Congratulations! You've taken the leap to follow your bliss and find happiness and wealth as an entrepreneur. That's how the story goes, anyway. The reality is often very different. Even if you achieve your goals, the entrepreneurial path is hard. Of course, you wouldn't have done this in the first place is you didn't have an appetite for risk and willingness to embrace the unknown. To help you prepare for the hurdles you might face, here are five things no one told you about being a business owner -- and some suggestions on how to conquer the setbacks.
1. It's Easy to Lose Track of Why You Started Your Business in the First Place
Chances are, you started your business because there's something you love to do. You live to write code, design websites, bake cakes, cut hair, coach athletes or fix cars. The good news is that you've found your passion. Some people never do. The bad news is, once you go into business, the time you spend doing the thing you love can quickly shrink relative to everything else you must do as a business owner. That's everything from accounting and taxes, to sales and customer service. Make sure to carve out time to keep doing the things that made you start the business in the first place, even if that means long nights or outsourcing some tasks.
2. Be Prepared to Live Beyond Your Means
You've done your homework. You have a great business plan, a healthy war chest and a committed lender. Things will inevitably go south at some time, with unexpected costs, delays and snafus. Your first goal should be to have a pool of cash to cover these unexpected expenses.
If that's not possible, be prepared to take a part-time job, tap personal resources, dramatically lower your living expenses, or seek working capital from a finance company with more flexible underwriting guidelines.
You need money to fund your business until you turn a profit. That could take six months or two years. During that time, you may not have a salary so plan accordingly. Remember, a lack of money doesn't mean you've failed. Many businesses, including big names like Amazon, Snapchat and Zillow, struggled financially at some point, especially early on.
3. Don't Isolate Yourself
Many people become entrepreneurs because they don't want to work for anyone else. They want to set their own schedules and make their own rules. One side effect of this is that your business can quickly take over your life. Particularly for solo or small shops, there's little or no backup. Both professionally and personally, isolation can be a serious problem.
Professionally, you must make dozens of decisions every week with no guidance or even another perspective to rely on. It's easy to feel overwhelmed and to second-guess every decision.
You need to venture out and connect with people who understand your journey. There are networks of entrepreneurs, business councils and affinity groups. They can be rich sources of everything from referral business to mentors. Equally important, they can provide the social camaraderie you once had at the office; some will even become personal friends. You may not have realized it at the time but those chats about your weekend plans, midday coffee runs and happy hours help you stay engaged with the world around you.
4. You Must Master Sales and Marketing
Unless you are naturally gregarious and comfortable with self-promotion, selling can be scary. It doesn't matter that you'd rather go to the dentist than attend a networking event or exhibit at a business expo. Without customers, there is no business.
Your online marketing has to be exceptional as well. Hire someone to design and build a website if you can't do it yourself and learn about search engine optimization so people interested in your product or service can find you.
Whether you do it in the physical world or online, find opportunities to get in front of people who are potential customers and referral sources. Speak at events, write a blog, look into targeted online advertising. Whatever you choose to do, don't be afraid to venture out of your comfort zone.
5. Even Modest Success Will Make You Overwhelmingly Happy
Many people associate entrepreneurship with a fantasy vision of success: Buy your own island! Change the world! Cash out at 35 and never work again! Between these fantasies and the sobering statistic that the majority of businesses fail is another kind of business success. This everyday success allows you to house and feed your family, plan for the future and grow your business.
While you may not score a private plane, your bliss can still be boundless. You will have succeeded on so many levels. You had the courage to dream big and take risks. You made your passion into your career. You weathered frustration, isolation, discouragement and maybe even being broke. You persevered and developed new skills. You became your own boss. Your family and friends -- even if they once felt neglected -- are proud of you.
You are a successful entrepreneur and it is glorious. Congratulations!
Dan DeMeo is the Chief Executive Officer at CAN Capital, Inc., the largest and most-experienced small business finance specialist providing access to capital.
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