Entrepreneurship has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. It is going through a phase of the romantic renaissance of sorts – everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon and live the American dream.
No doubt, starting a business has never been easier. But it’s a journey riddled with fear and anxiety and comes with its highs and lows.
According to this popular statistic, a little over 50% of small businesses fail in the first four years. This is why you’ll hear people saying that if you spend more than five years in business, you’ve successfully beaten the odds.
What you don’t hear is what happens during those five years that lead to success [or lack of it].
According to Shark Tank investor Lori Greiner, ‘Entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week’.
But despite the hardship and hustle, entrepreneurs are also the people who create great things, change the world and grow the economy. If you’re about to start this journey, here are seven things you must know about starting your own business.
It could take a decade to succeed
Unlike what many people wrongly believe, entrepreneurship is not a shortcut to success. It never ceases to amaze me how hard people try to find instant success in business. Well, it doesn’t work that way. It takes a real business product or service, created by real people, that solves a genuine problem for success to arrive.
And you’re in it for the long haul. In business, slow growth is the norm, not the exception. It takes time to figure out what customers want. How to market your brand effectively. How to hire and train staff for maximum impact and results. What your brand positioning should be.
Once all of these elements are fine-tuned, that’s when you’re able to reach the coveted accelerated phase of growth. You can’t expect to get everything right the first time. Since we often see stories of those rare fast-growth companies, we have come to expect this to be the new normal in business.
It is also important to remember that ‘failing forward’ is the process by which companies usually grow. It all starts with a ton of mistakes, followed by learning, and then a little progress. Here’s the paradox: You have to work intensely – and quickly, all the while remembering that success takes time.
“But the idea of creating something out of nothing, something millions of people could use to find love, was worth facing failure for. So we learned to fail more quickly, pushing through bad ideas to arrive at great ideas. That’s ultimately what propelled us forward (and continues to do so): learning and failing quickly, and never making the same mistake twice.” – Aaron Schildkrout, Cofounder, and Co-CEO of Howaboutwe.com.
Work hard, but don’t forget to take care of yourself
Just because you’re working hard doesn’t mean you’re working smart. And these two are entirely different things. We are living in a culture where working 17-hour shifts and pulling all-nighters are badges of honor.
But the key to running a successful business is to understand that work is unending. Your attention and energy are limited. Therefore it is best to focus on the most value-adding, game-changing activities in your day.
Many people think exhaustion equals hustle. It’s not. When you’re grinding away just for the sake of grinding away, you’ll have little to show for your efforts except for getting burned out.
Huffington Post founder, Arianna Huffington, credits her business’s success to finding work-life balance. According to her, “The success at The Huffington Post happened when I started taking care of myself.”
She was working round the clock, hustling 18-hour days when she collapsed one day while checking her emails and making phone calls. At the time, her venture was just two years old. That’s when she decided to turn things around and has since become one of the biggest proponents of sleeping 8 hours every day.
So work hard, and smart. And don’t forget to take care of yourself while you’re at it.
Goals and deadlines are important, but sometimes you have to trust the path
Most business owners credit their success to their ability to not take no for an answer, break down doors, kick ass and basically go out there and do it. But sometimes, despite all your good intentions and efforts, results don’t materialize, at least not immediately.
It is in times like these that we have to let go and trust God, the universe or the path and know that things will find their way.
Good Morning America Anchor and bestselling author Dan Harris tells a great story about David Axelrod when he was running Obama’s re-election campaign. At the time, many global factors were out of the administration’s control such as al-Qaeda, problems with Israel and Iran, the European debt crisis, etc.
When Axelrod was grilled about these seemingly unending challenges, he responded; ‘All we can do is everything we can do.’ Remember this when you start your business. Give it all you’ve got and then hope for the best.
There’s a sense of isolation
Not many people talk about this aspect of starting a business – whether it is out of embarrassment or because it doesn’t fit in well with the perceived notion or personality of an entrepreneur. But when you start a business, the sense of isolation is very real.
We are all used to having reference groups throughout our lives. In college we have friends and classmates, then at work we have colleagues, and as the owner of an established business, you have people around you at all times.
But in the initial days of a business, you’re truly on your own. You may have a partner or co-founder if you’re lucky, but the hustle is hard and long, and you mostly have yourself to rely on. When the going gets tough, it’s easy to lose sight of your goals or why you chose this path in the first place.
These tips from Marie Forleo will make it easier to cope with this sense of isolation;
The lows and highs are intense
“Running a startup is truly like riding a roller coaster that doesn’t stop. I’ve had some of the highest highs and the happiest moments I could remember while running my business. But it also comes with some of the lowest lows, and I’ve endured many sleepless nights. Rarely are there any feelings in between, but I think it’s important to celebrate even the smallest of victories”. Ross Cohen, Cofounder Been Verified.
And it’s not just Ross. Almost every business owner can attest to this fact. As a founder, you’ll feel the highs and lows of your business far more than you would if you were an employee. Every milestone, no matter how small, will be more pronounced. Every defeat, no matter how minuscule, will hurt so much more deeply.
My advice? Enjoy the wins deeply and draw a line between you as a person and you as a business to maintain your sanity for the wins and losses that are yet to come.
Learning from other entrepreneurs is invaluable
No matter how many books you’ve read, when you actually get down to it, there’s no substitute for learning firsthand from people who’ve done it before you.
Just 10 minutes of insights from the guy down the street who started a pizza business could save you weeks of headaches of figuring everything out by yourself.
When you’re starting a business, there is no set path to success. You could be starting a company with zero experience in an existing niche or starting one with years of experience under your belt in a new niche. Every venture seems daunting in its early stages.
You could even be in the same boat as Eric Bandholz who started BeardBrand – a company that provides beard grooming products for men. He found himself creating a product no one had created before.
But while your product or service idea may be unusual, if you look closely you’ll find lessons from other entrepreneurs who’ve been there.
Although every business is different and comes with a completely different set of challenges, the experience of others will help set you up for success and point you in the right direction.
You will grow more than you can think
As an entrepreneur, you will often find yourself applying out-of-the-box solutions to problems. And you’ll have many of those along the way.
You will have to learn everything there is about running a business and growing it from the ground up. Whether it is product development, marketing, sales, client consulting or accounting – you’ll be managing a lot of different roles.
Over the course of a few short years, you would realize that your career has leapfrogged and you’ve learned and grown more than you thought possible. Had you taken the conventional path, learning all of the same stuff would have taken a lot longer, possibly decades.
Starting a business is a roller coaster ride of emotions. It’s exciting, humbling, exhausting, enlightening, lonely, rewarding, frustrating, and awesome – all at the same time. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a business owner, and how did you overcome them?