People who know me know that I love being an entrepreneur. There is absolutely nothing like the thrill of taking something that you created out to market. It’s a ton of fun, it’s challenging and it’s so rewarding to know that your future is entirely in your own hands. I really don’t know that anything helps you develop your own sense of self in quite the same way as creating your vision and then working hard to ensure its success.
That said, if my nearly-grown son were to come to me and say he wanted to start his own business, I’d have to balance my passion for entrepreneurship with some harsh realities that I think every small business owner needs to know before getting started. I think that the challenges of starting and successfully growing a small business fall into three categories.
The Truth About Small Business Entrepreneurship
Two Years and No Pay
We all know that starting a business is often about bootstrapping cash. What most people won’t tell you is that for a long time you will make more money an hour flipping burgers than you will selling your product or service. You are in for a rude awakening if you are expecting to make any money in the early days – meaning the first two to three years. This is the time frame when you live off of your savings, so to get started, you have to:
- Have a savings to live off of.
- Be very comfortable tapping into it for general living expenses.
Why so lean? Because you can’t get to selling or marketing your product until you wade through a huge number of administrative tasks that must be completed. Plan to spend a lot of time on things like creating your website, finding office space, balancing your lean budget and doing strategy planning.
To drive home this message, I’ll share a personal story. When I started my business my family went from living comfortably to barely scraping by on $2,000 a month. We had four kids, our credit cards were maxed and we literally had nothing in the fridge. My mother saw how bare the cupboards were and made an emergency Costco run to ensure we’d eat. I had the delusional belief that our company would be a success, but hadn’t planned for just how lean it would be in those early days.
The point: Know you’ll be strapped – for a while – and plan for it.
Relationships on the Back Burner
It probably won’t surprise anyone, but having no food in the house or disposable income can put a strain on your most cherished relationships.
What might surprise you is how consuming starting a new business is – it occupies everything you have, which means there’s not much left over for the people you care for and love. So, not only is your spouse dealing with the fact that you don’t have enough money to pay the bills, they have to also cope with the fact that you are spending all your time developing the business. And you have to spend this time…the business cannot survive without you pouring all of yourself into it. Don’t underestimate how much of a strain that can take on your loved ones and friends.
You have to understand, I have a great, super supportive wife. But I remember very clearly the day when she reached her limit and asked me to use my MBA and law degree to get a ‘real job’ and take care of my family. I didn’t want to, but I saw the strain my passion for entrepreneurship was putting on my family and I agreed to quit. In truth, I went to work that day intending to spend my time searching for a new job but was sucked into work and forgot to look at job sites.
Luckily, my wife had a change of heart and I didn’t quit – but it was rough.
Drained Emotional Reserves
Like I said, entrepreneurship is thrilling, especially when you see yourself create something from nothing. There is, however, a dark side to being so engaged in your work – you can become totally consumed by it. I mean, I was so caught up in it that I forgot to look for a new job when my wife asked me to.
The “all-in” nature of starting up your own business has you thinking about it all the time. It isn’t just the time and energy spent thinking about your business. It’s the mental and emotional strain you endure. You have to know going into it that every insecurity you have will eventually surface. Whether you bring them there, or someone you care about who has reached their max does, you are going to have to face some ugly thoughts about yourself. When you take the fear, uncertainty and doubt and combine those with a negative customer experience or a spouse who is questioning your delusional perseverance, you’ll get a recipe for wanting to quit.
Don’t quit. I believe the psychological battle we face as entrepreneurs is one of the saddest and most inspiring things to study. Sad when the entrepreneur succumbs to the psychological warfare; inspiring when the entrepreneur triumphs over it.
My dad taught me something as a teenager that I didn’t pay attention to until I was buffeted by the challenges of starting a business:
- Thoughts become words.
- Words become beliefs.
- Beliefs become actions.
- Actions become habits.
- Habits determine our outcomes.
I’ve found this lesson to be true. As entrepreneurs, we have to master our thoughts. When we do, we create amazing outcomes. It’s not the formula for solving every emotional challenge you have, but it goes a long way toward getting you on the right path.
Keep Focused, Plan and Improve Your Odds
Most small businesses don’t make it. I’m lucky that ours did. Even though it took a toll on my relationships, almost wiped me out financially and practically crushed me mentally and emotionally, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Don’t be afraid of the challenges as you start and grow your small business. Instead, plan, anticipate and prepare. Make sure to remember that every day you make it increases the likelihood that you’ll survive.
Thoughts Become Beliefs Photo via Shutterstock