Starting a business is no cake-walk. To be honest, I’m not even sure what a cake walk actually is, but if it’s as easy and delicious as it sounds, then no. Businesses…not a cake-walk. Working for yourself is hard…well…work! It’s not for the faint-of-heart.
It’s no surprise to hear then that most businesses fail within the first 2 years. And if you do manage to get off the ground, it’s going to take more hustle to get to the stage where you can support yourself or sustain the lifestyle that you’ve become accustomed to. Sorry, no overnight success stories here. Princesses need not apply.
Don’t be fooled by the glamorous life of the entrepreneur. Sure we work our own hours. We save time, money and road rage avoiding peak-hour commutes. We can work virtually anywhere; in cafes like screenwriters do in the movies or better still, in our pyjamas at home in bed. And we can also take days off whenever we damn well please. But there are a lot of sacrifices, challenges and changes that we have to make too. To be successful, here are a few things you’re gonna need to be…
Money is going to be tight in the beginning. You need to conserve what you’ve saved and make it last and not just for the setting up phase. For the first few years, whatever you make may need to be reinvested in the business. On the bright side, you’ll be working your creative muscle on being thrifty and you’ll develop more life hacks in the process.
You’ll learn how to make your own beauty, health and cleaning products out of vinegar, make a pack of 2 minute noodles into a gourmet dinner for two, get in touch with your inner child by arts-n-craftsing birthday presents for others, download movies and books *cough* free *cough* off the Internet, put up with embarrassingly old technology where the button doesn’t even work anymore (yeah, I’m talking to you iphone 4s) and recycle clothes and styles (i.e. pop some tags) out of necessity… you know, for instance.
You have to have self-discipline to be able to work for yourself. There is temptation everywhere and there is no one holding you accountable.
When the pressure is on and the stress is overwhelming, that’s when you need self-discipline the most. You might be stuck on how to move forward and there’s no one to help you. On days like that, it takes effort just to get out of bed in the morning. Discipline can help you avoid stress eating or stop you from pulling your hair out.
You’ll also have to fight to keep procrastination at bay. No, you don’t need to go buy more pens and post-its and no, that netflix marathon will not help you become a better marketer, trust me.
Because you work from home, it’s hard to know when the work day ends and the home life begins. The line is blurred and you will sometimes find that the balance between work and play is way off.
The business becomes the priority and your physical and mental health, social life and leisure time will get pushed aside like they’re luxury items you can’t afford to indulge in. Your friends will consider you missing and your children will forget your name…Mum. Ok…ok, a little harsh, but the important message here is that you need to have balance. Make time for living and don’t forget who YOU are.
Doubts and fears will inconveniently creep in at inopportune times. Am I too old to be starting from poverty? Do I have what it takes? Wouldn’t it be easier to just get a job? Do I really want this? Do these pyjamas make me look fat? Am I going to get bored with this soon? Have I made the right decision? Can I really do this?
These fears and doubts that are sometimes laced with guilt and shame, can really knock you out and paralyse you for days. When these doubts are directed at you from friends and family who just don’t get what you’re doing, forget it. It’s one thing to convince yourself that you can do this and you know what you’re doing, but when you have to convince others?
It will serve you well to have a cheerleading support group in your corner, one that will pep you up when you’re feeding the fears or at the very least, one that will avoid asking you anything about your life so as not to poke-the-emotional-bear, so to speak.
You’ll have to deal with the ignorance of people who don’t want to believe or understand what you’re doing. They’ll think you’re lazy. You’re a bum. What are you doing home during the day? Why aren’t you ‘working’? Why can’t you take Aunt Jackie to go get her replacement hip? It’s not like you’re doing anything anyway. So how come you don’t have ‘a job’? (This translates to ‘Why aren’t you out there slaving away making money for someone else?’)
These people believe that working harder, not smarter, is the only way to be. It’s not their fault. This is the way society has moulded us to be, so it can create more worker bees. To slog away for the greater good. The greater good. However, in this day and age, it’s an old-fashioned mindset that can’t see the opportunities we each have. Besides, what’s wrong with wanting to be the Queen bee?
You shouldn’t have to apologise or justify why your dreams are bigger than theirs. Boom goes the dynamite!
