Growing up, all I knew to do was to go to school and do well in order to get a good job and live a good life. I “followed the rules” and went straight through my undergraduate and graduate education and proceeded to get a “good job”. I worked as an analyst for several years under a few different employers. I was great at my job, but I often worked on projects that didn’t really interest me. I was making a good living, but I wasn’t passionate or fulfilled by the work I was doing.
I started talking to two colleagues about starting our own consulting business. At the time, I didn’t know much about entrepreneurship, but I was fascinated with the idea of pursuing work that truly interested me rather than just being handed whatever needed to be done in my current organization.
When I started my first business, I initially went in really just creating another job for myself. I hadn’t been exposed to business ownership and didn’t really have a sense of the possibilities. I just knew that having my own shop would allow me the opportunity to seek out and go after project work that interested me rather than being assigned to random projects by my employer. I still planned on being an analyst; I just planned on working on projects that I hand-picked.
As I got more in the business, worked with an advisor, and met more business owners, I realized that it could be so much more than creating my “dream job”. I realized that I could create something bigger and better than I could have imagined and that I had to grow beyond my analyst role into my entrepreneur role in order to do that. Here are a few experiences and observations I had in the process of unfolding and embracing myself as an entrepreneur.
You MAY have to work more, not less (but flexibility can offset). One of the things I noticed going full-time into my first business was that I regularly found myself putting in more than the 40-hour standard week. BUT, I was working those hours on my own terms which made a huge difference to me. I want to be clear that this is not true for everyone. There are definitely entrepreneurial pursuits that can (ultimately) cut down on the work time you put in.
I found that it can also be a challenge to draw the lines between your business and personal life – you have to create boundaries to ensure you don’t lose yourself in the business, especially if you operate from your home. But in many cases there’s also more flexibility to balance them. For example, if I want to chaperone my son’s field trip I just block that time off and do it fitting my appointments and work in around that.
You may experience financial droughts. Businesses can most definitely have their financial ups and downs. Some ventures take time initially to start generating revenue which may not be an issue for you if you’re working a regular job while you start up. In any case, there can always be peaks and valleys in revenue and cash flow over time. This can be new and very hard to deal with if you’re used to getting a steady paycheck from an employer and you find yourself unable to draw money (i.e., take a salary) from your business for some period of time for whatever reason.
You have to be prepared for slow periods and cash flow issues that may come up and have a plan to push through. There are various ways of dealing with this including having multiple and diverse products/services, a line of credit, money in savings, or factoring your receivables (especially accessible if you have invoices for government agencies or large corporations).
It’s lonely at the top. Entrepreneurship can be very lonely particularly for solopreneurs. In my first business, I had two partners, so we worked together and shared decision making. In my current business, I’m a solopreneur. I have a home office and am solely responsible for all business decisions. If you’re used to working in a corporate office with a team of people, working for yourself from a home office (or alone in a rented space) can be quite a shock.
It can also be lonely and fearful to make all of your corporate decisions alone if you’re the sole decision maker. It can help to periodically work in a local coffee shop or join a small business incubator organization. Networking and building strong relationships with other business owners or even joining a mastermind group can also help ease the decision making isolation. You can use that peer group to bounce and screen ideas before making key decisions.
Where’s the love?! Another interesting experience that you may encounter is not getting the support you might expect. This can be particularly hard when that lack of support comes from those very close to you. You may be really excited about your new venture, but don’t count on everyone around you sharing that excitement. We live in a society where the norm is to get a job with a 401(k), work for many years, then retire and live off of your retirement funds. When you steer off that track to do something else, many people just can’t understand or relate.
For that reason, you have to be very careful who you share your entrepreneurial dreams with and strategically pull together a solid support network. This network could include certain family members and friends, other business owners, a business coach, or even staff at your local Small Business Development Center.
Many people fantasize about being an entrepreneur having visions of being their own boss, following their own schedule, and making lots of money. The truth is that many people don’t have a true picture of daily life as an entrepreneur. Don’t get me wrong…I think becoming an entrepreneur is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I just think that people should be clear on exactly what they’re getting into and what they should be prepared for because that awareness increases the chance of success. It’s not always the glitz and glam that many people think, but the rewards can truly be great.
What do you think are the biggest myths or realities about entrepreneurship that everyone should know? Please share your thoughts below.