The Dark Side Of Sustaining An SME
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
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Three years ago, I embarked on pursuing one of my biggest dreams. Intertwined with my passion, no word of caution or advice was enough to prepare or deter me from the journey I was about to go on.
In an earlier article I’d published entitled ‘The Bipolar Journey of Entrepreneurship’, I spoke about the emotional highs and lows that come with starting your own business and what one might expect to feel emotionally. It touched on surface experiences to that initial phase of starting an SME. Today, I move to an even deeper experience of the journey– the dark side of ‘sustaining’ an SME. This is an area not many speak about so openly as it touches on the not-so glamorous part of the entrepreneurial journey.
This piece is aimed specifically at entrepreneurs who have started from scratch and have fought tooth and nail to bring their brainchild into fruition- this article is for the truly ‘self-made’ entrepreneur. It’s for those people who’ve left the security and cushy comforts behind in order to live their dreams out every day no matter how steep the compromise.
If you are a true entrepreneur persevering headstrong through to the finish line, here are some not-so-pretty parts of what you might be battling:
1. Anxiety becomes a permanent fixture in your daily life
You’re being pushed to perform in areas that you’re not used to, presenting in arenas that might be intimidating, all while working towards growth and fighting the battle of frequent rejection. There is no time to say, “I need more time,” and so, you are thrust into uncertainty on a frequent basis.
Advice: Here is where you will have to be disciplined with self-care and access tools that reduce stress and anxiety. Physical exercises and relaxing breaks that include massages, breathing techniques or grounding daily really do work. Tap into what works for you and do them consistently!
2. Your ethics will be challenged
In the pressure of trying to power through as an entrepreneur, money constraints often crop as well as the need to “win” and to progress your SME to the next level. You may get faced with unethical suggestions of under-the-table deals or other solutions to keep your business afloat.
Advice: Stick to your principles, even if it’s the hard way out. The karmic reward of long-term respect and a clear conscience is so much greater than giving in to temptation.
3. Not everything will follow "the plan"
I started my practice with an ideal plan that I believed would maintain the course I set for it. However, changes were frequent and certain aspects of the plan never seemed to stick no matter how integral I thought they were.
Advice: Don’t beat yourself up about not sticking to a timeline. It can be demotivating, but sometimes that fluidity is necessary to help you find your way. Recognize the changes and positivity they bring and allow yourself to slow down. Take stock of what’s happening to you and around you in order to deal with challenges more effectively.
4. The journey will age you
Owning a business means taking responsibility and putting in a lot of groundwork both mentally and physically. It brings about a lot of character changes, making you think and react differently than you may have used to in the past.
Advice: The more experiences you open yourself up to, the more you’ll learn and grow. The good thing about these experiences is the growth they bring to your persona. They make you empathetic and sensitive to those around you- and that’s always a good thing.
5. Rejection is real
When being rejected frequently, it’s easy to feel low about it, and it is in fact, an inherent fear most entrepreneurs deal with and why I speak about this often. Rejection is part of growth, but is especially hard when you believe the outcome of an action will be positive.
Advice: Without rejection, there can be no growth. Realize that your product or service might not be for everyone and that’s okay. Rejection gives you the chance to consider reviewing ways to improve what you have to offer. Don’t take it personally. Expect rejection, learn from it and move on.
6. You’ll become a chaser
Although many companies adhere to payment terms and try their best to keep up with their initial agreements, there remain a few with whom you’ll resort to chasing for payments. An SME does not have the luxury to be ultra picky when it comes to choosing their clients and sometimes may even extend the service or product before official paperwork has been attained just for the chance to cultivate a long-term relationship with them. Very often an SME will come across some who don’t stand by their initial word.
Advice: Always document an agreement! Even in situations where official LPO’s have not been released due to time constraints or what not, follow up the verbal agreement with an email. When it comes to chasing overdue payments with long term clients, I suggest assigning an external person to follow up on your behalf as to not put you in an awkward position or hinder your rapport.
7. You may have to borrow money and it feels bad!
When you don’t have enough running cash, you’ll turn to external sources of finance to keep going. It hurts to depend on someone for help, but that’s just how it is sometimes.
Advice: First consider what you could liquidate in terms of deposits or assets you own. Have a contingency plan for adversities. When borrowing, always do so from sources you trust and never promise a payback date that you cannot honor– as that will only make you feel even worse in the long run.
8. You’ll lose friends.
There are but a few true friends who will encourage you to plunge headfirst into your dream, and even fewer who’ll stick around. Some simply won’t understand what you’re doing and some just don’t want to keep up with it because the pace is not something they understand. Bottom line, be prepared for loss.
Advice: Here’s the good part: Life-long friends will always be there. You’ll also make new friends along the way and meet like-minded individuals who are going through or have experienced what you’re faced with. However, don’t alienate good ol’ buddies- be mindful towards the needs of others.
Whatever journey you’re on or are about to undertake, it will come with personal experiences that will lead to many sleepless nights. Stay level-headed, don’t isolate yourself by trying to deal with everything on your own. Access a network of fellow entrepreneurs who can share their expertise to keep you in the game. Remember, if it were easy, everyone would do it!