Way back in the early 2000s, I made a significant decision to quit my job to join two partners and to build a startup. Over the next twelve years, I gave it my all and fully committed to building the business. The business was like one of my children. We struggled, went through some intense ups and downs, but eventually made it to 8-figure revenue. When I sold my shares in 2017, I mourned it like a loss, despite it being my own decision to move on.
Today I’d like to share with you my advice. I wish someone would have told me back then before starting a business.
This isn’t a passive article. To get the most out of it, I encourage you to grab your journal or create a new digital document and reflect seriously on the following questions:
1. TIME: Is this business something you are willing and able to put a lot of time into?
If you want something badly enough, you will always find a way to succeed. Personally, I have four children, so I had to find ways to advance my work around raising them. For years, I got up early to get an hour in before my kids awoke and repeated the same at night. I also got a nanny and had to skip some mom tasks others could do, all for the sake of growing my business.
For most new entrepreneurs, it can take anywhere from several months to several years before they begin to see stable, profitable growth in their business. Be honest with yourself if you are willing to invest the time. If you aren’t, do yourself a favor and rethink starting this business. Only move forward on something you feel passionately about. If you don’t love it to begin with, you will hate it by the time you’ve been at it for twelve months.
2. EFFORT: Is this business something you are willing and able to put a lot of effort into?
I know you are a hard worker or else you wouldn’t be reading this, but how much work do you think it will be? Businesses require a lot of pure hustle to grow. The competition is high, there are a million things to do, and often the company is bootstrapped for cash, so everyone ends up overworking. You may have already been warned that you’ll have to put in a BIG effort to succeed, but here is the part where you don’t just nod; you commit. Be honest with yourself and also think of your other life commitments like your family or your lifestyle. Are you ready to work like you never have before for this business? If the answer is ‘not really’, then either rethink your business idea or consider being employed by someone else. There is no shame in being a good employee without having to work too hard.
3. SACRIFICE: Is this business something you believe in so much that you are willing to make sacrifices to achieve it?
Ask any successful person, and you will discover to no surprise that they ALL report having made sacrifices to succeed. This can range from the extreme, like the actor Jim Carey living in a van or Elon Musk sleeping under his desk, to lesser sacrifices like living lean to save money while building your business. I’ve heard Gary V advise young digital marketers to live with their parents even in their 30s. How about not taking a real vacation for several years? I’m not suggesting to work yourself into the ground. On the contrary, you’ll need all the energy you can get, so proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise are part of the successful entrepreneur’s plan.
If you are married or even have kids, these sacrifices will affect them too. Is your partner on board with your business? They may not see you as often as they’d like for a couple of years (yes, I said years). Even if you work from home, you will be busy working. You may have to travel and be absent a lot.
Also, what about finances? Your spouse may have to pay more of the bills while growing your business. You both may have to struggle with money for a certain time. Are they ready and able to do that? Think carefully and weigh out all the pros and cons, and have an honest conversation with your significant other before you pursue the business path.
4. FAILURE: Are you ready to face regular and significant setbacks, rejections, criticism, and frustration?
If only you could start a business and be an overnight success! This is indeed the dream of every person considering entrepreneurship. But it is not the reality. Even the success stories you read about contain more sensation than truth. Most companies fail. When you do succeed, it is only because you failed yet refused to quit. The path to success is paved with roadblocks, ‘no’s, various problems, rejection, and more. If you are a personality type whose ego is easily hurt, entrepreneurship may not be right for you.
5. MONEY: Do you have a financial plan for living and paying bills while you build your business? Are you ready to cut back on your lifestyle, if needed?
The elephant in the room is what you will live on for twelve months or longer while you build the business. Of course, you will see maybe posts online about getting rich quickly, but this is a time for common sense and a reality check. A smart strategy is to keep your job during this time, if it is possible, while you build your business on the side. The second-best solution is to find a full-time consulting job that pays well. You could even try to get hired by one of the top companies in your field to learn the ropes from the best. If neither of these are an option, you can simply start freelancing. Ask everyone you know for work and to spread the word what kind of services you are available for. When you focus on selling one high-demand skill, you will always have better luck. The important thing is to have a ‘bread and butter’ solution, so you don’t panic about money, since your business growth will not happen on the timeline you want just because you would like it to.
If you answered ‘Yes’ to all five questions, congratulations! You are likely going to be OK with your business. If you said ‘No’, maybe now isn’t the best time to start the business. Find something else that gets you so passionate that you say ‘yes’ without hesitation. Remember, there is no wrong answer, only the right decision for you at this time. Once you find that special something, be prepared to commit in a big way.
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