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Pinke Post: Small business leap

Nine years ago this month, my husband, Nathan, started working alongside his parents in their family-owned small business. It was not a decision we made lightly but one we made fairly quickly. Within two years of meeting on an airplane, we marrie...

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Photo courtesy of Katie Pinke.

Nine years ago this month, my husband, Nathan, started working alongside his parents in their family-owned small business. It was not a decision we made lightly but one we made fairly quickly. Within two years of meeting on an airplane, we married, made big career changes, took a pay cut and moved a few times, ultimately building a house and settling in his hometown to raise our elementary-aged son and the two daughters who joined our family.

 

Today, we can look back, a little blurry in the events that took place during that stage of our life but thankful for the leap of faith and many lessons learned along the way. By sharing our story, we hope to inspire others to make the leap into running a small business - career changes that might not make sense on paper but have greater family and community benefits for the next generation.

 

I had a recent conversation with a Fargo resident who said Nathan and I were ahead of the curve nine years ago when we made the decision to move back to rural America. It wasn’t our intention to follow any curve or trend, but we hope more people invest their time, careers and families in rural communities, agriculture and small business.

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Nathan had a successful corporate sales management career, which included an array of benefits, from a company car, quarterly bonuses and sales reward trips. He became a manager 10 years ahead of thousands of others in his company and had a bright path laid out for him by meeting with upper management. If we didn’t already have my son, Hunter, in the mix, Nathan probably would have continued climbing the corporate ladder. It seemed like the easiest path for us at the time.

 

In spring 2007, Nathan went to his performance review in St. Louis. The chance to move to the company headquarters in New Jersey for the next step in his management role was on the horizon. After New Jersey, we’d relocate again to one of six major U.S. cities. The following week, Nathan was home on a Tuesday night. He had never been home on a Tuesday night in our six months of marriage. He didn’t know that on Tuesday nights Hunter and I go to the local library after supper. It was a red light moment for me. I stopped to think about him never being home on weeknights, living in a big city far from our families.

I stayed quiet about it - until the next week when he called me from his hotel room in Sioux City, Iowa. If his corporate career allowed him to be at home more on weeknights I would have been more settled about the idea of moving to the east coast and then again to another major city. That wasn’t the case, though. We talked more about the changes to come on the phone that night. I went to the garage so Hunter, who was in third grade at the time, couldn’t hear me.

 

And that’s when I said the words that changed our future. Nathan said, “What do you think we should do?”

 

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I said, “I think we should move to Wishek.”

Nathan, caught off guard, said, “Wishek? Really? And do what?”

 

“You should work with your dad,” I replied. “Your parents need a plan for next steps, and I’ve always said the lumberyard makes your eyes sparkle. You love it there.”

 

Nathan always says it was my idea to move back to his hometown, to take the big pay cut away from the comforts of his corporate career. The truth is, we did it together. It wouldn’t have worked if I couldn’t have kept my job at the time and worked remotely. It couldn’t have worked without high-speed rural Internet.

 

After a huge career change, you have to go all in, which Nathan did. There are still some designer suits in the back of our closet, but Nathan hasn’t worn them in nine years. They’re collecting dust and too big on him now anyway. He never went back to his suit-wearing corporate days. His former colleagues don’t call him and talk work anymore but many have maintained friendships.

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Nathan works more hours as a small-business owner than when he worked his big company corporate job. He owns every aspect of the work. It’s not all easy or comfortable. He has had to learn to use his past work experiences to transition into everyday practices of running a small business. His sales, analytics, training and people experience pays off every day in his small-business work.

 

At the end of the day he says, “In small business, you own everything. Even the garbage.”

 

It’s true. There’s great reward by taking the risk and investment of a small business, but you also have to deal with struggles, financial risk and even garbage.

 

Last but not least, it’s critical to have small-business mentors just as you might have in a larger corporate environment. Both Nathan and I have those mentors in our parents and in some loyal friends.

My dad laid out ground rules for me if I ever wanted to move back to the farm. He told me, “You have to earn a college degree, work for someone else and earn your own health insurance and income. If you’re doing that when you’re 25, you can move back to the farm.”

 

I accomplished all of that and moved back to the farm when I was 25. I moved away again when Nathan and I got married.

 

Neither of us regrets our educations or the lessons learned by working for other people, both in big and small businesses. It all prepared us for this stage of life as small-business owners.

 

Can you help foster a next-generation business owner? Lead by example and share your career path and expertise with others who might be interested in a career like yours. We need employees, employers and a next-generation in communities.

Editor’s note: Pinke maintains a blog at thepinkepost.com.

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