It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in August. All over the Bay Area people are out having fun in the sun. Me, I’m just sitting here trying to work. It’s not going very well. I’ve spent the last half hour fixated on a couple of hawks gracefully riding the warm air currents above the majestic coastal redwoods. It looks like fun. Sigh.
My wife (also working) just texted, “On my way home. What’s for dinner?”
Welcome to my life – the life of a boss, a small business owner. Not what you expected? Me neither. But I’ve been at it for 11 years and it’s a little too late to backpedal now. The door doesn’t really swing back the other way, not after that long. At this point I’m the only one who would ever hire me.
I know how sad that sounds but don’t cry for me. I’m actually pretty content. It’s just that there are a few things I sort of wish someone had told me before I pulled the plug on a lucrative executive career and jumped to the other side – you know, the one where the grass is always greener.
Would it have mattered? Probably not. Nevertheless, here are 10 things I know now that I wish I’d known then.
Self-discipline – what’s that?
Even after decades in the corporate world, the amount of self-discipline required to work entirely on your own – especially at home – was a real culture shock. Forget about forcing yourself to work; forcing yourself not to work is even harder. It takes real discipline not to be on 24×7.
The expenses really add up.
The Fed says there’s no inflation. I want some of what they’re smoking. Health insurance, self-employment tax, income tax and payroll tax alone will eat you alive. Federal, state, local – all the bureaucrats have their hands in your pockets.
You become the house slave.
It doesn’t matter how much you work or how many X chromosomes you have. If you’re the one that works at home, you’re the one that gets stuck with most of the housework. Don’t ask me why; that’s just the way it is.
It is lonely at the top.
What I miss most is the camaraderie, the relationships, the friendships, going out to lunch or for drinks after work with the gang. My dog is great but she just lies there.
There is no safety net.
Everyone who works in corporate America should thank their lucky stars that, with rare exception, no matter how badly they screw up, someone is always there to bail them out. Even if you get fired you can go somewhere else. When it’s your gig, you work without a net.
It is way harder than it looks.
Maybe your passion is marketing, accounting, recruiting, engineering, design, web development or cooking. That’s nice. Now you get to wear all the hats. You can outsource some of the work but you are still the chief everything officer. Running a business is harder than it looks.
There’s nobody to dump on.
You know the old expression “$#*! rolls downhill?” When you’re your own boss it’s as if there’s an enormously powerful fan at the bottom of the hill that blows everything right back at you.
It’s a thankless job.
I guess everyone gets a charge out of being recognised for a job well done or getting a bonus for exceeding expectations. It’s like hitting a homerun or scoring a touchdown when you were a kid. Patting yourself on the back is just not the same.
It still feels like work.
This may sound a bit naïve but you’d be surprised how many people get it in their heads that working for themselves is going to be different. It never occurs to them that it will still feel like work … because it is. You still have to do everything you hated about your job and then some. Surprise.
You may end up working for a loser.
There’s really no way to sugarcoat this so I’m just going to say it straight out: everyone isn’t Bill Gates. Business success requires troubleshooting, problem-solving and decision-making skill. It takes perseverance, self-motivation and guts. It takes a lot of things that most people don’t have.
Still, there’s something to be said for experiencing all that on your own. I mean, who am I to deprive you of all the pain and frustration? Besides, there’s an awful lot of fun and fulfillment, too. Good times, bad times. Yin and yang. That’s life and, you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I take it all back. Working for yourself is a blast, a trip, a walk in the park. Go for it.
My work here is done. Time to start on dinner.
Build Solid Back-Room Basics For Business Success
What do South African entrepreneurs really know about what goes on behind the scenes building of businesses?
South Africa has a vibrant start-up culture with great ideas starting out with a bang, but closing down with a whimper because entrepreneurs picture the glory at the destination, but not the nitty gritty of the journey to get there.
Be smart about scale
When I started out, I literally did everything myself. I negotiated and signed leases, I arranged the furnishing for our apartments and managed the interior décor process. When guests started using our apartments, I signed them in at reception, and then carried their bags.
At that stage, there was no money in my business to pay for attorneys, interior designers and decorators and there certainly wasn’t enough money for porters.
However, when we got to 70 apartments, it didn’t make sense for me to be a porter any longer, so I hired someone to do that job, explaining clearly what I expected of him. Before I did that, though, I spent time designing incentives for him so that he would be more affordable for me, and so that he could earn as much money as possible.
Related: Training Is A Two-Way Trick
Know your talents – and your limitations
There are certain things I’m really good at, but I know without a doubt that sales isn’t one of them – and without sales, you don’t have a business. I couldn’t afford a top-flight salesperson, but I knew that I could attract the right talent with the right business model. I set some high targets for Pamela Niemand, but offered her one third of the business if she met them. We both won: she earned a share in a successful, trend-setting business, and my trend-setting business became successful!
Use your skills – but know when to hand over
My background in corporate finance meant that I had all the accounting skills I needed when we first started out, but I knew that the time would come when I would need someone focused on that side of the business full time. Doing it all myself first meant that I could brief my first full-time accountant clearly and with a deep understanding of what would be required – and that I could help that person find and fix any challenges based on my experience.
