Running a small business when retired. It’s what lots of retired people do, apparently. Admittedly in our case it’s running the gardening business of our son who’s in Australia. He’s still waiting to hear from the authorities whether they will give him a work visa so he can take up the offer of a job. We can’t really see why they should, given their visa system, unless it’s because they admire his boyish charm, aka, bare-faced cheek. But it is Australia, in our experience, they do things differently. It’s their country so I guess they can do what they like. Anyway it’s been dragging on for months and months and, in the meantime, we have felt obliged to keep the business going, on wing and prayer though this may be. Throw into the equation the fact that I have made a gentlemanly commitment to our one remaining gardener that we would employ him for two years and we’re only one year into that ‘contract’ and you can see we’re a bit stuck either in profit or loss. No surprise, at times it’s definitely been the latter. Far from making a profit, some weeks we are paying the wages out of our own money. Hmm, I don’t know much about running a small business but isn’t the idea that you’re supposed to make a profit?
It should all be so simple. Mr Micawber like, you know, income greater than expenditure, result happiness; expenditure greater than income, result, misery. When we decided we would take on running the business a year ago, so that if the dear boy’s visa application failed, which to be honest, we were sure it would, still are, we wanted for him to have something to come back to. If he didn’t we could see how this would rebound in a bad way on us. My simple version of Mr Micawber’s ‘law’ was – if profit outweighed stress generated, we would continue to business; if stress outweighed profit we would wrap up the business. So simple, so why given that the amount of stress is huge and the amount of profit is thus far small, why the hell are we carrying on with the whole caboodle?
The first part of the equation is simple, as people who we tell about losing money, think we are, they look at us with pity and puzzlement – why are you carrying on with this? So, OK, we’re not making much money, let me see if I can describe to you dear reader and to myself, how the stress part of the equation has come to pass. And it’s not easy. Where to start? I’ll start with the problems we’ve had with employing a second worker. Throughout the winter, there was just enough work to keep our one guy on. Come spring well we would just take on another worker. How difficult can that be? Answer, extremely fucking difficult. In a number of ways. First, we did not feel able to take on anybody as this person would be working side by side with our number one guy. This meant he would need to be the person who did the employing (interviewing sort of thing). But as the work picked up he reckoned he didn’t have time to do this. So for the first month or so, no additional worker. He would complain he had too much work, we would say why don’t you take on somebody else, he would say, I’m too busy to do that but we (Mrs Summerhouse and I) couldn’t do it – see above.
Meanwhile number one son is giving us ear-ache because, with only one guy working, we’re not making any money. Catch 22 has nothing on running this small business. We’re trying to persuade our guy to take on somebody, see above, return to go, do not collect £200, or indeed any other money. But I’ll come back to this part of the business. Some person contacts me on Facebook (the business has its own Facebook page) looking for work. I tell our guy about it, he’s not interested. Not sure why. About two months or so later, by a process we have no understanding of, it appears we are employing another person. We think he is a friend of number one son’s. Our number one guy isn’t thrilled but seems prepared to give him a trial. Over a period of two weeks he works for three days. His reasons for a somewhat patchy attendance record were – he had an interview (that’s nice) and he wasn’t feeling well. Exit worker number one.
Enter worker number two, also, and this didn’t bode well, a friend of number one son’s. He had an interesting approach to ‘working’. He wanted to work 3 long days and then take two off but he wanted paying overtime for the three days they worked until 9 o’clock. Result three long days, big wage bill and unhappy main guy who did not want to work until 9. After one week of this I decided no way with the overtime, either work 5 normal days or f— off. He f—ed, off telling us he’d got 9 day’s work lined up at a £100 a day. OK, fine, so after three weeks number two guy disappears. Will he return? I doubt it.
But is that light I see at the end of tunnel or merely another on-coming train? Our number one permanent guy has a friend who has a proper job and who works shifts so every fortnight he can work for us from two until 7 or some such, don’t ask me exactly, we just pay the wages. This has been very useful and now it transpires that this guy is in danger of being sacked from his proper job. All of us (myself, Mrs SH and number one guy) are hoping that he gets the sack so he can work for us on a more permanent basis. And if you wanted an example of what running this business is doing to my moral principles, this is it. Wanting a guy to get the sack so he can ease our problems. This is low, but we’re still hoping. Add to the stress column – having to buy a new lawn mower, an irreparable blower, bill for £1100 to get van through MOT and more – and you see why I wake in the middle of the night sweating or is that just the heat? No, it’s not just the heat.
Just in case you were thinking this all sounds quite bad let me throw into this melting pot something even worse. Yes, it is possible. People aren’t paying. Not all people true, but a significant number. Most of our ‘normal’ regulars pay up, it may take a while, but most of them cough up. Our contracts with estate agents and landlords don’t. In order to take a little weight off Mrs SH and our number one guy, I have taken on responsibility for contacting the 7 contracts we have and sending out invoices. I started this, new to me, task a couple of months ago. I need to keep this blog brief because I’m well over a 1000 words and frankly, it pains me to write about it. Waking up in the middle of the night and worrying about it is enough. The results went like this – 1) First landlord died but his solicitor paid the £500, a result, unfortunately the only one so far. 2) Estate agent X, paid a bill outstanding for a year (we forgotten about it), unfortunately paid it into wrong account, so money went into number one son’s account, not to us and business account. We won’t see that again, I’m betting. 3) To one property company, sent bill as email, they immediately emailed me back asking for proper invoice and proof of company’s public liability insurance (why didn’t they ask for this before we did the work, I wonder?), they didn’t dispute bill. I send as requested, have heard nothing since (about two weeks ago). From the remainder I have had absolutely no response at all. Just from these ’clients’, well over £2,000 worth of outstanding money owed. At 1,400 words, I’ll stop there, you get the idea.
I tell you it’s enough to make a man wish he were retired, living a quiet life somewhere in the country.