This week I’m celebrating fifteen years as an entrepreneur, and thankfully I’ve learned some things along the way. For those who take this particular plunge, it is rarely a simple path. The most common warning you hear from entrepreneurs who have come before you is--be prepared to work harder and longer than you ever did when working for someone else. They tell you that because it’s true, so here are my ten tips on how to survive entrepreneurship.
Tell Everyone You Know: Whether you’re just starting out, or have been in business for years, make an effort to communicate what you do to everyone you meet. Some of them will turn out to be customers, which is great, but even more importantly, others will turn out to be your biggest cheerleaders. You may not realize that’s a need, but entrepreneurship can be a lonely path, and having people who are willing and able to boost you up on the longest days, is critical.
Gather a Posse: Running your own business is different than working for someone else. To a certain degree, only those who have been through it, can really understand the ups and downs. Collect some fellow entrepreneurs that you admire along the way. They can provide valuable counsel, serve as role models, and ease your fears. Perhaps best of all, they may be the only people in your life who can also free themselves up for the decadent advantages of entrepreneurship like going to a movie or hitting the golf course on a Tuesday afternoon.
Ask for Help: Once you’ve let people in your life know what you’re up to, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’ve been amazed over the years about the help I’ve received and the unusual sources of it. People can’t step in, though, if they don’t know exactly what it is you need. Say you’re looking to get a meeting with a hard to reach person. Communicate that to others. You may be shocked to discover, as I was, that a close friend’s sister dines with her regularly. Having trouble hiring part-time help? It might turn out that your neighbor’s nephew is looking for just such a gig. Be specific in what you need, when you need it, and you may be very surprised how quickly issues can get resolved.
Hire Experts: It would be awfully difficult to find a baker who was equally talented at making cupcakes, balancing the books, negotiating contracts, and designing signage. So many people start their businesses with minimal funding that often, they try to do too much by themselves. You are not, nor can you be, an expert in all aspects of running a business. Figure out what you are truly skilled at doing, and hire others to do the rest. Yes, that means spending money, but they will do it better and faster, so in the long run, you can still come out financially ahead, and save yourself much undue stress along the way.
Delegate: Look for ways to give up projects or portions of projects to other people or resources. Owning a business is a huge commitment. It’s important to not overwork yourself. Slice items that don’t require your personal expertise off your To Do list. If you don’t have a team, sometimes technology can be the solution. For example, use a software program to schedule social media posts in advance so that you don’t feel obligated to be on it each day. Be careful to keep the things you truly love to do, though. If you adore being a hair stylist and eventually own your own salon, it’s unlikely you’ll be happy if you leave all the styling to others.
Take Stock: Nearly every consultant will tell you to have a business plan and to reexamine it on a regular basis. That’s solid advice, but beyond reevaluating the business itself, it’s important to take stock in how it’s affecting you as an individual. Are you making the money that you need? Do you feel personal satisfaction in doing this as a job? Are you enjoying yourself? Do you have time to do and see the people and things that are most important to you? We only get one life, so we need to make the most of it, and sometimes it’s easy to forget to think about that when mired in daily activities.
Don’t Stop Believin’: If you really want to do something, you can find a way to do it. There will be times when your confidence gets shaken, especially early on. Take solace in those that have come before you. Look for examples of success stories from which you can learn and find inspiration. Be persistent. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to change tactics, add or remove products and services, and go in new directions. Sometimes those are necessary for the business to survive and thrive, and sometimes you will just need to shake things up for your own sanity.
Celebrate the Successes: Birthdays, graduation days, weddings, and anniversaries shouldn’t be the only times you celebrate you. Any time you accomplish something that you doubted you could, or achieve something few others have, it’s worthy of a celebration.
Maintain the Fun: Owning your own business should be fun. Tough at times, sure, but fun nonetheless. Try not to take yourself or your business too seriously. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Every day won’t be a party, but when it ceases to be fun overall, it’s time to make a change.
Take Time Off: Last, but by no means least, make time to live your life. Even when you love what you do, it’s not healthy to make it the sole focus of your life. Yes, entrepreneurs tend to work harder and longer than most other people, but we also tend to control our own schedules. Close up early one day, just because you feel like it. Take more vacation time at once then a boss could normally allow you. Be there when your kid scores a goal or takes the stage. If you lose sight of the advantages of entrepreneurship, it will just become another job, but a job that’s heavy on your shoulders.
At this point in my career I’m not sure I can even fathom working for someone else again. There is an undeniable satisfaction in truly making one’s own way in the world. You can do a lot more than survive, you can thrive.
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