Even if you do manage to discipline yourself, manage your time, get over all doubts and fears, put up with the I’m-too-skint-for-living phase; When you can accept the stress eating and the disapproving, judgemental gazes of those you love, you also have to learn what the hell you actually need to do.
In a job, you get told what to do. It’s easy. You show up, you do what you’re told by the deadline you’re given and you keep doing it until it’s done. Then when it’s done, you get a new task or project. You’re a cog in a wheel. You have purpose, you have direction, you can’t help but be productive. And nostalgic side note, you don’t worry about money.
Starting a business has a steep learning curve. There’s no step-by-step guidebook for this. Every business will be different. You’ll have to deal with making decisions that you don’t know are the right ones, until it’s probably too late. You’ll have to rely a lot on faith. Or good judgement. Or your gut.
You’ll feel like you’re taking one step forward and 5 steps back. It’s the dance of the entrepreneur.
You’ll often have to make the hard decision to either reach for perfection, or to just get it out there and adjust as necessary. I’m wired as a perfectionist so this one hits home for me. The bottom-line is, there is no such thing as perfection, or so my therapist insists. It’s an unattainable standard, yet we’ll sacrifice time, money and opportunities to attempt to reach it.
Although there is something to be said for presenting a good first impression, the consensus is that it’s best to just get out there, start making money and tweak as you go.
Having your own business means you need to put on a lot of different hats, more so if you don’t have the money to hire professionals or have skilled friends that will work for beer.
You need to make decisions as the CEO but also as the CFO (Chief financial officer), the product developer, the product designer, the graphic designer, the marketer, the brand manager, human resources, public relations manager, the social media manager, the website developer, the project manager and possibly accountant and lawyer. And yet, there’s still only 24 hours in a day and you have to develop the skills of all these roles that you’ve never done before, without any guidance or help.
You know at a “conventional” job when someone’s out sick for a while and you end up having to do the work of two people and you bitch and moan? Yeah, you get it.
When you don’t have the money to hire help, you essentially will be learning as you go, living outside your comfort zone and not necessarily working to your strengths. Maybe you’re good with design but hopeless with people pleasing, or perhaps you’re great at making the products but have no clue when it comes to computers.
When you work for yourself, you have no choice but to play to your strengths and struggle through your weaknesses to get the job done. It’s when working with your weaknesses that your fears and doubts will shadow you. When this state drags on for weeks, you’ll second-guess whether starting your own business was the right move.
When you start earning enough money to stay afloat, have enough to reinvest back in the biz AND have some to spare, then for the love of all things good and holy, hire people! Delegate. Expand. Play to your strengths and hire others to play to theirs. It will be the best thing for your sanity and your business.
Be Out There
Businesses these days also have to be concerned with social media. You have to connect with your potential customers, even before they know who you are. You need to put yourself out there. You need to market your business and yourself and to keep up with it consistently.
Sometimes you are your business. Maybe you’re a blogger, photographer or freelancer. Maybe you offer a service and need to attract clients. Maybe you need to be the face of your company and get yourself out there and network. Either way, you need to be comfortable being vulnerable. You need to share your ideas, your thoughts, your…self, with the world.
Consequently, you’ll also need to build up your defences against the rejection, the criticisms and the negative feedback with a pinch of salt. And a shot of tequila.
Starting your own business is hard work. It’s by no means for instant gratification or security. It’s long-term. It’s your life. It’s bigger than your current state of existence. It’s your future. No pressure right?
But if you can make it, if you can put yourself out there and experience success, a whole new world opens up to you. You’ll have a sense of freedom, pride and independence you’ve never felt before. You’ll love to wake up everyday because you know you’re doing what you love.
Your potential for earning will be greater than you ever imagined. You’ll create incredible opportunities and connections you never could have even considered. You’ll be stronger in character from all the challenges you faced and be a better person for it. You’ll be an inspiration to your kids and family and can finally stick it to all those haters and non-believers.
Nope, starting your own business is not for everyone. It’s lonely, it’s slow, it’s exhausting. It’s financially, emotionally, mentally challenging and you’ll constantly feel like banging your head against the wall. But if it’s your flavour of vodka, then you’ve come to the right place. Drink up bitches! We’ve got work to do.