My cousin Brian recently shared an article titled 5 Ways To Test An Entrepreneurial Idea. It was full of cute and inspiring ideas on how to succeed in the world of small business ownership. “Research an analogy,” “Contact your prospective clients,” and my personal favorite, “Visualize it.” When I read the last one I choked on the cup of Ramen Noodles that I was slurping down for lunch.
What really bothered me is that the concepts are nice, but they are not forged in the relentless heat of reality. I had the impression that the article was penned from the comforts of a corporate cubicle rather than the tough trenches of business ownership. I’ve been self employed for 16 years, have an MBA, and can tell you that you can “visualize it” all you want. It won’t pay the bills. However, a lot of hard work and then some more hard work just might.
Instead of passing on fanciful small-business strategies that only work on paper, I’ve decided to be completely honest and pass on 5 five (somewhat sarcastic) truths about entrepreneurship that no one will tell you. Buckle up:
1. If you enjoy not knowing where your next paycheck will come from, entrepreneurship is for you! The time will (slowly) come when you are getting nice checks, and it makes you feel good. Then you start to pay the employees, rent, inventory, and the phone system that keeps crashing on you. What’s left over is depressing. Quickly you check the numbers to see where it all went and, for the first time, you realize that your secretary makes more money than you do. I realize that this little nugget of information is probably a buzz kill for most of you, but small business ain’t for the faint of heart. Read on.
2. You may be the CEO but you’re the secretary, IT guy and janitor too. What a luxury it must be to drop off work assignments so that you have time to golf with your buddies in the afternoons. Oh wait, you ARE the staff! If you’ve never been much of an accountant, network engineer or HR person, you will be.
3. Your office will be open more hours than a 7-11. If you’re serious about becoming successful, be prepared to be the first one to the office in the morning and the last one to turn the lights out at night. Have you ever heard that song, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere?” It probably is, just not for you.
4. You are unique, which makes you weird to everyone else. There are few of us out there who are independent, driven, and inspired to live the American Dream. Congratulations, and welcome to the club. While this makes you incredibly unique to us, it means that you are completely out of touch with others. You should remember that there are actual people out there who are satisfied punching a clock, collecting vacation hours and calling in sick so that they can golf in the afternoon with their buddies. Over time we start to see each other as alien life forms.
5. You will be thought an idiot until you start making money. I only have one book that is mandatory reading for my staff: The Little Red Hen. Business ownership is exactly like the story. No one wants to plant the wheat or harvest the wheat or grind the wheat. But when the bread comes out of the oven, people will appear out of thin air. The lesson? Find those people who are hard working like you, who roll up their sleeves and just “do” the dirty work. And because you have read this far, I’m going to offer you a final piece of advice. These people do exist but are rarely found amongst family and friends. Your dream, your passion is not theirs. Accept it, appreciate it, move on and remember The Little Red Hen.
While my five truths may take some of the wind out of your sails, I can also tell you that there are few things more satisfying than building your own little empire. There is a sense of satisfaction and pride in watching your dream become your reality. As Americans we have a propensity to challenge the status quo and to stretch boundaries, limits and imaginations. It’s what makes us unique. Entrepreneurship can be the biggest challenge of your career, but it can be the most rewarding too. “Visualize it” when it falls apart. Roll up your sleeves and get dirty when you are ready to succeed.