What Would You Do?

I just read a great article in the April 2008 edition of Inc. Magazine about an ice cream shop in Massachusetts that was seized for failure to pay $177,000 in state and payroll taxes. Toscanini's has been in business since 1981 and developed a following that eventually led The New York Times to proclaim theirs as the best ice cream in the world.

After a few years the business expanded to multiple locations and began wholesaling its ice cream to Whole Foods. One of the owners, Gus Rancatore, says he was overwhelmed by the complexities of managing multiple locations and a wholesale division. He was unable to obtain bank financing. He missed some tax payments (which led to penalties). Commodity prices were increasing and he was constantly faced with the decision of paying taxes or paying the milkman.

When the tax agents padlocked the building in January, the owners set up a Save Toscanini's! website to solicit donations for the unpaid taxes. Within a week, good Samaritans donated more than $30,000 to help save the business. The owners used the money to negotiate a payment plan with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and was permitted to reopen the ice cream shop.

Some visitors to the website cited Toscanini's invaluable contributions to the neighborhood, the niche they served and the role they played in the community as reasons for giving, while others chastised him for being a tax cheat.

So, what are your thoughts? Have you ever missed a sales or payroll tax payment? If so, how did you handle the repayment? What would you do if you found yourself in Gus's shoes? If you have a similar or unique story about business taxes, please do share.

Work Hard and Play Hard

By the time I reached the age of 25, I had become a workaholic. I worked days, nights, and weekends if necessary to meet a deadline. I loved my work and the projects were really “cool”. My team would work round the clock, order conference tables full of food to sustain us through the night, fall asleep at or under our desks, and keep going the next day.

I worked in a building that was all inclusive – a workaholic’s paradise! Our suite had showers, a kitchen and individual offices with doors (none of that cubicle stuff). The building had a dry cleaner, hair salon, shoe store, women’s apparel store, restaurants and a convenience store. We never had to leave.

I could work all night and when I got tired of smoothing out the keyboard imprint on my forehead because I had dozed off at my desk, I could get a few hours sleep, get showered and fully dressed without ever leaving the building. Anything I didn’t have, I could go right downstairs and buy. This was not a happy thing for my marriage, but I hadn’t quite figured it out yet.

At the end of one four day stint, my circadian rhythms were so out of wack that I had to be driven home by a teammate because I didn’t trust myself to shift gears or stay awake long enough to get home safely. Within hours of arriving at home, I was back on the phone with my team - we couldn’t turn our brains off. So what did we do? We planned an all inclusive trip to the Bahamas! As you can imagine, my husband thought we were stark raving mad. We thought we were geniuses! We had worked hard and now it was time to play hard. Did we have fun? Yes. Did we satisfy the deliverable? Yes.

So, what's my point? I didn't share this story to validate the millions of workaholics out there. Workaholism has the potential to destroy your health and your family. I shared this story to remind entrepreneurs that the temptation to become engrossed in the business is ever present.

According to researchers, there's a difference between a workaholic and a person with a strong work ethic. As entrepreneurs, we need to recognize that difference. It's not just the number of hours we're dedicating to the business, it's also about perspective. Do you take your laptop on vacation only to find that you're spending more time online than at the beach? Do your conversations with friends and family center around the business? Are you lying awake at night because you can't stop thinking about your client deliverable?

Also, there are health hazards associated with workaholism such as substance abuse, heart disease, headaches, anxiety and sleep disorders to name a few. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt. After years of pulling all nighters, I was addicted to caffeine. I smoked two and a half packs of cigarettes a day. I suffered from migraine headaches that lasted three weeks at a time and had chest pains that kept me from sleeping at night. I was also divorced.

As entrepreneurs, we have to strike a balance between our desire to build a legacy and our physical, mental, spiritual, social and emotional needs, as well as the needs of our family.

Learn to recognize the symptoms of workaholism - when your family doesn't bother to invite you to Mom's birthday dinner because they don't think you'll show up, you might want to take a closer look at how you're spending your time. Check out Workaholics Anonymous for a list of resources to help put things in perspective.

Admit that you have a problem - This was a hard one for me. I ran up about $13,000 in medical expenses trying to stop my headaches. It took months of doctor's visits and many prescriptions for those unexplained chest pains before I was willing to admit that I had a problem.

Set some boundaries - I started out by making a commitment to do whatever it took to attend my daughter's 2:00 pm basketball games during the week. You could decide not to schedule business meetings after a certain hour of the day.

Find something else to occupy your time - Get into an exercise routine. Take up that hobby that you've always wanted to pursue. Sign up to be your son's cub scout leader. If you are like me, once you've committed to something you'll stick to it.

Work hard and play hard - Start working smarter instead of working longer hours. Don't confuse your strong work ethic with the need to work all the time. Be spontaneous - go on a weekend getaway and don't take your laptop.

Fast forward to today. I work 10 hour days. I haven't had a cigarette in over 14 years. I eliminated caffeine from my diet. My chest pains went away without medication as soon as I developed a healthy work balance. I never sleep in my office. I just returned from a trip to see my daughter play college basketball in Georgia and I'm working on a play date to Montego Bay, Jamaica!