Starting a business requires a lot of work, both physical and mental. I believe in the planning stages many entrepreneurs underestimate the toll a new business venture will take on them and fail to adequately prepare for that. When we hit major resistance, our lack of knowledge means we flounder and make mistakes or worse, give up. We need to have a sense of what will be in store, but how can we prepare for what we don’t know?
Entrepreneurs by definition are venturing out into new territory and new things always involve some type of learning curve. With our businesses we are creating massively complex, dynamic entities that are impossible to truly understand until we experience them in action. I realized early on into my first business that three years of planning and research, and a Bachelor’s degree in Management still hadn’t prepared me for what I would encounter. Two years in I had trouble shaking the thought that I would never have gone down this path in the first place if I know the amount of work it would have really taken.
We had seen continuous growth in our first two years and our core customers continued to let us know that our business model was exactly what they were looking for. We knew we had a successful concept if we could just keep going, however we weren’t sure that was going to be possible. Money was very tight and we were in a lot of debt. In order to stay in business and pay our vendors we were way behind on our taxes. We also had realized that our strategy of hiring employees was a miserable failure and that 3 of our 4 employees were completely bad hires. Within a month they had either quit or were fired and we had gone from 4 employees to just 1. Further complicating that was the knowledge that almost 1/3 of our customer base didn’t fit our target market and they would likely leave as we refined our business model. This was a scary prospect when you are having trouble paying your bills in the first place.
Personal stress was at an all-time high for us. Every time we had a little traction something would derail our momentum and take us a step back. A good week of profits would be followed by a week of loss, or something would happen and we would face a large unexpected expense. We would be on track to hire a new employee only to have it fall apart at the last minute. The knowledge that I could earn twice as much income working for someone else, with 90% less stress was constantly running through my mind. I went home many nights wondering when I would be smart enough to just call it quits. Two things got us through those moments in our business and allowed us to emerge years later on a much stronger footing.
One was a clear vision of why I started a business in the first place. My goal from day one was to build something for our family that would afford us financial freedom and time flexibility to enjoy our lives as we chose. My wife and I agreed that 5 years of working our butts off was well worth the lifetime of benefits owning our own business would afford. When things got really tough, I was able to cling onto that vision and remember what all the hard work and stress was leading to in the future. That gave us the strength to push through!
The other blessing in our business was the relationship with had with our coaching company. We signed up for business coaching several months before and worked with our coach to come up with a strategic plan for our business. Our coach kept us on track and we made changes little by little in our business that supported our long term goals for what we wanted the business to become. When the monotony set in and we couldn’t see any results, we stuck to our plan knowing that sooner or later, we would get to where we wanted to be. When our conventional logic said “money is tight” and we were tempted to react out of a place of fear, our logical plan kept us making smart decisions that lead us through in the end. This gave us the strategy to push through!
The reason starting a business is hard is because we don’t really know what we are getting ourselves into at the start so we inevitably walk in unprepared. We plan for the things we understand but as the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. This means however difficult you can imagine it’s going to be, it will probably be much worse!
Well now that the depressing stuff is out of the way, here is some advice from someone who has walked through and emerged on the other side. These are two important things you need to start a business and survive!
Develop a strong vision for why you want to be in business in the first place. Entrepreneurs have chosen to buck the system, forgo the security of working for someone else in order to achieve something that only your own business can offer. Have a clear understanding of what that looks like for yourself and cling to it when things get difficult. I could picture how amazing it would be when I didn’t have to go to work every day to earn a pay check, what taking off for a month to travel with my family would be like. For me, those images were far more powerful than the difficulties that were facing me at that moment.
Second, work on a proven strategy for success. Develop it with a coach that has a proven track record or a non-competing company in another market. Find books written on the subject or do some online research. Starting a business is hard, but there are thousands of people who have succeeded that are no more capable than you are. Stick to your plan and chip away little by little. Modify it as needed but make sure you keep it focused on your long term goals. By the end of this process you’ll find you have the ability to handle all kinds of situations you never even knew about before you started.