For most of my adult life I always believed that running my own business was the way to go, so as early as 1986, I started my own accounting software consulting business. I had no accounting training but I had an absolute passion for computers.
I was excited about the possibilities and that green screen captured my imagination. In those days the computers were still running on the DOS operating system. I remember getting my first modem and marveling at how I could connect with people across the world just by logging in. Some of you may remember the sound the modem made as it made a connection to the internet. That sound represented the dream of freedom for me. Little did I realize that it would take many years before that dream came true.
I did several accounting and business courses throughout the next few years to get myself educated while I was running the business.
After a few years, my then-husband asked if he could join the business and I said yes. That was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. Working together in a business is very hard on a marriage particularly if the marriage is already faltering.
For eight years, that business kept me alive and provided me with a basic income but the stress was debilitating. When you are installing accounting software on client’s systems and they keep changing the goal posts, or the systems don’t work, the pressure to get it solved is enormous. There were days when I would get very little sleep trying to resolve problems for clients.
One of the biggest challenges is that at that point I was not very technically capable and some of the problems were caused by operating system conflicts. Other problems were caused by my lack of business experience and my acceptance of certain projects that I should never have taken on.
In one particular case I took on an installation of a huge accounting software for a huge organization and there was just me doing the installation. I had no comprehension of how to manage a project of that size and I paid dearly for that. The CEO was brutal with me. The operating system they were running on was incompatible with Great Plains but I did not have the experience to fix that or handle it. What I did not know at the time was that the company was also in serious financial trouble, which explained the CEO’s stress levels. Combined with an accounting system that was not working and his sales that were not happening as predicted, this poor guy was in serious trouble especially considering the fact that he had major investors to answer to. I will never forget the day he screamed at me in front of his staff and told me what a useless **** I was. When the company finally closed its doors I was an emotional and physical wreck.
Another huge problem was that despite me making some reasonable money each month with the business, I never saved any of it. Whatever I had, I spent. So when the business finally took a nose dive I was in serious trouble.
The company that owned the accounting package that constituted 80% of our sales changed its sales policy. Instead of selling the product outright to customers, they decided to go for an annual licensing option. So each year the customer would have to pay a renewal fee to use the software. The management of this company made the decision unilaterally without discussing it with their Value Added Resellers. When we had a meeting with the management, the CEO had this to say “We have the customer over a barrel with their stomachs exposed”.
I was horrified at the lack of ethics, but I was stuck. This particular package represented 80% of my turnover. I had nowhere else to go at that point. The learning curve associated with getting to know a new accounting system is steep and takes time to master.
Within one month my turnover dropped by 80% and I was in it deep. For about a year and a half, I tried to make it work. I took on the accounting software Great Plains, attended all the training courses and then got my first client. That client was the client I mentioned above.
The business crashed. And it took me down with it personally. I was sequestrated (declared bankrupt) and lost everything. My house, my car, every insurance policy and asset was taken away. I had not just hit the bottom of the barrel; I had fallen through the bottom of the barrel into the slime below.
During that time the added stress levels contributed to the already faltering marriage and that crashed and burned too.
So there I was, alone with two children to take care of and absolutely nothing to show for the eight years of busting my gut to get this business profitable.
Shortly after this, a colleague from another consulting firm approached me and asked if I would become a director of his company. I was over-joyed at the opportunity. Perhaps now I could rebuild my life. I should have known better.
My naiveté in business left me wide open for this. I should have done a due-diligence on the company. If I had I would have found out that they were in deep trouble. The Managing Director slid himself out at just the right time and left myself and the other directors to deal with the mess.
So after another two years of trying to get the company profitable, it too crashed and burnt. I was devastated. It left me with terrible doubts about my own abilities and it crushed my self-confidence almost to the point of no return. For years I was convinced that it did not matter what I did, it would always turn to mud.
To be continued ….
A sneak preview of my new book “The Sweet Smell of Success”.