One of the hardest things for first-time entrepreneurs, especially those going in full-time, is getting used to the lifestyle.
While working for yourself is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do, it’s quite different from working for someone else. Fundamentally, new entrepreneurs know this, but they tend to focus on the positive aspects of being self-employed.
I’ve often heard how life-giving it is to have the privilege to set your own working hours and decide what you want to do each day. If you are working from a home office, you don’t have to worry too much about a dress code or the neatness of your office. Your dog doesn’t care if you shaved or brushed your teeth and if you’re not meeting a client, who cares, right?
Of course, the best part about working for yourself is the money. It won’t be long until your rolling in the dough from your new endeavor. Won’t it be great to have all that extra money around to take those vacations and do the things you’ve always wanted to do in life? Yes. Yes, it will.
I have some news for you. It doesn’t work quite like this; at least not in the beginning.
When you start a business for the first time, you are going to work your tail off. It’s not as easy as it sounds or looks, and everything the books and most websites tell you about starting your own business is wrong. As a veteran of start-ups—some with funding, most without—let me set the record straight on a few of those first-time entrepreneur misconceptions.
- You do not need a formal business plan or a marketing plan. As a small start-up, all you need is the idea and the drive to make it happen. Just convince one or two clients you’re the cat’s meow and you deserve their business. Once the business is running well, if you need to borrow money, or take on partners, then you need a business plan. A business plan is different from flushing out your goals, objectives, and business model on a napkin or a few sheets of legal paper. I’m all for the napkin-based business plan. It’s like the Twitter of business plans—focused and concise.
- You can waste no time generating business. Getting the cash flowing is critical. The first day you wake up as a self-employed person, you need to figure out how you are going to pay your bills in 30, 60 and 90 days. This means you should not waste precious time (See number 1). If you’re providing a service to others, day one should be devoted to making a list of people who can use that service. Day 2 should be dedicated to calling to set appointments to visit. Keep this in mind: It takes longer to close business than you think, and while your friends will support you, most of them won’t do business with you. Trust me on this.
- You do not need to spend money unnecessarily. Until the money starts flowing regularly, you need to conserve cash to eat, pay the mortgage, and the car payment. Don’t waste money on business cards, stationary or brochures. Get those appointments, and then sell yourself and your capabilities. The business card doesn’t do squat for you in the process. If you must have one, buy the micro-perf, matte, ink -jet cards, and print your cards using the “high quality” setting on your printer. It’s hard to tell those cards are not offset printing, when done right. It’s all you need until you have clients flowing. You should invest in a simple website, though, but make it look professional—just don’t spend a fortune.
- You do not get to set your own hours. Your clients set your hours. You have to work when they work. You must be available when they need you. For most clients, it’s going to be 8-5, Monday – Friday. Others have higher expectations and may require you on the weekends, or in the evenings. You need to be ready for it all. Sure, they’ll cut you a little slack at first, but if you’re repeatedly not available when needed, you will not keep your clients for long. Not being responsive is the one thing that makes you look unprofessional.
- You cannot forget who pays your bills. It’s the client. They are your lifeline to keeping personally solvent. If you’re lucky enough to land that first client, you service that client like there’s no tomorrow. Make sure that you deliver on time and that you’re highly responsive to the client’s requests (usually within 24 hours is acceptable, unless the client has an urgent issue.) At the very beginning, nothing is more important than your clients. At least not until you have at least a year of living expenses in the bank.
- You do not get to delegate work. If you are a one-person operation, you do it all. You sell the work, and you have to do the work. You also have to handle your own billing and collections and empty the trash. It sounds fun, but it can get grueling after a while. If you don’t do it, it isn’t done. Plan for long days.
- You will not get to take many vacations. At least not until you have a solid client base. If you’re a one-person operation when you are not working there’s no money coming into the coffers. Depending on the type of work you do, sometimes you can work remotely, so working vacations are a great thing. If you have lawn care company, for example, you’re pretty much stuck until you have a team that you trust to do the work when you are away.
There’s more. Much, much, more. Yet, this should be enough to give you a little wake-up call.
I am not trying to scare you; I am trying to help you make sure that self-employment is for you.
You don’t want to make the mistake of discovering too late that you are not cut out to be your own boss. Doing so could make for days of hunger, the repossession of a car, or worse still, the loss of your home. So, if you are not willing to make these sacrifices and take these risks, you might be better off working for someone else. There’s no shame in working for others, though. We are all wired a little differently.
If you do decide entrepreneurship is for you, then the best piece of advice I can give you is this:
Find a mentor
You need someone who’s been through this and preferably more than once. Find someone who’s failed, as well as succeeded. The failures are a better teacher.
It’s also better to find someone locally if you can. If you can’t, I’ll try to help as much as I can. Just ask. There’s no charge for questions asked via the Facebook Page (click here). I respond as my time allows. It’s a pay it forward thing. You can also ask questions here.
My questions to you: Are you up to the challenge?
Image Source: Startupstockphotos.com. Used under Creative Commons License.
David Harkins is a serial entrepreneur with significant experience in branding, strategy, licensing and marketing.
In his spare time, he consults, coaches, speaks, writes, hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.
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