your life, let alone your retirement. If you are running a small business, you are probably already familiar with all this; if not, it's never to late to talk to someone about it.
My biggest regret is not having a planner when I hired into the UM 20 years ago. I signed up for TIAA CREF back then, and being ignorant, opted for the most conservative investment plan they offered. Thus I missed the entire go-go years of Wall Street in the 80's. Had I been a bit more savvy, my nest egg could have been ever so much bigger. I will say that TIAA CREF has recovered quite well from the recent bubble-blowing, and I may still get to enjoy my old age, if I live that long.
You see, I'm not really of an age to think about hanging it all up and going fishing. I'm an aging boomer, true, but I'm still hanging in there - thinking up new products, refining my skills, working my client base to the best of my ability and keeping my nose to the grindstone, my ear to the ground and my hopes up high, to mix yet another batch of metaphoria.
Living in Michigan, we are surrounded with a ton of available industrial infrastructure and skilled workers. When our new business gets off the ground, we hope to be using some of that.
Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.