10 Things I Learned After Starting My Own Business
Starting your own business is tough. Some people will surprise you with their negativity. Others will shock you with their encouragement. Either way, making the decision to strike out on your own is a deeply personal and courageous journey. The path to entrepreneurship is littered with surprises, triumphs, failures, and lessons. I've learned so many lessons...
I remember how quiet the room got when I first announced that I was leaving my six-figure job in tech to start my own company. Everyone was just stunned and didn't know whether to congratulate me or tell me that I was crazy and making a big mistake.
I got a little of both after the announcement from folks individually. The comments ranged from, "are you sure this is really a great idea?" to "oh my god, I've always wanted to do that." I also got the, "you're crazy and dumb for giving up your job and benefits and this will never work out!"
I went home that night and cried. Mostly, I was surprised by some people and disappointed by plenty others. To start your own business, to dare to jump into the unknown, to not just dream but do is a frightening, exciting and fulfilling feeling all at once. Not everyone will support you. Some people will root for you to fail, and others will root for you to win.
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Through it all, I've learned some valuable lessons. Owning your own business isn't always easy. It takes real guts. You have to have the stomach to endure both good and bad times.
1. Avoid the naysayers
Naysayers, haters, negative people - whatever you call it - there are hoards of them. Sometimes it will be your own family and friends. They will poison your spirit, make you question your decisions and push fear into your heart. Fight it! Have the mental strength to push past all the negative vibes. Some people will tell you that you're crazy for starting a business because it's something they could never imagine doing themselves. Their own fears power what they say to you more than what you're actually capable of. You're daring to do the risky thing, to take the path most people refuse to go down out of fear. When you actually get off the ferris wheel, some people will try to stop you because they are afraid. Don't let that get to you.
In the end, it does nothing. If you've planned, saved, have the skills, have the capacity to learn and the will to make it work, then anything is possible. Your only limit is you and no matter what anyone else says, you have to have the mental toughness to withstand the criticism.
2. Selfishness and shame
I've been accused of being selfish for starting my own business. I've been accused of people saying that I put my own needs above my husband's career. I've had people make condescending comments to me about owning a business and how they can't relate to me anymore. I've also had people try to shame me by saying that I had a "fake" business simply because they didn't understand what exactly it is that I do.
Don't react to it. What people say about you is a manifestation of their own thoughts. It says more about them than about you. Learn not to take it personally. You will be surprised by some people's insecurities. Be humble, and modest but don't allow people to shame you into thinking that you're selfish for wanting more out of your life.
"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." - Eleanor Roosevelt
3. Being misunderstood
I love that Nina Simon song, "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good... Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood."
Some people still get confused when I tell them I own a Media and B2B Marketing Agency. Now, if you're in the media or marketing business, or both, it's easy to understand what I do. However, if you're not familiar with the industry, it's going to be hard to understand. I still make an effort to explain to people what I do, but the gist is that people are wondering how you make money. When they don't completely understand what it is you do or how money is made then there is a feeling of being misunderstood, sometimes especially by family and friends.
Don't fret. I sometimes feel like Chandler Bing from Friends, where everyone is trying to figure out what your job is exactly. They have a vague idea, but they don't really understand it. It's ok! Not everyone will understand what you do or how you make a living. Be prepared to walk the path alone and have faith.
4. Shift from an employee mindset to an employer
Before I started LesNaly.com and LNCG, one of my colleagues who owned a business told me that the transition from employee to employer was the most difficult transition. Girl - he was not kidding! When you work for someone else, it's easy to feel like your employer owes you something for the work that you do. And when you become the employer, you have to look at your employees through a different lens. Yes, you want people to like working for you and to get paid fairly, but you also have to make economic and productive sense of it all. It's a business after all.
If an employee/vendor/contractor isn't doing their job well it's up to you to correct it. The buck stops with you. There is no big company facade to hide behind. You do the hiring. You do the firing. It's both exciting and scary to drive the ship. If you can't handle confrontation or lack management skills you should definitely consider hiring someone or getting comfortable with it quickly.
5. Focus on your strengths, hire your weakness
Having your own business is an opportunity for you to realize your own limits. Take the time to acknowledge what you are good and not good at. For example, I was determined to do all of my own accounting and billing. I got this - I thought. How hard could it be - I thought. Nope.
