The thought of starting a new enterprise can be an exciting one as there is a certain appeal to doing something you are passionate about. Being in control of your own destiny offers the promise of great riches, rewards, and personal satisfaction. And while many may envision a prosperous journey of taking an idea from seed to fruition, what often isn’t realized is how tough it really is. This lack of preparation may explain why many small businesses don’t survive past two years. So, whether you are a visionary with an idea to change the world or someone who is unwavering in their search for a better life, understanding what you are in for is imperative to your success.
1. The journey can get lonely
One thing many people don’t really talk about too much is that the path of an entrepreneur can be a lonely one. You may have work nontraditional hours, alone from a home office. If you do have employees, you might feel disconnected from them because your focus is different from theirs (and you are the boss). There will also be times when you feel like an outsider because your friends and family will most likely not understand your unconventional life choices or the emotional rollercoaster you experience on an almost daily basis. You may also spend less time socialising or maintaining relationships because you are so focused on your work and trying to cram as much as you can into your day.
2. You will feel like you don’t know what you are doing
There will be times when you will feel like you have no idea what you are doing. Why? Well, starting out you will be forced to understand all aspects of your business, which means you need to learn and grasp multiple things. If you work for a company, you have a job description with a set of standard tasks. For example, if you are an accountant for a company, you have to make sure that the books are balanced, that taxes are paid, etc. When you work for yourself, you have to put on various hats, accountant, marketing, sales, HR, finance, operations, etc. And, even if you manage to hire specialists, you still need to have a general understanding of each role so you can manage it accordingly.
3. You are ON ALL THE TIME
Although you may be flexible with your hours, what many people don’t realise is that you are on all the time. This means that no matter what time of the day it is, you will probably be thinking about your business. You will constantly be thinking about what problems need to be solved and what improvements need to be made. It’s not like a conventional job where you can work your 8 hours and then come home and chill. That ‘chill time’ is when you will be finishing off the projects, learning skills (see above), strategising, innovating (because your normal hours will be focused on operations), and basically just trying to get through all the stuff you were to busy to get to. You also don’t really get sick days or leave, because you can’t afford the time off, and if you can, you will feel guilty about not working.
4. You don’t know whether it will work
Being an entrepreneur is risky because you don’t know whether you will succeed. You may hope, you may believe, and you may work your ass off to make sure that it does, but at the end of the day, you still don’t know for sure. You are taking a chance on yourself and stepping into the unknown. Even if there are businesses like yours, you still have to determine your own unique value proposition. And, guess what? If the business isn’t doing so well, who is the first person that forgoes their salary to keep the proverbial ‘lights on’? Who takes all the accountability and responsibility? Yes, that’s right, it’s you.
5. Your patience is constantly being tested
Accept that there will be ups and downs. Accept that you may not make a good profit for a few years. Accept that you will question why the hell you decided to do this. Accept that you will get annoyed because you will feel like you are putting in all this effort and still not moving forward. Make sure that you don’t compare yourself to others because there is no such thing as an ‘overnight success’. You have to be patient with yourself, trust yourself and believe that you will achieve your goal.
6. You have to make trade-offs
Unless you have managed to raise some capital or access to an unlimited bank balance, then you are going to have to make trade-offs. And these trade-offs may not just be limited to monetary trade-offs, you will have to make trade-offs with your time as well. You will find yourself juggling 3 balls, 2 knives, and an elephant, all the while making sure not to drop anything.
7. You have to have a thick skin
If you are an entrepreneur, you need to learn to have a thick skin. You may have to deal with emotional, irate people at times whether it be problematic customers who seem to complain about everything, customers who are trying to exploit you, a situation arising due to you or your employees messing up, or, your suppliers messing up. Maybe there’s a competitor who runs you and your business down. No matter who you are, you will be faced with difficult people that will challenge you.
8. The buck stops with you
You are accountable for the success or failure of the business, and you are the one responsible for making all the big decisions. It’s not like working at a job where if you make a mistake, your manager slaps you on the wrist and says “be better”. It all falls on your shoulders, and as you start to employ more people, the more accountable you become because you are not just responsible for your livelihood, but for those of your staff as well.
9. You have to develop the business processes
If you work for someone else, then you know there are processes for everything. For example, if you need to take leave, you go down to HR and request your leave. They then check if they can grant you leave based on company policy, the number of sick days you have left, etc. Now, when you are an entrepreneur, you are responsible for coming up with the company policy i.e. sick days, bonus structure, etc. You will have to make sure that there is a process for collecting payments, or ordering stock, or delivering a service, or managing a customer complaint and whatever other processes your business may need to run. That means allocating employees to a process, deciding on the technology that will be used, making sure the technology used is effective, specifying and creating the accompanying forms and documents, figuring out how to deal with any issues that arise, etc. etc. etc.
10. You still need to find customers
You could have the best brand image, offer the best products or services, have a boss marketing strategy etc., but your business could still fail if you don’t turn a profit. Your profit relies solely on the customers that you service, so you need to make sure that there is potential for your business to succeed. Many people go into business assuming the customers will just arrive as soon as they set up shop, this is far from the truth. You need to build a solid reputation and really zero in on how you are going to add value to people.
Entrepreneurship is as much a path of self-awareness as it is a business endeavor because you will be pushed beyond your limits both physically (especially on those late nights) and emotionally (the phrase “what am I doing with my life” will come up quite often). But, despite these challenges, entrepreneurship can be one of the most rewarding journey’s you could ever embark on if you truly acknowledge the reason behind your motives.