In summary, my simple advice to anyone starting out would be to bootstrap your business yourself without investors or staff for as long as you can, but don’t over-extend yourself. Know when to delegate tasks away so that you can focus on what you’re really good at – but don’t do it before you have a solid understanding of what’s required. Know what you’ll never be able to do, and bring in that resource from the beginning – but do it based on performance-based incentives, so that your fledgling business doesn’t lose out if your early hires don’t perform.
The Myth About The Relationship Between Entrepreneurs And Taking Risks
This is the true relationship between entrepreneurs and the apparent illusion of risk.
“I can’t be an entrepreneur or start a business. I don’t have the appetite for risk.” This line is spoken regularly to brave few that leave the perceived safety of a job, take the plunge and venture into the unknown world of being an entrepreneur. However, there is a gross misunderstanding in the appetite for risk that entrepreneurs are believed to have innately inside of them.
The little-known truth is that the majority of entrepreneurs don’t like taking risks and according to Luca Rigotti and Mathew Ryan in their paper that explores a model for quantifying risk and its translation into enterprising action, the results were very interesting.
Risk is explained by these theorists as taking action where the outcomes are unpredictable as well the factors leading to that outcome are unknown. One of the theorists in this area, Saraswati, who coined the term “tolerance for ambiguity” has a more accurate description of what the outside world deems taking a risk.
In simple terms, entrepreneurs don’t go head-first into the shark infested water because they like the idea of danger and potentially being eaten alive; or the thrill of being able to say that they survived whilst others perished in a pool of maimed flesh. They carefully calculate that the sharks have been fed recently, some of the sharks are ragged tooth sharks that whilst looking like they are set to devour a human being, are actually incapable of opening their jaws wide enough to bite. For those sharks that still have space or who smell blood and can’t resist the urge to kill, the entrepreneur has a cage set up that he can retreat into quickly and a knife with which to protect himself.
Tolerance for ambiguity is the careful evaluation of what is known at the moment where a decision must be made and an open-mindedness for what is not known. This, coupled with the agility to change course when new information is presented, has earned the label of high risk appetite. The appetite is not for the risk, but it is the ability to move down a path, when all the information is not known.
I likened it to a person moving around in the dark holding a candle. The candle casts a light that illuminates a limited parameter around the person holding the candle. What is beyond the light that the candle casts, is unknown and potentially a risk. But as the person moves forward, the light reveals what was unknown and in the shadows. As the light reveals new information and new challenges added to what they have already learnt, the person can make better informed decisions. The tolerance is in not knowing what lies in the shadows yet to be illuminated by the candle and then the confidence in his or her own ability to act on what new information is discovered.
None of this behaviour is risky or irresponsible. There is careful consideration for what is known and a tolerance for what is unknown. And once there is more information available, a calculated next step is taken and more information is assimilated into what is now known. This is the true relationship between entrepreneurs and the apparent illusion of risk.
7 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs To Adopt Today
Want to know what skills can help you build confidence and your business? Here are seven…
For some people, becoming an entrepreneur is as easy as stepping off a bus. They have a big idea, they bring it to life, they hire employees and the next thing they are in a building smothered in branding and living the business dream. For others, the idea and the passion are there but they are unsure as to how they can make these into a sustainable reality. Entrepreneurial spirit isn’t like instant coffee – you don’t add ideas and suddenly get all the skills you need to thrive.
Want to know what skills can help you build confidence and your business? Here are seven…
1. Believable vision
Make sure that your vision is believable and achievable. It has to live in the realms of possibility, not as a blue-sky idea that looks good on paper but wouldn’t work in reality. You need to be able to live this vision so make it realistic and achievable. This will not only keep you on track, but your employees as well.
2. Be inclusive
You need to ensure that every person who works with you feels as if they are part of your vision and understand it. They need to relate to where the business is going and how it plans to get there. Many leaders don’t understand why employees are not engaged with their business and it’s because many of them don’t actually understand what the business does.
3. Communication is critical
If you don’t have fantastic communication skills, then now is the time to hone them. When it comes to building employee morale, commitment and engagement, nothing works as effectively as constant communication. The same applies to client relationships. You need to repeat the vision and ethos of the company at every opportunity and you need to be part of the team that does this communication.
4. Be visible and transparent
You are communicating, now you need to make that communication genuine by being both open and clear. People respond incredibly well to transparency. They feel as if they are part of something that recognises their value and contribution and it fosters a more inclusive company culture. Often toxic cultures come about thanks to a lack of communication and visibility. People know when things are being kept secret and react negatively to it, regardless of whether they’re an employee, a customer or a manager.
5. Be practical
You aren’t going to build an empire in a fortnight so focus on a realistic and practical business strategy that has clear benchmarks and even clearer goals. Communicate these with the company and keep everybody on the same page. Practical and achievable means long-term success.
6. Build opportunities
As people become immersed in your company and part of its growth they will also need opportunities to grow. You need to tie their careers to the business and create opportunities for them.
7. Be human
It takes people to build a culture, a company and a future. It’s essential that you are human in your interactions and your treatment of others. The impact that a down to earth and authentic attitude can have on a company is extraordinary.
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