I'm not great at accounting, and I lacked the bandwidth to handle every single item coming through the door from client invoices to paying vendors. If you're a freelancer, it's easier to deal with. However, when you have employees, contracts, expenses, software, etc. it can all be really overwhelming. I finally found a small business accounting firm to help me with these responsibilities and am so much better for it. They are fantastic at accounting and give me peace of mind. I'm able to excel at things I'm good at and let a great team handle the parts I'm not so great at.
6. People will seek your opinion
Whether it's career advice or starting a business, people will start to seek your opinion. Owning a business is hard work, and if you're successful at it you've now built a reputation for being business savvy.
People will pitch you their business ideas, they'll ask you if you think they should make the leap, they may ask for money or for you to join their company. Do not get distracted. You can politely decline, no matter how insistent they are. You do want to help others out, but not at the expense of your burgeoning company. Everyone has a dream. Only the individual can make that happen. Until your business is in a stable place you must carefully select where you spend your time and energy.
7. It's not about motivation - it's about discipline
Procrastination kills a lot of businesses. One of the most difficult parts of the job is having the sheer will to create a productive day. While some people wait for motivation to build up, I'm here to tell you that motivation is bullshit. Let's face it - staying motivated is hard no matter what you're doing. You're not always going to be motivated. You must learn to build discipline. Discipline is what gets you clients. Discipline is what gets you to wake up early and make those calls. Discipline is what pushes you to put on that suit and go to a networking event.
When you have a business, learning to change your habits is a crucial part. I've watched plenty of talented and highly educated individuals lose motivation; and in turn, their business. They let stuff slip once, then twice, then next thing they are in a big hole. Make sure you have a good support system rooting you on, pushing you to be better and to help you hold yourself accountable.
8. Don't fall into the comparison game
It happens to everyone. Sooner or later, you begin to compare yourself to other people or businesses. While keeping an eye on the market is a good idea, don't allow yourself to obsess over what someone else is doing. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. As long as you're doing you and staying true to what you love doing, you will succeed.
Instead, focus on doing better than you did the day before. Were you more productive yesterday? Last week? Look at things from 30,000 feet. Try to see the forest and not just the trees. Remember, no one else is you. That's your power. No one else on earth is you.
You hear about companies all the time that shoot out of the stratosphere and are all over the freaken place. They seem to be doing so well. They're collecting money from venture capitalists easily. It's sensational, but not all companies are like that. And you don't have to be like that to build a profitable company - thank god!
I've worked at tech startups, and there is something aspiring entrepreneurs always get wrong... They think they need venture funding to have a successful business. It's simply not true. In fact, plenty of businesses can be successful by starting small and scaling up. Venture funding does help get some businesses off the ground. However, all successful, profitable companies are built off of providing value to paying customers.
Learn to scale the growth of your business. Companies that come out fast and furious also tend to be the ones that burn out the fastest. I once saw a startup get $1 Billion (yes, a billion dollars!) in funding, only to completely burn out a year later. Yep, that company no longer exists. Focus on scaling your business over time for steady growth. Good things will come.
10. Define what success looks like, and continuously edit
We live in a time where being an entrepreneur means being a twenty-something wunderkind with lots of venture-backed money for some crazy smartphone app. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be that in order to be a success. Very few people will achieve that level of press, and many times those people never live up to the hype.
I was mentored by Founders and CEO's of companies that hired between 50 - 100 people, earned a revenue of $20 - $50 Million a year and had clients of 150 or less. I know very successful CEO's who have companies with 10 - 15 employees who make $5 - $10 Million a year. I know consultants who make $100K a year and employ a virtual assistant.
Point is, you have to define what success looks like. Do you want a big corporation? Are you looking to build a small agency? Do you want to be a freelancer? Answering these types of questions will help you better understand what success looks like. There is no right or wrong answer here. The sky is the limit, but everyone's sky looks a little different.
There are plenty more things I've learned, but this list really stands out to me. If you're thinking about starting your own business, definitely consider some of the things I've put here. And if you've learned some things about starting your own business I would love to know as well!
It can be a long, lonely path to entrepreneurship. But it's so worth it. You have only one life, and if you have the will to reach your goals, to grab your potential and pull it close you can make anything happen. It may sound cliche' but it's true. If I can do it, anyone can.
At the end of the day, I'm just a girl with a laptop and a dream. Dream on....
Photo Credit: Jamie-Leigh Bisset Photography