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Get Real

Reality Check

Why do so many aspiring entrepreneurs close up shop after only a few months in business? Often it's because they have unrealistic expectations about the entrepreneurial life. They want the freedom to pursue their passions, earn unlimited incomes and call their own shots, but don't consider the harsh realities that afflict start-up entrepreneurs--erratic cash flows, 60- to 90-hour workweeks, and intense feelings of isolation and discouragement. As a result, they crack under the pressure of tough times and flee to the next available "real" job.

"If your expectations are too grand, the reality of [running a business] will constantly depress you," warns Peter Kurtz, 34, whose Digital Air Control Inc. designs, installs and maintains building automation systems for commercial office buildings.

What's the solution? Get real with yourself before you leave behind the world of steady paychecks and affordable health-care benefits. The big money may or may not come, but as an entrepreneur, here's what you're guaranteed to experience:

1. Setbacks. What distinguishes successful entrepreneurs from those who don't make it is that they persist toward their goals, no matter what obstacles they face.

Take Kurtz, for example. "One of the biggest challenges I faced when I started my company," the Houston entrepreneur recalls, "was convincing customers to purchase an expensive, sophisticated automation system for their facility from a start-up company that was based in a garage apartment and had no financial backing."

But Kurtz never allowed his youth, his company's humble size--or any other obstacle--to hold him back, and his persistence has paid off. He launched Digital Air Control in 1993 and hopes to grow it into a $1.8 million company with 17 employees by year-end.

2. The victim trap. Kurtz could have wallowed in self-pity when he encountered his first rejections from prospective customers and financiers--and most people would have understood his plight. But Kurtz resisted the temptation to declare himself a victim of other peoples' actions, resolving to keep his focus on the things he could change.

When you're tempted to blame others for your circumstances, say to yourself, "My decisions have brought me here. What can I do to overcome this obstacle?" Then brainstorm a list of at least 20 possible solutions. When you take responsibility for your circumstances and focus on the things you can control and influence, you feel more confident--and less stressed out--about your ability to make your business succeed.

3. Where's the boss? Many aspiring entrepreneurs dream of being their own boss but don't realize that being the Big Kahuna is actually hard work. When you're the boss, kicking back for a few hours could mean missing a mortgage payment or drastically cutting this week's grocery budget.

Remember, you have no one else to tell you when to wake up, go to work or call it a day--you're the boss. If you're self-disciplined and get a rush out of challenges that can yield lucrative rewards, then by all means take the plunge!

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Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.

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