7 Myths About Starting a Business That I Used to Believe
Entrepreneurship is not for the timid. It’s not that it takes tremendous amounts of courage, but you do need a certain tenacity to hit the ground running every morning when you swing your feet out of bed.
As the allure of entrepreneurship grows in the zeitgeist of global culture, so too do the myths surrounding it. Just as early explorers set out to discover America and other faraway lands, entrepreneurs are setting their course for some uncharted territories, and there are always tall tales that can go along with the unknown.
We know now that whales and dolphins are not mermaids and that the world is not flat, but there was a period in time when those myths were accepted as fact. Similarly, there are myths built up around starting a business that simply aren’t true. Here are seven common entrepreneurial myths about starting a business that I used to believe, which I can now debunk for you.
1. You have to know what you’re doing.
You actually don’t need to know exactly what you’re doing to get started. Time has proven that continuously. From Magellan, Einstein, Madame Curie, Steve Jobs and beyond, there was never an exact plan for the course ahead -- just a general idea that something more was out there. Let your curiosity overpower the myth that you have to know exactly what you’re doing to get started.
2. You have to have a full business plan.
I personally don’t like giant business plans. Something simple that effectively outlines your mission, vision and marketing tent-pole efforts with some data matrix around how you’re measuring your success and you should be good to go.
I’ve witnesses many entrepreneurs get bogged down in the mud of insisting they need a full business plan to start their businesses, even going so far as to hire someone to write it and filing for a trademark before they begin. I’m of the philosophy that you should test out whether your business is even viable before you sink money into it.
Get a solid two- or three-page outline of your business plan and then get to work. Don’t get trapped in business plan analysis paralysis.
3. You have to start at the right time.
Wrong. The only timing that will ever be right is now. In fact, countless entrepreneurs have started their businesses at the worst possible times in history, and the worst possible time in their personal lives.
Entrepreneur and podcaster Pat Flynn started his first online business after the nearly simultaneous news that he was being laid off from his corporate gig and that his wife was pregnant with their first child. No one would likely choose that high-anxiety period in their personal life to start a business, but life tends to take us where we need to go.
Microsoft was founded in 1975 near the end of a recession and later re-incorporated in 1981, just as the recession of the 1980s kicked off. These were two horrible times to start a business, but that hasn’t stopped Microsoft’s success.
The timing will never be right -- that’s why you need to start right now.
4. You have to have a lot of money to start.
You don’t need a lot of money to get started. There’s a whole book by Eric Reis about why this is the case called The Lean Startup.
There are lots of ways to kick-off your business without a bunch of capital. One of the best ways to debunk this myth for yourself is to start micro-testing your product or service either on the side or in small batches to scale your growth incrementally. Big chunks of capital might help you grow faster, but sometimes a slow and steady growth rate can help you stabilize and get your business legs underneath you while your profit margins grow.
I highly recommend the book for ideas on how you can get started without spending a lot of money up front.
5. You have to hire staff.
This is one myth I quickly debunked when I started my first business with my brother. Staff is expensive to keep, cost time to manage and are in most ways the biggest expense any business will have on the books. The longer you can keep your business under your core leadership, the better.
Also, in my experience, when you can outsource to agencies or freelancers, for most businesses that’s almost always better. Keeping yourself free of staff overhead costs when you’re starting a business will help you be successful.
6. You have to work 24/7.
Entrepreneurs tend to work long hours most days. In startup mode, that’s simply what’s required. However, you have to be aware not only of your cash burn rate as a startup, but also your personal burn out rate.
If you grind yourself into the dust day after day without relief, you’re going to get sick and unhealthy, and that’s going to affect your success. You don’t have to work 24/7 to run a successful business. While you will need to work hard, and there will definitely be periods of seriously intense work, you also need to balance that with good sleep, good food, plenty of movement and some fun sometimes.
Entrepreneurship is hard work, but it’s supposed to be enjoyable, too.
7. You have to do it all.
This might appear to belie the earlier myth about not hiring staff, but the truth is that you don’t have to do it all in your business. It’s important to delegate and outsource some of the daily tasks and responsibilities of the business so you can have breathing space from time to time. Doing it all will mean burning yourself out and it’s a common mistake I see amongst new entrepreneurs.
Keep your sanity and learn not to do it all.
Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.