I'm often surprised when I talk to people interested in starting their own businesses. When asking about my experience as an entrepreneur, they'll say, "You're so lucky," or "It must be great to be out of the rat race." Statements like this make me smile because they couldn't be less true. Luck has nothing to do with it. As for the rat race, while different, it's faster than ever.
That's why I wanted to share the realities of being an entrepreneur. First, a disclaimer: At the end of every day, I wouldn't trade my current situation for any other option, and I'm grateful to be able to do what I truly love. However, being an entrepreneur isn't the easy, carefree career path that many believe it to be; it's actually quite the opposite. When everything is invested in your own business--time, money, passion and creativity--it can border on obsession. And when you work from home or your spouse or family members work with you, you rarely, if ever, leave the office--at least from a mental standpoint.
Let me start with a few hard truths of being an entrepreneur:
1. It's stressful. If you think meeting a boss's deadlines or demands is tough, try meeting your own, especially when your personal savings are on the line. Maybe you've already taken out a second mortgage and your credit cards are maxxed out. Or maybe you've borrowed money from family and friends and you're on the hook to pay them back, ASAP. This type of pressure lights a fire under even the most laid-back personalities. Not only will you feel the pressure to get your business off the ground, but you'll also feel the added pressure to do so quickly to regain some semblance of financial security.
2. It's never-ending. Yes, it can be thankless to work for someone else, knowing your skills and talents are ultimately making someone else a bundle. But in most jobs, you can leave the work behind when you go home to enjoy your family, friends or hobbies. As an entrepreneur, the workload can be intense, especially during the early stages when you are the CEO, CFO, HR person, sales staff, marketing guru, tech guy, office manager, and janitor. With all these roles, there's rarely a moment that you feel your work is "done" for the day. There's always something more you could be doing, like researching new markets, writing press releases, contacting new media, cold calling new sales outlets, developing new products and the list goes on. And that can eat away at time formerly devoted to family, leisure activities, workouts or relaxation. It's a difficult balance to strike.
3. It's frustrating. Maybe you've partnered with someone who doesn't have your best interests at heart. Or you've received a shipment of damaged products that you need for a trade show the next day. Or the media appearance you spent days preparing for is suddenly cancelled due to a natural disaster. As an entrepreneur, these types of situations happen on a regular basis. (I speak from experience; all of the above happened to me.) The truth is that you never know what's around the corner and it can be extremely frustrating when you've planned to spend a day on product development, only to find out that you have to repair the cases of product packaging that came apart during shipping.
So with this kind of stress, pressure and workload, why, then, would anyone subject themselves to being an entrepreneur? The answer is simple: the positives outweigh the negatives:
1. It's rewarding. When you're successful, you reap both financial and emotional rewards. There's no better feeling than seeing a product you've worked hard to develop on store shelves, or when you've provided successful service for a grateful client. It's exciting to make a sale or win a new client when you know it's from your own hard work; it's gratifying when customers tell you that your product, service or example has made a difference in their lives. And of course, turning a profit and knowing your business is financially stable are extremely rewarding as well.
2. It's flexible. Once you work for yourself, it's common to feel you could never work in a conventional 9-to-5 environment again. I believe it's mostly due to the flexibility. Yes, you may work more hours, but you can do so on your own terms. You can stop work at 3 to pick up the kids from school without asking your boss for permission. You can work from midnight to 4 a.m. if you're a night owl. You can work from home or your own office with daycare on-site. When you're the boss, you call the shots, and the new freedom can be exhilarating.
3. It's the chance to create. Many entrepreneurs are driven by the need to build something great, help other people, or leave something behind. Perhaps it's a business that your children can join and grow; maybe it's the legacy of creating something that will be around long after you're gone. No matter what the motivation, creating something from nothing that grows and develops through the years can be almost like raising a child; it's your baby, and you've nurtured it to its current level of success. That type of fulfillment is difficult to duplicate in most other career paths.