When I Started My Business, I Almost Lost My Life Savings. Here's How I Handled the Stress.
Two years ago, I quit my job and started my own business at the age of 25.
I was full of hope, optimism, motivation, hustle -- every entrepreneurial cliché you can think of, I had it. But, as the months passed by, things began to change. And not in a good way.
Our business wasn’t making enough money to pay the bills, and I saw my life savings begin to circle down the drain. Statistics show that about five out of 10 new businesses fail within the first five years, and I was about to contribute to that statistic before the end of year one.
I was in trouble.
The stress I felt from going broke was truly overwhelming -- unlike anything I have ever felt before. Once the money I had worked so hard to save up started running out, it was impossible for me to focus on the right things in my business.
The thing I found out about dealing with this type of stress is that it’s really hard to talk to other people about. Seeking out advice involves an implicit admission that “yes, I am failing,” and that is a tough pill to swallow.
For any aspiring entrepreneurs that are taking the leap into the unknown, these five tips can help you manage (and avoid) the financial stress that is all too common among startup founders.
1. Be realistic about your (personal) burn rate.
From my budget, I calculated a year’s worth of personal living expenses I would need to save up (in addition to business expenses).
What I thought was a one year runway turned out to be closer to nine months. The bare bones budget I laid out for myself couldn’t handle “real life.” I expected myself to not go $1 above my allotted monthly expenses, and looking back, I realize just how impractical that was.
Save more money than you think you will need. Not necessarily to lengthen your runway, but to widen it. I promise, having extra breathing room in your budget will make a world of difference in your peace of mind and mental clarity.
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2. Prioritize cash flow.
In the first few months out on my own, I put too much effort into the small details that I thought mattered. Tweaking our website until it was just the way I wanted it, making sure everything was just right, etc.
Focus more on the big picture things that will actually drive your revenue. It’s better to get an imperfect product to the market, rather than agonizing over every tiny detail and waste precious time in the “no revenue” phase.
Find a way to get to cash flow positive as soon as possible.
3. Constantly evaluate what’s working and what isn’t.
Our business didn’t start to finally take off until we accepted things as they were, rather than how we wanted them to be.
Take the feedback the market gives, and be willing to make pivots in your business model if you find something that is working better than your original idea or vision. Change is okay.
Being persistent and digging your heels in the sand are two very different things. When it comes to the future of your business, don’t confuse one for the other. The quicker you can make the right decisions, the quicker you will find success.
4. Keep practicality and humility in mind.
About nine months into starting my business, I had to do what every entrepreneur fears the most -- I had to go back and get a job.
And what’s even more humbling than that: My new job paid less than half of what I was making before. But, knowing I was making enough to at least cover my personal expenses (barely), my stress levels instantly dropped. With less stress, I was able to focus again on growing my business, rather than just trying to survive.
It didn’t matter that I was working 40 hours a week on top of running my business. I knew I was going to make it. I knew I was going to be okay.
Don’t worry about what other people will think of you if you need to pick up a job to make ends meet. Be practical and do what you need to do, regardless of how it looks to others. Get the notion out of your head that going back to work means you have failed.
If you need cash but don’t want to get a normal job, consider picking up a side hustle to earn extra money.
5. Find an escape.
I would have gone absolutely crazy if I didn’t have an escape from my business. For me, my outlet was a boxing gym. It was a place where I could completely get away from startup life, even if just for an hour a few times a week. I will say, nothing even comes close to getting the stress out like beating up on a punching bag.
Whatever your outlet may be, make sure you have one. Entrepreneurs naturally live an unbalanced life, but you need to make sure you take care of yourself (both physically and mentally).
Starting a business from scratch is hard enough. Dealing with money stress makes it even harder. If you can find a way to make the financial burden on yourself a little less painful, you’ll be much better positioned to focus on what truly matters: making your business a success.