We have become bombarded with the idea we should be living our dreams. Instagram posts of people who’s job title seems to be ‘Professional Holidayer,’ Facebook advertisements promising you 3 figure salaries through 10 minutes work a week all whilst you live in Bali nailing your headstand, podcasts and books showing you the path to an enlightened life where you chase your passions and by some manifestation miracle you also get paid to do it… but what is it really like starting a business by yourself?
With an explosion of jobs that didn’t even used to exist, the list of excuses as to why you are wasting your life in a job that you don’t enjoy have started to run out.
And don’t get me wrong- this is no bad thing.
The rise of female entrepreneurs (#GirlBoss) is more than impressive, with women conquering previously male dominated industries such as tech and finance. Not only this, but people truly are monetising their passions. From full time travel bloggers to online social media consultants, we are shifting away from 9-5 office living.
We’re told we can have it all- and we can.
But is it as simple as ‘off you go, spread those wings and chase those dreams…’?
And while it may make an amusing anecdote further down the line, there’s a few realities about starting your own business that aren’t really being covered…
It’s SHIT scary
Constantly. You have no one to answer to (great), which also means you have no one to help you make those huge decisions (oh…). The responsibility is entirely on you.
If you knew how much work it would be in reality, you probably would have never done it
Everyone knows starting a business is hard work- yeah. I’ve even watched my partner start his own business and the crazy hours, lost weekends and rollercoaster of emotions that went with it. But you can never truly prepare for how hard it is going to be – and that’s a good thing. If you truly knew how hard it was, you might never have made that leap.
You will at times wonder if you are living in an overly elaborate fantasy world entirely constructed in your own head
I honestly sometimes wonder if I just have a really expensive hobby and not a business. You may even spend days like this- working away and wondering if you’re just sinking further down the rabbit hole. But then something will happen and you’ll remember that other people are buying into your dream and that it is all very real.
Even if people tell you are living in fantasy land, you should probably keep going
Ideas should challenge people- that’s the whole point in disruptors. Think about Air BnB and Uber. On a smaller scale, when I’m having a bad day, I think about a company who sells doggy sunglasses. That’s right- there is a genuine business out there that runs selling doggy sunglasses. Your idea doesn’t seem so stupid now does it?
The only thing bigger than the fear involved in starting your own company is the fear of ‘What If?’
You might be constantly scared (see point 1…), but the only thing scarier is not giving it a go and never knowing. Yeah, it could all fail- but at least you gave it your best shot.
You will have major imposter syndrome. Constantly.
I recently had to pitch to two men in their 50s for £150k of funding. We were down to the final 3 (out of 111). I’m a 26 year old woman trying for the first time to start a business. Imposter syndrome: 100%.
And it’s not just the big moments. Try having a conversation with suppliers when you have no idea about shipping lingo, or a chat with a buyer when the whole supply chain is something you’re only just getting your heard round.
My only solution so far? People will only respond to the signals you give out so fake it until you make it (although I’ve spoken to plenty of successful entrepreneurs who still have imposter syndrome- so maybe just keep faking it even once you have made it….). Ultimately though, remember- you have just right to be there as them. No one was born knowing everything, we all have to learn (and make mistakes along the way).
You have to let go of the fear of money
One of the biggest thing I struggled to get my head around was that seemingly “successful” businesses often make a loss, not only for their first few months, but years. This combined with having to invest money into something you can’t predict the outcome of can be daunting. You have to stop fearing money in order to move forwards. Yes- be shrewd- don’t throw money into something without real thought, but also know it is part of the process.
Thing’s take time. WAY more time than you ever planned for.
….for so many reasons. One of the most frustrating reasons are those external to you- chasing for responses, waiting for busy contractors to have time for your project (whilst simultaneously trying to sweet talk them into moving faster) and unexpected delays due to unforeseen circumstances.
You’ll constantly be changing the timeline for your project- but you will get there. (Eventually).
