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A Letter to My Three Sons on Being Self-Employed

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

My Self Employment Journey has been an amazing ride. Three months after graduating college in 1986, I took the first steps on this path, and I travel it to this very day. My Sons, if you choose to embark on the same Self-Employment journey, I can say with great confidence that you never be bored!

If you are looking for a challenge that will test your mettle, expose your weaknesses, force you to blaze new trails in uncharted territory – then start your own business or partnership.

Boys, you hold your future in your hands and all your desires are there for the taking. But please recognize now that the path ahead of you is not clear. You may only have clarity a mere step or two ahead of you, and often the next step to take is completely obscured. With both fear and courage, you must advance, using knowledge and experience to guide your business forward. Changes in the economy and political administrations will bring additional challenges and can force decisions down unintended routes. The bottom line for many Self-Employed: there is no preset ‘Connect the Dots’ playbook for doing anything connected to your business. Safety nets do not exist either. No pension. No employer-funded 401K plans. Limited governmental support. And no lobbyists fighting for you to keep things fair.

You stand alone. You either make it or you file for bankruptcy. It sounds harsh but these are the grim realities of Self-Employed entrepreneurship.

Large companies are a different story. Some are too big to fail and are propped up by governmental influence and taxpayer bailouts. This is not the case for hundreds of thousands of small businesses. Not a thought is given if you take 30 years to build a business and then lose it. In this way, owning a small business may be the last bastion of the old Wild West. If you are lucky enough to have or develop the character traits necessary to run a successful business, you can enjoy a very fulfilling life. Through hard work (and a little luck), I have been fortunate to build a thriving business. I would like to share some of my thoughts on how I made my dreams a reality.

1. First and foremost, you need a powerful desire.

This desire needs to continue burning through the challenging years, so it has to be genuine. You also need to stoke that fire by celebrating your successes. You must reward yourself as no one else is going to. It is important to enjoy your successes because there are many core tasks that are tedious and have to be repeated over and over again. So, celebrate real accomplishments – buy yourself (and your team) cake & ice cream or steak & lobster after a big win.

Keep a positive attitude and embrace the challenges you will encounter as you pursue your desire. I consider myself lucky in the way I discovered my desire. In college, I read a book on flipping houses and it spoke directly to me. I was on the road to becoming a psychologist at the time and that lone book changed my entire path in life. It exposed a desire that I didn’t know I even had.

Let my experience be a lesson to you- follow your desires. You need them to succeed. They will serve you well. I have flipped over 400 homes in my lifetime and have enjoyed every single deal. I work hard to make sure that desire and fire never go out.

2. Persistence – Do Not Give Up!

Self-Employment is hard, especially at the beginning of your journey. It will surely be much harder and take considerably longer than you first imagine. In order to stay on track, it is crucial that you set short-term and long-term goals.

A statement that stands out to me is -

“We overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can do in 10 years.”

The founding of MDL Companies was an awfully slow, challenging experience. I had no formal business background, and my college degree was in Psychology with a minor in Philosophy and Theology. So as you can see, I was not actually prepared in the traditional way for the journey ahead. I was raised on a dairy farm in Cass City. With some cassette tapes on ‘How-To in Real Estate’ and a loan of $40,000 of my mother’s future inheritance to get started (a loan I paid off with interest), I burned my boat and set out on my real estate journey. As I look back, I think “wow”, it was my persistence and dedication that saw me through and has paid large dividends.

3. Go all in.

Burn the bridge. Chop up the boat. Give yourself no way out. Self-employment will take everything that you have. It is only human nature to take the path of least resistance, and if that’s how you feel, self-employment isn’t for you.

As you may or may not know, I had a learning disability that affected my ability to write, spell, and read well. I felt that I could not function successfully in the working world. I was embarrassed and did everything I could to hide it. In the end, I realized that what I spent my whole life thinking was a weakness was a great strength. My condition forced me to look at situations differently and sometimes take a more creative approach to problem-solving

Using the skills that I developed to overcome my weaknesses, I saw self-employment as my best, and only choice. In the early years of my journey, I was tempted to quit and find a normal job, but the more I thought about it, I didn’t see that as a realistic option.

Looking at how far MDL Companies has grown; I now am thankful that I had no bridge to retreat to or boat to escape in. Of all the houses I have flipped and buildings I have constructed, my proudest accomplishment has been having my three sons and my nephew, Drew, working alongside me, building our business together. I have never been more excited about the future.

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