Surviving the Three Pitfalls of Business Ownership

If you're prepared for the worst, you might just be able to turn these hazards into opportunities.
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This story appears in the March 2004 issue of Startups. Subscribe »

The morning sun sheds its brilliance and warmth on your sleeping face. 10:00 a.m. 10:15 a.m. 10:30 a.m. Finally, after half an hour of lying in bed, you decide to get up and start your morning routines. Your work day officially starts fifteen minutes later as you stumble to your computer, still wearing what you woke up in, coffee in hand. And so goes the life of the entrepreneur. You get to decide when, how long, who with, where and what you work on. No boss. No politics.

While this idyllic life might be the reality for some entrepreneurs, it certainly isn't guaranteed. In reality, every entrepreneur has a unique experience depending on their decisions and plain, old luck. And while good luck may be hard to control, making good decisions isn't.

To maximize your decisions, you have to understand that entrepreneurship has its shadows-unforeseen challenges you may not learn about until you're deep in the trenches of operating your own business. The good news is that by becoming aware of these shadows as early as possible, you can structure your business for success. Let me then shine some light on the major challenges entrepreneurs face so that you can confront and effectively navigate them.

1. "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." As Thomas Edison found, if there's one thing certain about entrepreneurship, it's that things never go as planned. No matter how much market research or planning you do, or how certain an outcome seems, you can never eliminate uncertainty. This means that if you choose to start a business, thinking that it would be a good source of funds, you could very well make less money than your friend who works a minimum wage job.

Think of your business as an experiment where the outcome is uncertain, but where you'll be sure to gain valuable experience no matter the results. Beware of betting the farm when you don't have to. In entrepreneurship, you create a hypothesis (that is, a product), and you test it by marketing it to a potential market. As you continue to experiment with different business strategies, you'll be able to create better products and a better business.

2. Once you're in, you can't get out. When the clock strikes 5:00 p.m., most entrepreneurs, unlike their peers with a 9-to-5 job, have trouble forgetting about what happened during the past eight hours. In other words, an entrepreneur's business becomes a core part of their life, not just a time segment in it. This is because entrepreneurs aren't paid by the amount of time they work, but by the results they create. And with the large amount of uncertainty that comes with the territory, you may not know when or even if you're going to get paid.

Since it's going to become such a huge part of your life, be sure to choose a business idea your passionate about, one that gives you a lot of enjoyment, one that you might even do for free, given the opportunity. Think about partnering with good friends. Pick an industry and business structure that fits with your desired lifestyle. If you're doing something you don't enjoy or that's terribly stressful, you may end up thinking of it as a chore, especially when times get tough.

3. If half the journey involves taking the first step, the other half entails persistently following your chosen venture through its ups and downs. Your parents and friends want you to succeed-there's no doubt about that. However, to them, success often doesn't mean taking the risk of starting a business. What it really means is getting good grades, going to a great school, getting a job, and then working your way up the proverbial ladder of success. In addition to the internal challenges you might face as an entrepreneur, you'll also face pressure from your family, who may think of entrepreneurship as a distraction and discourage you from attempting it. Your friends may wonder why you're not hanging out with them as much and get angry at you.

Without the support of your friends and family, it will be that much easier for you to throw in the towel if the going gets tough. To help you find the resolve to continue, be sure to set realistic expectations and be prepared and committed to continuing on your entrepreneurial journey, no matter what.


Michael Simmons is a student at the Stern School of Business at New York University and the author of The Student Success Manifesto: How to Create a Life of Passion, Purpose and Prosperity. You can download his free ebook by visiting his Web site.

Edition: December 2016

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