5 Entrepreneurial Truths You Must Experience to Understand There's no substitute for real-world learning. Here are a few lessons to watch for along your path to success.
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Entrepreneurship is a dream for many people. Professionals enjoy the prospect of working for themselves, doing what they love, calling the shots, building a company culture, and leading teams. Most founders are aware of the downsides before they launch their businesses. They understand they'll need to make tough sacrifices, work on a shoestring budget and face sleepless nights.
But there's a limit to how much you can prepare -- no matter how many seminars you attend or classes you take. Some things simply can't be absorbed by reading leadership books or speaking with industry veterans. You must experience these lessons firsthand to grasp their importance.
I don't pretend to have all the answers from my five-plus years in the game. I've learned countless hard lessons, and I'm sure there will be much more to learn in my future. Here are five big, ugly truths most entrepreneurs will face at one point or another.
1. It's easy to start hating your passion.
We've all heard the cheeseball quote, "Do what you love, and you'll never work another day in your life." While it's definitely true to an extent, if you invest your life savings into turning a side business or passion project into a full-time gig, the negative aspects and stress of running a successful operation can make it easy to fall out of love with it. After all, work is not play.
Chances are, you'll spend at least the first few years working from the crack of dawn well into the evening -- on weekdays and weekends. Burnout can be just around every corner, and your dream career quickly can turn into your worst nightmare.
Make sure you take a sabbatical every once in a while. Even though you've invested a great deal in pursuing your passion, you need other pursuits or activities that can take your mind off work. For example, you might set aside an afternoon each week for a round of golf or to meet up with friends for a game of cards -- anything that gives you a bit of separation.
While it might not seem feasible in the early stages of running your business, protecting time for yourself is crucial to your long-term success. If you work 24/7 and don't make room for anything else, you'll eventually grow to hate your job. Trust me.
2. Working with friends or family is complicated.
When you're starting a business, working with friends or family may seem like a given. You trust them, they trust you, you know what kind of people they are, and you believe in one another. What could possibly go wrong?
No matter how good your relationship with a loved one, working with him or her in a professional setting will present some challenges. The business world isn't always a friendly place. You'll need accountability if anything goes south. And if your company grows and you need to hire more people, bringing friends or family into the mix can wreak havoc on the political scene within the organization. You don't want to give others the impression that you bestow favoritism or unfair advantages. These are toxic ingredients for any business.
You also should consider that you may have blind spots when it comes to family or friends. Your personal relationship can make it hard to predict or fully understand how an individual will function in a business setting. Your cousin could be the nicest person you know, but at the same time, he or she might be subpar in a job role. You might not discover such shortcomings until you spend weeks -- or months -- working together. You can't afford to give out free passes. In some cases, the best business decision might be to let a friend and family member go. This inevitably will compromise your relationship outside the company.
Depending on your situation, it might be best to avoid mixing these relationships. If you do bring in family or friends, you must be extremely careful which of them you choose to work with. Approach each position the same as you would any other hiring decision. Understand the individual's expertise, work ethic and process. Then, use your deep knowledge of the person to match him or her with the right role.
3. Your home life will be put to the test.
In the lean early years -- when your time is as scarce as your financial resources -- your family members may feel as if they're in second place. The harsh reality is that you sometimes will have to cancel plans with your spouse, miss your kid's recital or arrive late to a sporting event. These tradeoffs come with the job. While your family ideally will be supportive of your business venture, part of being a family is simply showing up. Make an effort to put the most important people in your life first.
Financial instability, lack of free time and overburdening undoubtedly can put a strain on your family life. Your business is your "baby," and it can be every bit as demanding as a newborn. Don't nurture your company at the expense of your marriage or your connections with your children. Place a very high priority on spending meaningful time with your family and switching off the business mindset.
4. Rapid growth can be extremely dangerous.
Rapid growth is an exciting time in your business' life cycle. This is a clear sign that your hard work to build from the ground up has finally paid off. It's very likely that you're now bringing in more money than you've earned at any other time in your life. No doubt you have good intentions and you've told yourself you'll remain careful about spending money as you grow your business. But hypotheticals are one thing. It's completely different when you see the money rolling in.
It's extremely tempting to invest further into other ventures, expand your operations or make large capital expenditures. Don't cave to the impulse. If you try to grow too fast, everything you worked for can come crumbling down once reality sets in. Stick to what you do best -- and know it's better to be very good at a few things than mediocre at many things.
Related: 6 Ways to Handle Rapid Growth
Here's an exercise to test your discipline: Imagine you started a search-engine optimization (SEO) agency. During rapid growth, it might seem like a natural progression to expand your business well into the realm of digital marketing. After all, you were successful at SEO. How hard could this be? If you know very little about social media, pay-per-click models, content marketing, psychological web design or copywriting, keep your ego in check. Don't jump in head first and try to master a domain you don't understand. Hire the right people to help you, and listen to them!
Rapid growth is a transitional time, and it's dangerous to believe you're invincible. "Get rich slowly" always will be one of my favorite quotes, and it's a fine guiding principle throughout your company's rapid-growth stage.
5. Talk is cheap. Very, very cheap.
Perhaps the biggest differentiator between a dead-end job and entrepreneurship is the latter promises something exciting on the horizon. You'll always have new goals ahead and need to discover pathways to get there. It's easy to talk a big game, but there are two types of people: talkers and doers. You need to be the latter if you want to be successful as an entrepreneur.
In time, you'll learn the business world and your own network within it aren't as big as they first appear. If you create a habit of promising high and delivering low, word will get around. You'll be branded as a talker. And talk is cheap. In most cases, the adage holds true: "The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room."
Instead, let your business accomplishments do the talking. When you go to networking events, avoid speaking in absolutes, especially about the future. Don't use phrases such as, "We're going to do ___, and it's going to be ___." Speak in more goal-oriented language that shows you're taking proactive steps to work toward a goal: "We're currently doing ___ and hope to work our way to ___."
Being an entrepreneur is the most fascinating job in the world. It combines everything you learned in the classroom with the social skills you picked up as a child on the playground. It encompasses your past successes, your failures and everything in-between. And there's no denying the fact all of it can be overwhelming. Starting a business can give you an amazing, fulfilled life -- or it can ruin it altogether. Ultimately, entrepreneurship is what you make of it.