So there you are. You’ve read all the articles, books and talked to tons of people about what it’s like to start a business. Now you’re at the point where you’re actually ready to begin taking action on your dream . If you’re like me, when you began this journey you probably thought “I know it will be hard, but will it really be as bad as all the stories I’ve heard?” Today’s post will attempt to give you the “real” on what you are in store for. I won’t sugar coat it, dilute it or spin it in any way. So if you’re ready to take the ride of your life, strap yourself in!
The truth of the matter is that no matter how smart you are, the amount of preparation, the industry or the product, this process will push you into places you only dare dream about. Some places are joyous in that they help you learn and further your development in ways you didn’t think were possible. Other places are like that scary labyrinth of your dreams where demons roam and you pray that someone will save you. With that being said, here are my 5 pearls of wisdom for taking this journey AND making it to the other side in one piece.
Develop a comprehensive plan. The first step of any trip is to plan it out. Going on a road trip? Better consult a map so you at least have an idea of where you are going. In the months leading up to us opening up our retail location, I was reading any and everything I could about what to expect. One of my particular favorites was What No One Ever Tells You about Starting Your Own Business by Jan Norman.
Once you’ve prepped your mind for what you are about to go through (i.e. a lot of sacrifice) then you need to run the numbers. I suggest looking at what it will cost to get you started, what you anticipate generating/spending for the next 3-5 years and what you will need to meet your living needs. It’s also a good idea to run a best, likely and worst case scenario. I would also recommend cutting your worst case scenario in half when you are done. Why? Just so you can see how bad it may get if things really don’t go to plan. Remember, you are trying to prepare for a fight that may just go a round or two longer than you want it to.
Have an extensive support system. Starting a business is unlike anything you’ve probably trained for in the past. It’s not like going to a new job and having to learn a new system, culture or people. It’s more like being dropped off in another country and having no clue how anything works. To that end, it’s a journey that most people can’t relate to and won’t be able to help you through. So the first layer of this pearl is to find some mentors who’ve tread this path before you did. They may be business owners or professionals (lawyers, accountants, consultants) who can relate to the journey AND give you actionable advice.
The second layer is to make sure you have a solid financial plan developed. This includes anywhere between 6 months and 2 years of savings and a plan on how you will make it through the lean times in your personal financial world. Personally, since our business is seasonal, I have a contract job (i.e. a short job that doesn’t extend past 6 months) that provides me with income in the off season. 50% of the startup battle is just surviving the lean years, but success can come if you can keep the business and your personal obligations afloat until you reach critical mass.
The last layer in this pearl is to treat your family right. They can be the key for those of us who decide they want to start a company later in life once you have kids and the like. So make sure you thank them often for their support, never take your work frustrations out on them and when you have some “free” time/money make sure you give them a significant piece of it.
Prepare to make a LOT of sacrifices. I often joke when people say “wow, you’re the CEO of your own company.” I typically respond with “yeah, I’m the Chief Everything Officer!” When you run a small business or a start up, you are responsible for practically everything. It doesn’t happen without you and YOU are responsible for making everything happen (even if you have a team). As a consequence, plan to spend a lot of time making those things happen.
In addition to sacrificing your time, plan to pull those purse strings tight for a while. This will be especially uncomfortable for those who left a “cushy corporate job” prior to going it alone. I can’t tell you how many things that I use to do without thinking that I now only contemplate every blue moon. Want to go out for lunch? Yeah, better be a special occasion like the day after tax season or the start of contract work. Other than that, I’ve kind of gotten use to the taste of those Raman Noodles in the picture above!
The last thing that will probably need some adjustment will be your hobbies. I use to hit the weight room, go swimming, race my bike, ride my motorcycle, etc. Well, let’s just say that I cut back most of my hobbies to those that don’t take too much time or money.
Be flexible but ensure you are committed. Nothing that you do when you start a business goes according to plan. Thus the key to success lies in being flexible but at the same time committed to the long haul. You can make adjustments to the direction you are headed, but you shouldn’t go in a different direction UNLESS your initial concept was just way off. Now what do I mean when I say committed? I mean you have to want this 100%, with every fiber of your being, more than you love life itself. This is a very long, dark and lonely path and the light at the end of it can sometimes seem as if it is getting dimmer versus brighter. But your commitment to making it happen (even in the darkest hours) is often what can get you to the next critical occurrence of your journey. So in short, if you aren’t willing to go “all in” so to speak, sit on the sidelines.
Constantly evaluate and course correct. One of the things I see new entrepreneurs struggle with is making adjustments when faced with challenges. In sailing, when your destination and the wind are both head on, you have to use a technique called tacking to make it to your ultimate location. In short, tacking is a series of zig-zag movements that continue to catch the wind while moving your forward. For a business person, this often means paying attention to the numbers, tracking what is working and then adjusting what isn’t. Corrections ensure that you give your customers what they need and that you do what you need to so that your business survives.
Even though we started this company back in 2005, taking the step to head it up full time back in 2012 was like going back to square one. In addition to that, opening our first retail location was a scary endeavor. But I am here to tell you, if you can commit to doing the above, the trip is well worth the agony and preparation. While starting your business is often nerve racking and challenging, it is also highly rewarding. At the end of the day, I know that my efforts really impacted someone’s life. At closing time I can stand on the street, look at our office, and take satisfaction knowing that I am creating something that will hopefully be around in the future (just like these guys).
I can’t say that I felt the above on a daily basis when I was working in corporate. However now I can’t envision living my life in any other way. So if you are just starting the action phase of your journey know this; it’s rough out here, but you can make it. Just take your time, prepare as outlined above and make sure you have a little faith.
Until next time…
- Common misconceptions when setting up a business (theformationscompany.com)
- 15 Questions with the CEO – Ogochukwu Agu of “Beddings’n’Beyond” (whootafrica.com)