After years of obediently working for other people, I one day came to a life-altering decision: I was going to start a business of my own. While it's been a rewarding journey in so many ways, there have also been a lot of hurdles and low points. There are plenty of things I wish I'd known before I started my own business, but at least I can be certain of one thing: I could never forget these lessons now.
The decision came, admittedly, after experiencing not my first, nor second, nor third, but my fourth lay-off, when I resolutely declared that I refused to be someone's 9-to-5 employee ever again. I wanted a new way of making money, that didn't involve investing all my time in one position where I had little to no control over the security of my income. Once the entrepreneurial bug hit me, I was a changed person.
For most first-time business owners, it's foreign territory. As such, there are obstacles to be overcome, mistakes to be made, and realities to learn. While some things come with experience, no matter how many times someone may warn you, other landmines can be avoided. If you're feeling the entrepreneurial spirit, here are 13 things I can already tell you.
1. Money Comes And Goes
Some months you'll feel like the richest person in the world. Other months, you'll be shopping in the discount bins. (Not that there's anything wrong with shopping in the discount bins, but sometimes, no matter what your preferences might be, your circumstances don't allow for anything else.) So goes the life of an entrepreneur. You learn to get comfortable with not always knowing your own financial forecast, and you get smart about your money. Sure, in May, things may be looking up, and you're contemplating that next big purchase: A car, a piece of jewelry, extra guac from Chipotle. But hold that thought, because June might not be so spectacular.
2. If You Work From Home, You Never Leave The Office
Because — ta-da! — the office is home. You are, quite literally, always at work. You don't clock in, you don't clock out, and you may very well sleep mere feet from where you spend your hours working day after day. (Similarly, you might fall asleep directly on your work. Happened to a friend. Meaning me.) It takes discipline and control — both of which eventually come — to be able to walk away from your work, which is always beckoning from just the other room (or even just across the room).
3. You Are Responsible For Everything
Everything. I thought I would say that word again, to really drive it home. Whether you're a one-man or -woman show or you've enlisted a team of workers to support your business, everything falls on you: The good, the bad, and the horribly ugly. Get comfortable with ugly, because at some point, no matter how kickass you are, you're going to have to put out a fire. Sometimes, it'll be a fire you didn't even start. Sometimes, you'll have to take responsibility for it anyway.
4. Get Comfortable Taking Risks...
Why? Because building any kind of successful business typically demands that you be at least a little bit of a gambler. I'm not saying you have to dump your life savings into your growing business and sell your cat for grocery money. I certainly didn't, and I'm not a big risk-taker by any stretch of the imagination. But, despite the fact that my business didn't require a ton of money up front, there were still some risks involved — monetarily and otherwise.
5. ...That Sometimes Won't Pay Off
Ah, yes. I'm here to deliver the cold, hard truth that you might not always hear from others: You will fail. Not everything you do will lead to success. You might lose time, money, energy. But remember: This is an investment, and great things rarely come easily. Now, here's the good news...
6. Mistakes Teach You Just As Much As Wins Do
It sounds cliche, but it's so, so, so true. You know why? Because once you really screw something up, you're never going to make that mistake again. It stings so much and you kick yourself so hard that the next time Life tries to catch you off guard, you go, "Joke's on you, Life! I learn from my mistakes! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!" Really. You'll say those exact words to Life.
7. You Are Your Own Boss
This is one of the greatest feelings ever. You're in charge. You call the shots. You make the rules. It also means the following: No one is going to tell you what to do, no matter how lost you are. No one is going to motivate you or push you or force you. If you want to bring home the bacon, it's all on you, buddy. No one is going to take responsibility when you stumble. There is no one else to take responsibility.
8. Other Parts Of Your Life May Go On The Back Burner
Like showering. Just kidding. Not really. I won't deny I've forgone a shower because it was 2:00 a.m. and I worked all day and I didn't care how bad I smelled because I was too tired to blink. Also possibly being relegated to back-burner status: Relationships, a social life, hobbies, and responsibilities like housework. This is temporary, but you still need to know it'll probably happen. Give yourself time to strike a balance.
9. Not Everyone Will Take You Seriously
In fact, a lot of people might not take you seriously. Why? Because in America today, it's so ridiculously easy to "start a business." I put it in quotes because starting a business can often mean registering as an LLC and BOOM — you're in business. People won't automatically know (or believe) that you work insane hours, have made some serious progress, and are on your way to owning a wildly successful business that will afford you financial freedom. And you know what? It doesn't matter that they're unaware. You're too busy hustling and skipping showers. Go on with your bad, smelly self.
10. There Will Come A Time When You Feel Completely Cluess
Mark my words: Something, at some time, will make you feel like a complete moron. Maybe it's figuring out the taxes for your business, how to set up payroll, or how to get more followers on Facebook. Maybe you need a special permit because you're handling food or a particular license associated with your zoning. If you don't have the slightest clue where to start, don't panic — because you're not alone, every entrepreneur experiences this, and you simply have to be resourceful and find a way.
11. Working Hard And Working Smart Are Two Completely Different Things
Working hard is important, but working smart is crucial. Let me clarify the distinction: Working hard is staying at your computer until 10:00 at night because you have a time-sensitive project due by morning. Working smart is outsourcing work or somehow automating it because it costs less than it would cost you to do it yourself, in terms of both time and money. (Yes, your time still has a price!) Efficiency is key. And on a similar note...
12. You Can't Learn To Do Everything — And You Shouldn't
I feel like this is a trap a lot of new business owners fall into. You crave knowledge, and you want to master every aspect of your business, inside and out. You also want to save money by doing everything yourself. Know this: You will inevitably stumble upon something that is simply too difficult or timely for you to undertake alone. For example, I know very basic graphic design; however, if I need anything even remotely detailed designed, it's in my best interest to pay someone to do it for me. I don't need to learn graphic design, and I don't have the time for it. I leave it to someone who does it for a living and can do it way faster and better than I can.
13. You Might Have To Keep A Side Gig Or Two
Don't be ashamed, because there's nothing wrong with needing a second (or third) source of income. In fact, having one or two side jobs gives you added security, because multiple sources of income are never a bad idea. It doesn't mean your main business is failing. It means you need or want extra money. End of story.