Surviving the Madness: All the Scary Things I've Discovered About Entrepreneurship
Choosing to become an entrepreneur, or more specifically, a solopreneur, has totally flipped my life upside down. From the outside looking in, I could tell that entrepreneurship was hard work and the people who did it were a special kind of crazy, but looking at it from this side of the glass has brought me to some difficult realizations. I’m not pretending to be an expert, by any means. I’m a rookie in this entrepreneur game, but I’ve got my eyes wide open and I’m learning all the time. Here are the five tough truths I’ve learned since stepping into entrepreneurship and the coping mechanisms I use to keep me on the right side of sanity:
1. Sleep doesn’t Live Here
There’s an amazing motivational speech on Youtube by Eric Thomas, the hip hop preacher. I sometimes listen to it on mornings when my bed feels extra warm and comfy and I’m tempted to pull the covers over my head and sleep in til noon. He says, “Most of you don’t want success as much as you want to sleep.” I hear that, and I roll out of bed and hit the ground running. I love sleeping in as much as the next person, but becoming an entrepreneur has made my to-do list super long and this means I have to maximize every minute of every day. Sometimes that means that I don’t get a full eight hours. Sometimes it means I don’t sleep at all for the day. I’ve gotten real familiar with heavy eyelids and the smell of coffee, but I suck it up and stay up because I’d rather be tired and successful than well-rested but unsatisfied with my life. Besides, I’m down for coffee, late nights, and hard work now, so some day I can have cocktails, lazy mornings and vacays whenever I please.
Tip: Sleep when you can and know your limits. If you’ve got time in your day for a 30 minute nap, enjoy the snooze. But if you feel yourself on the verge of burning out and a cat nap just won’t do, shut everything down and get a solid night’s sleep in–your health comes first.
2. Your Shift is 24/7
When you work for someone else, there’s a (legal) limit to the number of hours you can work in a day. When you work for yourself, you’re on call 24/7, 365. Emails come in at all hours of the day and night. Networking opportunities can be anything from hip hop shows to early morning coffee shop runs, depending on your hustle. I’ve always got to be prepared to deliver my sales pitch, whether I’m sitting at a bar, or running on the treadmill, because opportunity doesn’t nestle itself between 9 am and 5 pm. If I’ve got work to do, it’s got to get done, no matter what time it is. When you’re an entrepreneur, you become the brand, your life becomes the business, and your shift is 24/7.
Tip: Set your own hours. Carve out time in your day for certain tasks (e.g. email first thing in the morning) and set aside a few hours that are strictly for yourself. A little me time has been essential in keeping me from losing my mind.
3. You’re the Boss…and Everything Else
I’m the boss. Everyone answers to me. And by everyone, I mean me, myself, and I. Being a solopreneur essentially means being a one woman army. I’m the accountant, the customer service rep, the retention agent, the sales department, and the front line staff. This is all great when things are going well, but it sucks when things go badly because there’s no one to escalate issues to. No supervisor or manager to call round these parts. The buck stops with me, honey. It’s taught me a lot about taking responsibility and its forced me to learn or consider new skill sets to make sure I’ve got all my bases covered.
Tip: Do what you can. What you can’t do, learn. What you can’t learn, delegate. There are a ton of resources online that will teach you the basics of things like Photoshop, bookkeeping, and grant writing. But when Youtube just isn’t enough, spend a few dollars and get someone to take care of the things that are beyond your scope.
4. Murphy’s Law is Real
Murphy’s Law is one of life’s unfortunate truths. “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” I think everyone has experienced this at one point or another, but this old adage has been more true of my life since I decided I was going to pursue my own business. The day I launched this site, I woke up early in the morning to put some finishing touches on it, and the servers were down. Then when they finally got them partially restored, the one feature that didn’t work was the one I needed. Cue panic. Of all the days this could happen, it would be the day I already told everyone and their mom I was launching my site. Thankfully, everything eventually got solved, and I was able to launch the site, but let me tell you, the stress that day was real.
Tip: I think this advice rings true for anybody, entrepreneur or otherwise, but when things are going wrong, as they inevitably will, just work with what’s going right. And if nothing is going right, breathe through it. Panic fixes nothing, so just chill and let things work themselves out. (When I figure out the easy way to follow this advice, I’ll let you know.)
5. Obsession is Definitely a Thing
Knowing that the first four realizations are true and still choosing to pursue entrepreneurship requires a certain level of obsession. You’ve got to be literally obsessed with whatever your business is in order to survive the hectic life of an entrepreneur. And a lot of people won’t understand why you do it. People might get annoyed by you talking about your passion all the time, or foregoing parties and hangouts to work on a project. They’ll probably tell you you’re obsessed, and that’s ok, because you are, and it’s that obsession that will keep you afloat when you’re on your fourth cup of coffee and your 36th hour awake.
Tip: Focus on your support system and connect with people who understand your passion. People who don’t get it probably never will and it’s not your job to make them understand. Just do you.