Deciding to quit my job in 2012 was one of the most exciting experiences I've ever had in my life. At the time, I was working in media relations -- which entailed non-traditional work hours and plenty of traveling (holidays not excluded). On the side, I was moonlighting as a consultant, and had just launched my own agency.
After a few months of juggling my day job and newly launched venture, I decided to take the dive and immerse myself in the entrepreneurial lifestyle. I was in my mid-20s and thought I had it all figured out.
Financially, I lived below my means and managed to accumulate just under $40,000 in personal savings over the few years I had been out of college -- which was enough to take care of my rent, car note/insurance and other monthly bills for at least 15 months. I even had a few more thousand tucked away in a retirement account just in case I needed access to more capital. Emotionally, I was excited and equally anxious to embark on a totally unfamiliar path. This was it -- swim or drown.
When I took the leap into entrepreneurship, I did so blindly with no prior knowledge of how to build or manage a successful company. Consequently, I pissed away thousands of dollars learning hard lessons over the past few years. Reflecting on my experiences, here is one of the biggest lessons I wish I knew before diving head first into the water.
Build to scale by systematizing your business.
When I became a full-time entrepreneur, I was clueless to the importance of systematizing. Creating systems allows businesses to scale. Companies like Apple and Samsung have methodologies in place to ensure each customer continuously receives the same quality service whether you're dealing with customer rep. Susan, Joe, or Bob. In addition, their leadership team creates specific guidelines to efficiently mass produce products and bring them to market.
When I first started, I failed to build systems. My business model relied on me to do all the heavy lifting -- consulting clients, creating proposals, and executing the work. I customized each project, and didn't have a standard pricing structure in place. As a result, I was overworked, underpaid and didn't have the time to work on my business instead of in it. Business expenses coupled with my personal bills began to exceed my income. A year into the journey, I exhausted over $20,000 without much to show for it. I arrived at the stark realization that I wasn't running my business -- my business was running me. My company was in the red and I was drowning.
It took 18 months to admit I was incompetent and needed guidance from a seasoned entrepreneur. I was working excessively hard for an income that didn't equally match the effort. I received much needed assistance in the form of a mentor. My mentor taught me how to systematize my business. In a previous post, I outlined how he helped triple my income over a six-month period. Fast-forward to the present, I'm swimming -- my business is profitable and my quality of life has tremendously improved.
If you're currently a sole-proprietor, ask yourself these two critical questions: 1) Can I replicate my product or service without diminishing its quality? 2) If I hired employees, is my business able to thrive without me micromanaging? If the answer is no to one or both questions, read John Warrillow's Built to Sell and Michael E. Gerber's The E-Myth Revisited for tips on how to systematize.
Life has a way of teaching us lessons -- you can learn the easy way, or the hard way. I wanted to be a full-time entrepreneur so desperately, that I prematurely jumped off the diving board head first into the deep end of the pool. Although the experience was one of my greatest teachers, I wish I had first learned how to swim. My lesson was costly and ultimately avoidable.