This path in life has hit a new all-time high in terms of its cool factor. Everyone wants to be an Entrepreneur these days, and people like Gary Vee and others have elevated the game to new heights in recent years. There is an awful lot to consider when heading down this path, most of which people assume will not happen to them. Most of the previous articles I have written are basically trying to talk people out of being an Entrepreneur, and for good reason. I have been a part of a couple of failed ventures, and the ride is bumpy to say the least. But, maybe this time I will put a different spin on things so that, if you are really serous about it, I am actually leaving breadcrumbs to follow instead of putting up barricades.
While you can take classes at most universities now on Entrepreneurship, it is not the same as the real world. Nothing ever is, the simulation never has the rough edges that real life does. And ironically, many people who end up starting a business and running it are not well suited for classroom learning, and don’t sign up for those classes anyway. But herein lies the problem, how do you get the experience you need to successfully start up and run a company? Honestly, I think that the answer is you don’t. You start a business on some scale, whether it is a lemonade stand as a kid, or a side hustle like doing tile floors on the weekends outside of your day job. You start, you screw things up, you pivot, and you move on. Sometimes this means you start over, but hopefully the damage isn’t that sever and you are able to continue down the same path. If you are going to take on this journey, here are a few helpful hints to start off with:
1. Write out a business plan – This is a great exercise in proving the efficacy of your idea. If you struggle to write out the processes, the plan, and the finances, you had better stop right there. If you can’t answer some really basic and honest questions about the structure of the business, you don’t have much of a prayer. you cannot rely on the old “I’ll figure it out as I go” method when you are talking about starting a business that is your sole source of income. You will starve in the process, and you will take those around you under water as well.
2. Money – Whatever budget you come up with on your spreadsheet that you think you will need, you’d better at least double that number. There is no way to plan out every single expense that is going to come your way, and you will need the leeway to make it. As far as your salary goes, if you think you will be drawing a salary out of the business in the first year, you are kidding yourself. Plan on three years without a paycheck; if you have the means and the fortitude for that, then you may be ready.
3. Customers – The best way to get a head start on entering a new market is to have business waiting for you. If you can amass a network of people who are excited about what you are doing, think you have a better mousetrap, and would buy from you instead of their current vendor, then you have somewhat solid ground to stand on. Is there really a market for what you are creating? Perfect example of this: a food truck that does well on weekends making the leap to a brick and mortar location. Food from Nepal might be a hit at a festival or event, and maybe because the line at the burger truck is too long for some, but that doesn’t mean you are going to do well opening your own restaurant. Some ideas have a cap to them, and you have to be brutally honest with yourself when evaluating the business opportunities that are available.
4. Resources – In addition to money, you will need other resources that can make or break your chances. Know someone that can do a website and SEO super cheap or free? Great, you’ll need that. Any connection, friend, or relative who can help you with things that usually you have to pay a professional for, take advantage of this. The less money you spend on the basic things that are absolutely necessary, the better. You don’t need a big wooden desk with matching credenza in your office when a card table and chair will do. Wait until you are making money ( yes, positive cash flow) before spending money on things like this.
5. Self Awareness – You have to be realistic and take a deep look inside. Are you better off being a #2 guy, or a #10 person at a small company versus trying to be the person driving the bus? Do you really have the skill set to cover all of the facets of playing every role in the company? It is a rare person who does. You don’t have to be excellent at every part, but you have to be at least somewhat competent to get by until you are making enough money to hire someone else for that role. This is probably the toughest part of the five points, as most of us do not have a good read on ourselves and our true capabilities.
Once you have these basics down as integral parts of your overall plan, you need to get down to business. You’ll need to get everything in order, such as insurance coverage, certifications or permits, and whatever else is an absolute necessity, to get things started. Stay as lean and agile as possible, no luxuries, no frills, for as long as you can. This is important, and you need to protect the resources and cash that you have. Once all of this is in place, you have one last thing that you have to do:
Fight like you are the third monkey trying to get on the Ark. And it’s starting to rain…
This might sound funny, but it is no joke. Running a business will test your heart, your will, and your guts more than pretty much anything else you will ever do. Think its tough leaving a job to go it alone? Ha! Wait til you hire a couple of people who left their jobs to come work for you. Try walking around with that weight sitting on your shoulders all the time. It is tough enough when its your ass on the line, but that exponentially amplifies when others are relying on you to feed their families and pay their bills.
You need to be aware of this going in. This journey will tax you in ways you’ve never imagined. You will work longer, harder, fight more battles, wear more hats, and deal with things you will consider ridiculous, unnecessary and downright distasteful far more often than you pictured. You are now a fireman, and everything that happens from this point forward will need your personal attention. There is no off switch, and things could go horribly wrong at any moment. You have find yourself in the position of making decisions that may compromise your original game plan, or even your morals and ethics. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that is why this is so difficult.
Again, if you are willing and able to bear this burden, go for it. You are never going to know if you can make it if you don’t try. But you HAVE TO have the above basics covered before you have any business trying to run a business. You are setting yourself up for failure if you don’t. This will not be easy, but don’t go in haphazardly and make things harder. The close you are the running out of money and/or time, the tougher (and worse) your decisions become. Fight like Hell to make it work, throw everything you have at it. Pray. Fight some more, until your last, gasping breath.
And you need an exit plan if things go bad. If you have mortgaged yourself to the hilt to make the business function, and things fall apart, better hope you can move back in with Mom and Dad for a while, as you will truly be starting over unless you plan for this as a possibility.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.