“You want to be an entrepreneur? But four out of five businesses fail in their first year!”
“Entrepreneurship isn’t secure – you should focus on a safe, salaried career.”
“You’ll never get funding for that business idea.”
If you’ve ever mentioned your entrepreneurial ambitions to friends and family, you might have received similar well-meaning but ultimately discouraging advice. It’s enough to crush your vision before you’ve even taken your first step.
In my work as both a life coach and in my own entrepreneurial journey, I’ve learned lessons and received advice along the way from people who have walked that challenging entrepreneurial road before (my University of Life podcast, for example, is full of interviews with brilliant and inspiring entrepreneurs).
So if you’re a first-time entrepreneur about to embark on your own journey, I’d like to share with you some of this advice so you can take your first steps feeling excited, prepared and empowered to make informed decisions – no matter what others may tell you.
My biggest piece of advice, and one I’ve written about before in my blog post The No.1 Thing Entrepreneurs Learn Too Late, is to slow right down.
We can all be forgiven for taking on too much stress and rushing things out. We’re presented with so many overnight success stories online, but in my experience, I’ve never really met anyone who’s actually achieved incredible things in an instant.
So many entrepreneurs just want to get going immediately that they try to force success and power ahead at a pace that’s not actually viable or realistic. This is where mistakes happen and where they risk selling themselves short.
So they inevitably end up going round in circles, making no real progress at all.
Key things such as a business growth plan or in-depth market research can get forgotten about while getting lost in the initial excitement. Instead of rushing ahead and getting too wrapped up in the details, focus on improving the business by just 1% each day rather than 100% overnight.
Speed isn’t everything. A slow and steady approach to business is so much more effective than an overly rushed, overenthusiastic approach, no matter how excited you are to get started.
Remember, little steps will all lead to big results – plus you’ll have a lot more time to reflect, make changes and improve along the way.
Do you have a business plan and if so, is it as strong as it could possibly be?
Putting pen to paper with a robust business plan helps you envision exactly how you’ll operate your business. It should answer the following questions:
Remember to be concise, specific and to demonstrate a deep understanding of your market. This is why taking things slowly is so key – the more time you can spend getting to understand your market, your target customers and your competitors, the more prepared you will be for any potential hurdles once it’s time to launch.
Get into the habit of regularly writing things down and planning the little things, too. By writing to-do lists, checklists and noting down ideas, you’ll be far more organised, efficient and able to identify any potential issues early.
And trust me, if you get an idea and trust yourself to remember it, write it down anyway. Inspiration has a habit of striking at odd times only to disappear from your mind as soon as you want to claw it back from memory (no matter how convinced you are that you’ll definitely remember it this time).
This is a big one for entrepreneurs at all stages of the journey and I simply can’t stress it enough: remember to invest in your own wellbeing as much as you invest in your business.
We might think that burnout only happens to some, or that it’s a sign of weakness, but it can actually happen to anyone – even the most successful entrepreneurs. In fact, 92% of small business owners have experienced mental health problems over the last two years.
Angela Benton, co-founder of NewME, is an extremely successful entrepreneur but is open and honest enough to share her experiences of burnout online. An article for FastCompany reveals that Angela ran four miles every day, but startup life quickly got to her and she stopped running because she became “too busy.” She also kept forgetting to eat because she became “too busy.”
Over time, this led to entrepreneurial burnout.
Fortunately, Angela turned things around. The chief executive now meditates for 20 minutes every morning to keep herself centred on the important things and focuses on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
When all your focus is going into your business, it can be difficult to prioritise or justify your own self-care. However, the better you can show up for yourself, the better you can show up for your business too. If you’re sleep-deprived, surviving on caffeine or relying on alcohol too often to unwind, you might not be in the best place to make good decisions.
Take some time to think about what makes you feel good in your body and mind – those things that always feel worth making time for.
It might be taking the time to go for a walk at lunchtime to catch up on your favourite podcast. It could be taking some time on a Sunday evening to prepare some nutritious lunches for the week ahead. Or perhaps it’s going to a class with a friend to focus on something creative that’s not tied with the stress of your business.
Whatever it is, treat it with as much importance as any other appointment in your diary.
“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in,” is great advice from Arianna Huffington. By prioritising your own wellbeing, the quality of the time you put into your business will be far more valuable than any extra hours you put in when you’re only half-functioning.
It’s natural, when embarking on a business venture, to become overly preoccupied on the financial aspect of the business. Will you be able to get funding? Will you need to employ people? What about a bank loan?
My advice here is to focus on setting up in a lean fashion. While funding can be great, you also need to consider that you’re sacrificing that freedom that probably attracted you to entrepreneurship in the first place. If you get funded, you suddenly find that you’re having to work for your financiers as well as yourself. This removes some of your flexibility and piles on the pressure.
Similarly, bank loans can prove stressful if the numbers just aren’t adding up in that precarious first year or two. You could have trouble making monthly repayments if your customers aren’t paying on time, which in turn causes cashflow problems. In some cases, loans are secured against the assets of the business or your personal possessions, such as your home.
This can lead to a lot of sleepless nights if things don’t work out the way you’d imagined.
Instead, I’d advise growing in a lean fashion. It’s unlikely that you have unlimited pots of money when starting out, so being resourceful with what you do have helps you keep costs at a minimum and maximise profits when sales happen.
For example, it can be tempting to throw money at marketing agencies from the get-go. But if you haven’t quite worked on your messaging yet or built much of a brand presence, it can negatively impact your return on investment in the long-run.
There are things to consider before you start thinking too much about money. Is your messaging on point? Have you encouraged satisfied customers to leave reviews and testimonials? What about your social media presence? Perhaps now is a great time to start an email newsletter to maintain engagement or work on a process that helps you deliver an amazing level of service.
You can’t buy overnight success. Be smart, work lean and take your time. Trust that the money will follow.
How often do you find that you’re full of enthusiasm about your business, only to spend half an hour scrolling Linkedin and feel yourself shrinking? The more you scroll, the more you’re inundated with posts by entrepreneurs announcing enviable sales figures and huge multinational deals.
When so much of our lives are online, there’s always going to be someone who’s earning more, getting more likes or winning more contracts.
Remember, you’re comparing yourself to someone much farther along the entrepreneurial path than you are. They might have a seven-bedroom house and deals in multiple countries now, but is that what things were like at the beginning?
Of course not.
Consider Jan Koum, who arrived in the US from Ukraine with his family when he was just 16. He certainly didn’t come from an affluent background – the Koum family struggled to make a living in their new country and relied heavily on food stamps to get by. But as a technologically savvy teenager, Jan Koum teamed up with Brian Acton to launch a messenger app that helped people communicate without the charges of text messaging.
Whatsapp was born and today, Koum’s net worth is in the billions.
Don’t let others’ successes make you feel small. Instead, use their stories to inspire you. Rarely do people achieve overnight success, and there’s usually a whole lot of struggle we don’t see that played a part in their impressive growth.
I really hope this article helped to inspire you as you embark upon an exciting entrepreneurial journey. One thing I firmly believe is that no one should have to walk the path alone, so make sure you’ve got a solid network to support you. This should be made up of those on similar journeys who can empathise and help you navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurial life.
If you’re in need of a little extra support and want someone to help you unlock the full potential you know is within you, I’m here to help too. Get in touch and let’s chat through how life coaching can help you get off to the best start as you set your business up for future success.
If you can visualise your ideal life, we can make it happen.
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