You NEVER stop learning
Even the things you thought you knew will turn out to be more complicated than you expected and there is a multitude of things to learn. In the early days you’re the accountant, the lawyer, the marketing department, operations and business development (to name a few). You’re learn more and faster than you ever have in your life.
You’ll discover you have more grit than you ever knew
I used to consider myself to be rather ‘weak’ when it came to things. If someone shouts at me, I am that person who will cry. But I’ve learned that grit is not about being the strongest- it’s simply about keeping on going. It’s about putting one step in front of the other, no matter how small those steps are. It’s about keeping on going even when you can’t see the finish line. So it’s okay to feel totally dejected when everything seems to go wrong. It’s even okay to cry- as long as you keep going.
Other people will be starting to nail life, while you appear to be in a time warp
Just because your life may have gone on hold, everyone else’s hasn’t. People will still be saving for that house, getting promotions (and pay rises) and considering the right time to have a baby. You, on the other hand, will be back to wondering how to pay the bills each month and hoping your business survives the year.
But hey- it’s still exciting. You’re on an adventure too… just one with a slightly different route…
Weekends and social life? It was nice knowing you.
Just as your friends will be moving on career wise, they’ll also still be socialising. Bottomless bunches at the weekend and Thirsty Thursdays will continue. Yours will not. Whether its due to a deadline, sheer exhaustion, lack of money or just not being able to afford a hangover, you have to accept that you’ll no longer be able to make every social occasion.
However- I wouldn’t suggest disappearing totally from life.
You’ll constantly have a never ending to do list, or an event to go network at, but you need your friends (and their support), so make sure you still make time to be there. Occasionally you also just need to let of steam to ensure you don’t go completely crazy… Prioritise the really special occasions (birthdays, weddings and mental breakdowns) and let the not so important ones slip to make sure you can balance both.
You will consider getting a normal job, You will be told to get a normal job, You will very quickly disregard these thoughts.
When everything seems up against you, the idea of going to an office everyday and having a set role in a set team with a set salary sounds ideal.
Well, except it doesn’t. Because once you’ve had a taste of chasing your own dream, flying on the seat of your pants and learning something new at every stage, it is very difficult to truly consider going back to the job that seemedokaybutyousecretlyloathed.
So if this business doesn’t work? Try another one. Pivot. Loads of people failed on their first try, you’re not special. Dust off and try again.
Even when your business finally starts making money- you probably won’t be
Not only will you not be making enough money to really be paying yourself, but in order to keep the business growing, the money needs to be ploughed back in. Even once you have initial investors on board, it is likely you only take a minimal salary in order to keep as much money in the business. And even once you have this, I know plenty of entrepreneurs who have had to take a ‘break’ from taking a salary when things got a bit tight.
You can’t just be in it for the money (or at least not initially). You need to remember all the reasons you started it- whether it was to be your own boss or because you had a real passion for your product.
You have to network because your (business) life really does now depend on it
You WILL need help. Google will NOT have all the answers. And who do you turn to in this situation? People. Create a network of people who can help you with every aspect- be it technical questions (“How the hell do you find a manufacturer?”) or personal (“How the hell do you get through the bad days?”).
Expect the unexpected
Laws you hadn’t heard of and requirements you didn’t know existed. Or just being knocked out unexpectedly by the flu. Learn not to see them as barriers, just things to work around.
Plus, the unexpected can be good- an interest from someone you didn’t expect or an order that exceeded expectations. Sometimes the unexpected moments are actually the best.
Every business is totally different
Everything I said above may not be true for every business. If Facebook is to be believed, there genuinely are businesses that with next to no capital investment suddenly start earning 000’s. Keep challenging what people tell you is possible as that’s what makes your business unique.
When all is said and done- you wouldn’t change it
You get to wake up everyday and chase the life you want, not the life that you were given. If that’s motivation, I don’t know what is.
Keep going. You got this.