Think for a minute about how you started out. An idea popped in your head one day. A boss makes a comment that doesn’t sit well. A supervisor insists on doing it his way, but you know doing it your way not only saves money, it saves aggravation. Or maybe you just thought that the challenge of steering your own ship, even in rough waters, would prove more fulfilling than being a first mate or deck hand.

But that idea led you to now. You run a couple crews and a couple rigs and have a good customer list. You’re an engineer who designed a better drilling attachment that now anchors a $1 million company. You’re an experienced driller who built your skills into a successful training consultant business. These examples — all businesses, in fact — all survived the toughest part of going into business: the startup phase.

When people talk about going into business as something scary, they’re talking about the uncertainties and sleepless nights of the startup phase. It’s the time between that idea popping into your head and when your new business achieves what the IRS might call “going concern” status. It’s that gap that many new business owners fall into, ending in bankruptcy and some awkward Christmas dinners with those uncles and cousins who loaned you money.

But there is hope. While many new businesses do fail, some persevere though the startup phase and can share lessons to help the rest of us. Michael Cox of PalmettoINSITU spoke to us about this and other topics for this month’s cover feature (page 12). His young geotechnical firm just celebrated two years in business.

“It just goes to, don’t accept ‘no’ as an answer to anything,” he told us. That’s good advice when it comes to just about anything related to starting a business — particularly funding, the biggest obstacle of many new businesses.

Take, for example, a would-be drilling contractor. A rig is a huge investment. You’ve worked one for years, but there’s a huge difference between running a rig and running a business. Banks know this.

You’re confident that if you can just get funding, everything else will fall in line. But a bank poo-poos your business plan and tells you “no.” As Cox knows, persistence separates the wish-I-coulds from the just-dids.

“From the first job I took outside of high school, [my work] has taught me to never take ‘no’ and always understand there’s more than one way of doing anything,” he says.

So, you call five more banks. When they tell you no, you call a handful of credit unions. Then you explore lease options. Maybe you start with a small used rig and work your way into more robust equipment down the line. “No” is only a starting point. Each “no” becomes a plank you use to build a bridge to “yes,” spanning that startup gap so you don’t fall in.

From my own experience as a small business owner, I know Cox has good advice. If you’re just starting out or hoping to one day have your own company, check out the interview. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with another tidbit from Cox.

“You will never know what tomorrow’s questions will be, or challenges. You just have to be mentally prepared for anything.”

What do you think? Have you successfully gotten a business off the ground? What advice would you give those following in your footsteps? Share your thoughts and ideas. Send an email to

Stay safe out there, drillers.