Your First Year in Business Is Mostly About Surviving
Stress, self doubt and temptation -- and the odd gamboling deer -- will leap into your path as your business hurtles down the road during those first 12 months. Here's how to keep your hands on the wheel.
In my first year as an entrepreneur, I grew my client list, got engaged, paid all the bills and survived a car crash. Sound a bit intense? That's just life. It's always changing, and no matter how prepared you think you are, especially in business, there will always be a curveball.
Whether you're a seasoned entrepreneur with several businesses or an ambitious entrepreneur on your first voyage, we can all agree that the first 365 days can be the most frightening. I eclipsed that milestone for the first time just this year, and I can say it is every bit the roller coaster that other entrepreneurs describe. Here's what I learned.
Stress challenges personal relationships.
Launching a business, assessing market opportunities, aligning the right team and figuring out how to execute properly is challenging enough; add the fear of the unknown and financial insecurity, and you have a recipe for a heap of stress.
While many people can handle this on their own, when these stressors are not thoughtfully communicated with the people in your life that you care most about, another level of stress can overshadow your ventures and adversely impact your performance.
No matter how busy you may become trying to fulfill your dreams, always make time for your spouse, your children, your family and your friends. Your support system will be with you through thick and thin, which, any entrepreneur knows, can happen at anytime. I'll give you an example.
Last fall, even though client work began slowing down for the holidays, my girlfriend and I took our first vacation since I arrogantly charged into my full-time role as a small-business owner. She became my fiancée on that very trip in Glacier Park, Montana. An incredible moment and highlight of my life.
The week we returned, we were involved in a car accident when a deer leapt in front of our car. We went to the emergency room and the car to the wrecking yard. Talk about the fear of the unknown coming true.
Long story short, we found ourselves tapping everything we had in the business to get through this challenging time. However, since we always spent time nurturing our relationships with family and friends, we had a support system that kept us from having a mental breakdown or recklessly scraping the bottom of our finances.
Self-doubt crushes success.
One of the most exhilarating aspects of being an entrepreneur is making a plan and taking risks to grow your business. Taking risks also means that you are likely going to find yourself failing from time to time. This can affect your mental state and cause self-doubt.
You can't beat yourself up over failure. Consider that you're trying something new, and it's not like there is a clear course of action on how to become successful, reach your goals or even make yourself happy. Cut yourself some slack.
I've found that the challenge of being an entrepreneur means that you must conquer yourself through mindfulness without becoming either overly confident or ridden with ego. For me, this means regularly recognizing my accomplishments to build my confidence, but also making sure I keep myself in check.
When assessing your accomplishments, you should understand that they don't need to be life-changing events to be valuable. For example, think back to your first client or customer, or even back to the last time someone hired you. They chose you. They believe in you. They trust you.
It's easy to find yourself down when you lose a client or a deal, have a bad quarter, or miss one of your goals. But you can reassess, recalling what you've been able to accomplish and overcome, to positively impact your personal perspective and your business, too. Overcoming self-doubt will help you power through the rocky times as a business owner and help you reach your first-year marker and to go beyond.
You will want to get a job -- and hate yourself for it.
When every entrepreneur says that you're going to have your ups and downs, they're right. The challenge for most entrepreneurs is recognizing when they've reached a peak or whether they are in a valley.
When you're down on your luck, scraping by financially, overly stressed, suffering from depression and self-doubt -- or any one of the other screaming signs that you have fallen to a low point -- it's very tempting to run for the hills and go back to working full time. It's not what you want.
I recently experienced this scenario. Coming up on the one-year mark, my consulting work was intermittent. We always seemed just to make ends meet. But that doesn't mean the fear of failure wasn't looming. During this period, I began interviewing for a handful of companies and even had an exceptional offer for an executive marketing position, when suddenly business picked up.
On one hand, all of our financial concerns would be behind us. We could afford our wedding and we could begin planning our family. On the other hand, after a new market position, the business completely turned around, but more importantly, we were the happiest we had ever been.
Admittedly, this was one of the most challenging decisions I have ever made, but I listened to my gut and turned down the offer. I feel that so much of being a successful entrepreneur comes down to grit and resilience, and to following your intuition when the path ahead is unclear. You must do what others are unwilling to do.
The truth is, you never know what's going to happen and you'd likely be capable of living on less money than you think -- so why not take a chance and live the life you really desire?
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