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Shape Up!

If you want to start your own business, you'd better make sure you're in shape for it--emotionally, mentally and financially. Our three entrepreneurial fitness tests will help you see if you've got what it takes to get through the start-up phase.

Congratulations: You've been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. The way you see it, it's time to reap the rewards of running your own show.

Sounds like a good plan, but are you sure you're emotionally, mentally and financially ready for what lies ahead? If not, your dream business could quickly become your worst nightmare.

Just like people who take up a fitness program of stomach crunches and jogging to get into better shape, you'll have to figure out where you need to shape up as an entrepreneur. Where are you strong and where are you weak? And how will you work on your weak spots?

Think of this article as your personal fitness trainer--for becoming an entrepreneur, that is. We're going to help you measure your entrepreneurial fitness so you can get into tiptop emotional, mental and financial shape before you open for business.

1. Getting Emotionally Fit
Starting a business is like riding an emotional roller coaster with a loose seat belt. You'll wonder if you've made the right decision the moment it really hits home that you're generating your own paychecks now. You'll second-guess yourself every day. You'll ping-pong between feeling up and feeling down, sometimes within the same hour.

But the psychological baggage you'll carry around all day is only half the story: Friends and family will react to your decision to become an entrepreneur by dropping their emotional Samsonites on your doorstep, too. Maybe you're the first person they know who's brave enough to reject the W-2 lifestyle, and suddenly, they don't understand you anymore. Some people might refuse to see your new venture as a real job, feel jealous that you're willing to take a big risk when they're not, or delight in sharing horror stories of companies that went out of business. If they failed, you probably will too, right? Then there's the first time you'll hear your confused parents explaining your new life to others--or trying their best to explain it, anyway.

As a new entrepreneur, you could be "cutting yourself off from the family values you were raised with," says Ben Leichtling, founder of Leichtling and Associates LLC, a Denver management consulting firm. "You'll [hear] everything from 'I wish I had the courage to do that' to 'Have you seen a shrink?'"

The reactions of others will make you question both your business model and your sanity. On the one hand, you'll have to navigate the psychological undercurrents swirling around you. On the other, you'll have to get comfortable being the oddball in the family. Take an honest look at yourself. Is your self-confidence shaky? Develop a strategy for handling the criticism that will be heaped on top of your own insecurities, and think about how you'll stay positive about your business. It might be best to distance yourself from the pessimists in your life and lean on supportive people--other entrepreneurs who understand, for example--until you feel comfortable in your new role, Leichtling says.

Wondering if now's the right time to take the entrepreneurial plunge? We asked Cheryl Thompson, the author of Fire Your Boss! The 19 Secrets of Entrepreneurial Success to share her tips. 

What if your spouse doesn't want you to quit your day job? In this case, it's hard to distance yourself. You'll have to pinpoint the fear--which might be anxiety about how you'll pay the bills, concern that you'll be spending less time at home or something else. Spouses on the outside looking in "aren't in touch with the upside, the dream or how there's risk to being a [full-time] employee today," says Paul Rich, a strategic business advisor in the Seigel Rich division of accounting firm Rothstein, Kass & Co. PC in New York City. Talk about your business plan so your spouse can respect your decision and see the positives, not just the negatives.

Next, envision everyday life as an entrepreneur: You'll be the only one at the water cooler. How will you confront feelings of isolation, uncertainty and trepidation in planning a whole day on your own? "It's difficult going from a paycheck to a project-based mentality," says Judith Dacey, CPA and owner of Small Business Resources Inc., an accounting firm in Orlando, Florida, that works with start-ups. "The hardest person to manage is yourself."

Block out a whole work week on paper, just for practice. For example, you might allot two hours every day for marketing, another few hours for sales calls, a lunch break and so on. Before you know it, you'll find structure to your day, and becoming a full-time entrepreneur won't be such an emotional shock. Diving into a swimming pool is a lot less painful when there's water in it. "Being an entrepreneur is the hardest job there is in life," Rich says. "You want to go positively to where you're going."

Emotional Fitness Checklist
To be emotionally fit as a new entrepreneur, you should be able to answer yes to these 10 statements:
  1. I can bounce back from failure and disappointment.
  2. I'm a self-starter who can work alone.
  3. I'm comfortable with uncertainty and risk.
  4. I complete every project I choose to take on.
  5. I come through for people without failing them.
  6. I'm able to hold my ground without caving in to pressure.
  7. I can confront and resolve problems.
  8. I can make final decisions amid uncertainty and conflicting advice.
  9. My family understands my decision to start a business. They also realize that they will be a part of the business.
  10. I can remain confident when others don't understand me or my vision for the business.
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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the October 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Shape Up!.

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