When you think of entrepreneurs, it’s usually the well established names that leap to mind: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sara Blakely, Oprah, Lucy Peng. It’s easy to imagine yourself in their shoes, envisioning your own meteoric rise. Not just to the top of the cash pile, but to the good life. Your place in the sun, where you can feel good about looking good while doing good.
And because you’re committed to personal development—and you have as much faith in your business idea as you have in your ability to execute it—you’re ready to take the plunge.
Congratulations. You’re finally about to be your own boss and call all the shots. You’re not naive enough to expect overnight success, but here are seven unfortunate realities of entrepreneurship that you still need to prepare for:
1. It takes time to make money.
Remember how those books you read about starting your own business advised you to sock away some cash (usually six months to a year’s worth of living expenses) before making the leap? Well, they weren’t just saying that. For most startups, the first few years are all about building your infrastructure. That means you’ll be spending faster than you’re earning—and you’re really going to need those personal savings to cover your day to day living expenses. Don’t expect to draw a paycheck for several months. Take comfort in knowing that, eventually, this trend will reverse and the money coming in will outpace the money going out. Hopefully.
2. Your personal relationships will change.
Call it “clock-puncher’s revenge.” Despite your very best intentions, you won’t have the time or energy for the people in your life the way you used to when you were an employee. It’s not that you won’t want to, just that it’s easy to make time for people when you’re drawing regular paychecks and not tasked with doing all of the thinking for your employer. Running a business is an all-consuming commitment. Ahead of you lies a winding, unforgiving path; to make it to the end, you’ll need to work long hours and field business calls at all hours, even on weekends and holidays. Constant distractions are a given and financial pressures strain relationships. To be successful, you’ll need to figure out how to make this new reality work for your situation.
3. There’s no union for jugglers.
As business owner, the buck stops with you. That means you’ll be many things to many people at all times: administrator, supervisor, technician, HR manager, sales rep, and marketer. There’s no union to step in on your behalf and demand you get a break. When your business is just getting off the ground, it’s exciting to test your mettle by besting every challenge that arises. But over time, this relentless gear shifting will grind you down. You’ll need to be self-aware enough to recognize the symptoms and create outlets for recharging yourself.
4. Your feelings will turn on you.
An entrepreneur is someone who goes all-in on a personal quest for a better life. Given the nature of the journey, it’s only reasonable to expect many highs and lows along the way. When you’ve made your best sales pitch and the customers or clients aren’t biting, you’ll get depressed. When the numbers are running against you, you’ll get discouraged. When there’s a stack of unpaid invoices on your desk and you have no idea where the money will come from to pay them, you’ll get scared. Just know going in that there will be days when the lows get the better of you, no matter what you do to stay positive. And remember what Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
It’s nice that you went all out in preparation for launching your business, that you did a ton of research and painstakingly mapped out every stage of your company’s evolution—but the business gods don’t care. The truth is, nothing ever goes the way we think it will. Research plays a vital role, but it’s a poor substitute for a crystal ball. Entrepreneurs either adapt to the situation at hand, or they get run out of business. Period.
6. No take-backs.
Remember when you were a cog in someone else’s wheel and you dreamed of the day you’d strike out on your own and make all the calls regarding how things get done? As chief decision-maker for your business, your day has finally arrived. That’s the good news. The downside is some of the decisions you make will come back to haunt you, no matter how logical they seemed in the moment. You can’t undo them, so move on. It’s a burden every business owner contends with.
7. Failure is inevitable.
Failure is a normal part of the business cycle. Maybe your entire company fails. Maybe your product never achieves lift-off. Maybe your spouse takes off because the financial stress is just too much to endure. It comes in many forms, but failure will turn up on your doorstep. If Steve Jobs and Oprah could fail numerous times on their way to the top, you better believe you will, too. What’s important is knowing that when failure pays a visit, it’s not the end of the world. How you choose to respond to it will determine how far you go. During those especially trying times, remember what Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Attitude, as they say, is everything. And the most successful entrepreneurs learn from their failures.
Entrepreneurship offers a path to a rewarding life, but it’s not without its challenges. If you understand the obstacles you’re likely to encounter while building your business, they may not seem so daunting as you’re working through them.
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