Cory is CEO of Galbraith Communications.
Anyone can start a business. But running and growing a business is something entirely different.
In my view, there is no greater reward in life than developing a successful business.
But too many people are ignorant of what it takes to get there.
My purpose in writing this post is to give would-be entrepreneurs a glimpse of what operating a business is really like so that expectations are realistic. The media tends to glorify business ownership and people believe they’ll become millionaires overnight. In 99 per cent of cases, this is not what happens.
Most small businesses don’t start to make any profit until a year or more.
I do not wish to discourage anyone from going ahead, and in fact, I strongly believe that business ownership is the only true way to achieve long-term self-sufficiency.
But knowing how things actually play out will better prepare you for success, and I do want you to succeed.
Related Article: 9 Painful Reasons My First Startup Failed
Interestingly, while many people find these “realities” to be less than desirable on the surface, they are in fact all good things because they’ll make you tougher and more capable than you ever thought possible.
- You will never work harder in your life
Forget about 9 to 5 hours. That’s over. Now, it’s around-the-clock thinking, managing, networking, marketing and producing. From the second you wake up to the second you fall asleep, your business will be on your mind. There will be days when you are totally exhausted and want to give up. Don’t. All of that hard work will pay off.
- Everyone will want your attention
Your suppliers, your employees, your clients, job candidates, salespeople – and of course, your family and friends. They will all demand your time. You will need to be in 3 or 4 different places at the same time. You will feel stretched to the limit. You will also feel lonely, because very few of the people you know will be experiencing this. Such is the life of an entrepreneur. But you will learn to prioritize.
- You will realize you cannot delegate accountability
Faced with a limitless number of tasks, business owners must learn to delegate. But you can only delegate tasks and job functions. You cannot, and must not, delegate accountability. You are the owner and must therefore take full responsibility for everything that happens. If an employee makes an error, you cannot tell clients, “Well, it wasn’t my fault.” Many new business owners do not understand that their people are an extension of themselves in the eyes of customers. Be absolutely certain that all of your people are trained properly and know what to do when an issue arises.
- You will never be more challenged
One of the great things about business ownership is that it will force you to acquire a whole range of new skills. Effective marketing, managing suppliers, hiring people and handling cash flow all demand that you understand how each of these should be done. You will learn patience, compassion, the right way to provide service. You will learn about people, contracts and money. On top of all this, you will be studying and improving your business product, service and systems. Hang on to your seat. You’re in for one heck of a ride. But do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed because that is a real danger. Learn to tackle one thing at a time.
- You will learn how to communicate
As a business owner, strong communication skills are vital. I cannot count the number of times things went so very wrong simply because I was not clear in my instructions. Ask people to repeat back what you’ve said to ensure there is understanding. Everything moves so fast in a new business. That chaos can result in mixed signals. Be certain that people understand you.
- You will learn the meaning of the word “stress” and how to control it
Many a business owner, myself included, has lost countless hours of sleep worrying if there is enough money in the bank to pay everybody. Stress is a given. The key is to turn that stress into positive adrenaline. Look upon stress as a warning sign telling you that you need to do better planning so you can avoid high levels of stress in the future. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
- People will think you’re rich, but you’ll actually be broke (for a while)
The outside world considers anyone in business to be wealthy. Even your own employees may be under the mistaken belief that you are filthy rich. In a vast majority of small businesses, the employees will often have more money than the owner because cash moves in and out of the business very quickly. There are extended periods of time where cash is scarce, until contracts are paid. But don’t despair. As the business grows, you’ll make good money because there will be a lot more invoices going out and getting paid.
- You will have moments of extreme doubt
When things are not going well, you will doubt yourself like never before. That’s because so much is on the line. This may be more painful than you realize because nobody close to you will necessarily understand. (That’s why business coaching is so popular). I can tell you that as quickly as things deteriorate, they can rise up. Business is about peaks and valleys. Persevere. Be strong. A brighter day is ahead. Owning a business is 80 per cent hard work and 20 per cent blind faith.
- You will learn discipline and become an expert at time management
As a business owner, you become keenly aware of time. You will get to know exactly how long things take. You’ll resent people wasting your time. You will know that time is money. Suddenly, friends who thought they had free access to you will find you harder to reach. Time is now at a premium. Be careful not to abandon important personal relationships. They’ll be hard to gain back later.
These are just a few of the things that describe what running a business is really like. Over time, all of this becomes a lot easier.
Growing a business is about sacrifice, incredible amounts of hard work, and total commitment. In the end, you’ll be helping other people – both staff and customers, having fun, making money and improving yourself.
P.S.: When I began my business, I figured if things didn’t work out, I could always go back to my previous career in radio. I still feel that way today. Knowing you have a fall-back will lessen your fear. Not all of my businesses worked. Two of them failed miserably. But you cannot lose when you run a business, even if you run it into the ground, because I guarantee you’ll learn much more than 100 years in University.