A year ago, I quit my job to start a business — here’s what I wish someone had told me at the beginning. Here are my confessions of an entrepreneur.
A year ago, I quit my 9-5 job to focus solely on a digital marketing business.
My goal was to create a life where I could travel more, learn more, have greater ownership over my time, and work in my pyjamas.
I spent six months working my current job alongside building for my launch, but I still wasn’t prepared for the plot twists, the highs, and the lows.
Over the last 12 months, I’ve collaborated with over 30 clients from six countries, failed miserably to market my own company, worked from three countries, flown past the monthly four-figure revenue mark, had months where I earned less than minimum wage, hired a team, dismissed a few, felt like both a genius and a failure — sometimes in the same day — and succumbed to regular anxiety and despair.
For many reading this, what I am going to write will come as no surprise, these are things I wish someone would have told me at the start of this journey.
Nobody knows what they’re doing
This fascinating piece I read on the psychological price of entrepreneurship references an analogy about entrepreneurship I love: it’s like a man riding a lion.
“People look…and think, this guy’s really got it together! He’s brave! And the man riding the lion is thinking, how the f*ck did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?”
Successful entrepreneurs achieve a somewhat mythical cult status in our culture. We idolise them as standing on the shoulder of giants.
Yet everyone who runs a business, whether they’re an independent freelancer or a corporate company CEO, is simply making educated guesses based on their past experiences.
I remind myself that surely it’s experienced by everyone, not just me. Those we look up to as “successful” aren’t special or extraordinarily talented. They just had the courage to dream big and the commitment to persevere. Right?
Doing this is hard — Doing it alone is harder
I launched pretty much the easiest business it is to launch: a service-based business. I work from home, on my own. But it’s still so hard some days. Doubts and anxieties can quickly become overwhelming. “Am I doing the right things for my clients? Am I getting enough clients? Should I accept lower paid work in case I do not get any future clients?”
A couple of months in, I learned not to underestimate the value of support networks – mentors, peers, family and friends. I thought I could do this alone, but I was wrong.
This doesn’t always prevent failures or challenges, but it helps to resolve them.
Give up the things that don’t contribute to your goal
Priorities – and accountability to those priorities – are more important to me than ever before.
This took me a while to grasp. Finally I identified numerous goals I wanted to achieve. Then I circled my top 5 – everything else became irrelevant until I achieved the top 5.
How did this go? I failed. I ended up amending my goals and changing my priorities. Why I hear you ask? Failure depresses me, so I changed direction to achieve smaller wins. It’s these wins – that kept me from turning my back on being an entrepreneur.
Forgive yourself for failure
I’ve worked on several projects this year that have fallen flat. I’ve had a couple of times where I wasn’t sure how I would pay for rent the following month, or buy food for my three sons. These are my worst moments – where I convinced myself I am a failure.
I quickly learnt that a measure of an entrepreneur is when things are at their worst. That’s when it takes real commitment and determination. Anyone can work for themselves when the money is rolling in and they’re working from a cafe looking over a medieval square in Tallinn like I have done.
Becoming okay with failure, accepting it and importantly forgiving yourself for it, and creating processes to ensure you learn from it has been a big learning curve. The sooner you can master it, the better.
There’s more than one way to structure your life
It’s fascinating to me how we live our lives within a framework that feels concrete but is actually fluid.
We’re basically told how things are and how to “succeed,” whatever that means, within this structure. In reality, we have a lot more power than we’re led to believe.
Growing up in the UK, I was constantly told – go to sixth form college, go to university, then obtain a masters, then get a real job, stay at that real job until you retire. It wasn’t until I emigrated to Estonia that I realised what total B**sh*t this was.
Although these experiences have served me well, it was not until meeting local entrepreneurs here in Tallinn with a zest for change that I changed myself. My wife had always told me this – yet it took me to leave my home country to finally snap out of this malaise.
Now I set my own structure, even if it does cause me worry about paying the bills!
It’s hard to create a work / life balance
Those who work 9 to 5 jobs often marvel with envy at me – “It’s great that you work for yourself, you can take time off when you like, go to social events when you like, you work on your timeframe.” Err.. definitely NOT. I work HARDER and LONGER.
For me, (and my wife) problems don’t rest when the clock strikes five o’clock. For us, the workday is 24 hours, and the workweek is a full seven days. We both work with clients from Australia, Europe and North America – our ‘working days’ spread across several time zones based on client demand. In between working we must get our young sons ready for school, pick them up, make them dinner, help them do their homework, spend time with them, put them to bed.
Only then can we consider scaling and marketing our businesses. As often happens I feel exhausted and don’t bother. I think to myself if I cannot market my own company, then how the heck can I market others?
As a father, I know I do not spend enough time with my sons. I feel like I have failed them. Surely I should be less selfish and get a 9 to 5 job so I can dedicate more time to them?
Fortunately for me my partner at the time, being an ambitious entrepreneur herself reminds me why I am an entrepreneur – because I love doing what I do; the work itself, the people I work with. Having self-worth is better than having net-worth. Even more now, I fully appreciate the limited time I spend with my family.
Your raison d’être – the reason you do this
I’ve become a mentor to other entrepreneurs. I don’t hold back when I tell them, being an entrepreneur is tough. You have to be aware, behind the product launch parties and networking events is sheer f*cking hard work. Unless it is your raison d’être – your reason to be, then you’ll likely fail.
I know those who have the ideas, the talent, but I also know they lack the attitude to continue when times will inevitably become tough. Sounds harsh? Well maybe, but I’d rather hear why and how they want to be an entrepreneur.
If it’s because you want to leave your 9 to 5 job, then entrepreneurship is not for you. If it’s because you want to change those working structures and do more of what you love. Then just do it.
Procrastination is your enemy
Yeah i’ve done it, wasted hours, even days, mulling over what to do and when to do it. Shall I offer new services? Shall take on more clients? Shall I move into a different direction?
I can tell you now if you’re thinking this, then just do it. Immediately.
For me, I was thinking of the consequences of each potential task or strategy. Will it upset existing clients, do I have the resources to offer certain skills – heck do I have the skills to offer another service?!
I quickly learnt if I was not doing it, then others, namely competitors were. And yeah I thought they must be growing faster than me, they must be better than me. They are not. They just had the balls to do it and didn’t procrastinate like I did. Better to try and deal later with the consequences rather than living with regret.
Being an entrepreneur, marketer and father is not easy. You could argue that they share similarities: you have to learn and adapt quickly as the surrounding environments change, you need the support of your family, friends and mentors. They are all hard yet it is rewarding work. And I love it.
Until last year, I’d never truly understood that. Or maybe I just never chose to believe it.