When Norman Lutz launched Iron Ridge Insurance Services in Fort Myers 12 years ago, he was in for more than a few sleepless nights. “It was very stressful,” he admits. “You should see my driver’s license photo from then compared to today.” Despite the stress, the decision to make the leap into owning his own business is one Lutz has never regretted.
Lutz spent the first half of his career as a paramedic and the second half working in the insurance industry, first as a salesman and then climbing the ranks at a major agency until he reached the VP’s office. At 50, he was on track to make senior vice president. Then one morning he woke up and decided he didn’t want to work for somebody else.
After that revelation, Lutz sat down with his family and discussed it. Together, he and his wife decided that she would take a traditional job that would give the family a safety net—steady income and health benefits. It was a decision that was key to Lutz’s ability to start his own business. That way, when he saw an opportunity to launch an insurance firm in Fort Myers, he was able to seize it.
“I have an entrepreneur friend who would not agree with my advice,” Lutz says, “but I think it’s important for anybody wanting to start a business to have a safety net first. You can’t live in a constant state of angst, wondering if you’re going to make it or not.”
A financial safety net provides breathing room, Lutz said. It lets entrepreneurs focus on their endeavors without worrying whether the household bills will get paid.
His other piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to gather as much life experience as they can before starting their own business. “The greatest education I could have had was being a paramedic. That’s where I learned critical decision-making,” Lutz says. “A lot of that has carried over into what I do now, and it’s what gives me the confidence to do the things I do today.”
Sometimes this confidence has meant going against commonly accepted business practices. “In some ways, I’ve looked at the conventional wisdom of how to run a business and done the opposite—and I’ve been successful,” he says. One example: “Before I started my business, people told me, ‘You need to drive your employees hard. They should come in early and stay late.’” But Lutz decided against that. Instead, he recognized that employees who have control over their time and who are given time off ultimately work harder. That’s led to a happier, more productive work environment for everyone, and Lutz’s business has seen enormous success over the last decade because of it.
“I’ve never done things the conventional way,” Lutz says. And that includes not rushing into entrepreneurship.