Many people think, “I’ve worked in human resources”, “I’m great at keyboarding and have an excellent grasp of the English language”, or even “I’ve earned this <fill in the blank resume writing or career coaching certification>”, and therefore they think they should start a business. While I say, “More power to you”, it’s important to take into consideration what being an entrepreneur requires. As a business success coach to resume and career professionals coupled with 20 years of my own in private practice, I’ve seen the important details that can’t be ignored when evaluating whether to go into business for yourself. These include:
You Need to be Elastic in Ways You Never Imagined
No, I’m not talking about yoga. Starting a business (and going through the start up years) can be both an emotional and a physical rollercoaster. You will stretch what you know and what you do, and realize your expectations were probably highly unrealistic as to just what running your own profitable business would require. You will have to motivate yourself to do what must be done to build and grow.
In the beginning, you will need to be your own cheerleader, marketing team, administrative staff, customer support, and bookkeeper — all of which may require a learning curve along with strength in scheduling, planning, and keeping all the balls in the air. Finally, you will need to find a way to do all this while maintaining a life. Sacrificing who you are and what you enjoy (like regular yoga practice) just leads to burnout.
You Need to Embrace Risk and Be Open to Change
Even when you have a nest egg and a business plan, starting a business is not without risk. You can never know for sure how the market might change, how your website will perform and attract, how well you will sell to this target audience, and how quickly you will become profitable until you are smack in the middle of it. Plan and plan well, but know that opening a business can feel like walking the plank above shark-infested waters.
Starting and running a business is not for the faint of heart. You have to be resilient, flexible, hopeful and positive, surrounded by a strong support network (like you will find in CDI membership), and able to stay committed to the reason you started. It’s important to realize that your attitude can sink you even faster than your actions can. You need to know you are someone who can self-motivate and who won’t curl up and embryo at the first sign of challenge. Remember, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
You Have to be in it for the Long Run
The self-employed entrepreneur’s creed is quite simply, “Don’t quit five seconds before the miracle.” Certainly, there are ways to avoid reinventing the wheel and to dramatically shorten your cycle to success but you should know that there is no such thing as an overnight success unless some dramatic thing happens to you, which can frequently be a one-in-a-million event akin to a teen being discovered in a mall and going on to be the next supermodel. Instead, as Jim Collins writes in Good to Great, companies only seem to have been overnight successes when in fact they had been laboring on to build their brand visibility and market dominance for many years before they finally found mainstream visibility.
Plan to invest some blood, sweat, tears, and years into your venture. If you can dedicate yourself and be willing to take the steps needed to build and manage your business, then time is part of your roadmap to success. While I personally attained six-figures with my private practice in less than three years (and you can too with the right tools and approach), it’s important to know that it takes commitment to both make it happen and keep that success going.
You Must Challenge Mental Barriers
While much of your thinking may change as you move into the world of self-employment, the biggest pre-conceived challenge to overcome is based on your belief of what the market will bear and what your customer will pay. While certainly it is possible to overcharge and under deliver, I have found that the industry of career services attracts care taker types. These individuals want to help and are fiercely concerned about taking advantage of others. If you are a care taker then beware — selflessly discounting your services, doing them for free, or charging too little will sink your business. You can argue all you want that your prospective clients can’t afford your service, but the truth is that you cannot afford to provide your service if you do not earn a living wage to do so. And, just like they want to find a new job to put them or keep them in a particular lifestyle, so should your business afford you to do so.
Take note: Working 80 hours a week and not taking vacations is NOT the answer to making enough! If you go into business and find that the majority of prospects are saying yes to your service, then it is time to raise your prices. If you go into business and have plenty of clients and find you struggle to pay the bills, it is time to raise your prices. If you go into business and can’t close the prospects you have, then that is a different matter altogether and it is time to learn to sell!
You Need to Accept That You Will Gravely Underestimate
Here it is: Expect that everything costs 40% more than you plan and takes 40-50% longer than you expect. If you go in knowing this than you won’t have too many unexpected surprises. Psychology Today magazine did a study years ago that showed that humans underestimate how long it will take to complete a task by around 40%. They said this was because we were optimistic, which is great unless you have based the success of your business schedule upon it. Bottom line is that if you think setting up your website or performing some other feat is going to take X amount of time, please add 40% to that number as a cushion. Then you won’t beat yourself up, feel like a failure, or run out of time.
While time is one issue, it’s the money one that really concerns me. When you start a new business you have to have reserves. Whether those reserves come in the form of a nest egg you have salted away, a second job you hold, or subcontracting work you perform, you have to have them. Further, whatever you think you need, you better just double it to be safe. You can’t forecast what emergencies might arise like an illness or injury, what snags to profitability you might encounter, or how overly optimistic you might have been with your timeline to success.
Be prepared to invest time, energy, enthusiasm, brain power, and ingenuity into building your business. With the right tools, support, and attitude you will be richly rewarded. I call the careers industry, “An industry with a soul where you can make a difference while making an incredible living.”