Starting and running a business is not for the faint of heart. There is an element of luck involved and you need to be able to stomach some major ups and downs. When I started running my own business, I expected hard work. I was hoping that good luck would be on my side. What I didn’t expect were these 5 surprises:
1. It is very emotional. I am fairly even keeled guy. It takes a lot to get me upset. When I worked for another organization, someone else was in charge. They made the big decisions, they took the risk and usually there was little consequence to me for someone else’s mistakes. I could go home and have a life outside of the office without feeling guilty. Not so when you run your own business. Every decision affects you, even if you didn’t make the decision. This increases your level of work stress. Even when things are going well, you sweat the details. You worry about how the economy will affect your customer base, how your competition just came out with a cool new widget that would take you a year to build just to catch up, how to make sure your next hire works out so you don’t end up throwing money away, whether you are properly balancing your time working and being with your family. No matter how stable your temperament, there are so many moving parts that it becomes an emotional ride. You have to get used to this.
2. You will be shocked at how many times you want to quit. Ask any successful entrepreneur if they felt this way and they will tell you they wanted to throw in the towel more than once. You need to have or build a thick skin to handle the obstacles that pop up out of the blue. One of my first web sites, morebusiness.com, was doing very well in the late 1990s. When the dot com bubble burst, the ad revenue plummeted. The site was no longer able to sustain the number of salaries it was supporting. We had to retrench and redefine our focus very quickly. It was painful. There will be times, especially when you start, that you take no salary for long stretches of time. You pay your staff first, possibly out of your own savings, and hope there is something left in the pot for you. You hear about everyone else succeeding and wonder what you’re doing wrong. There are 100 reasons to quit and only 1 to stay: faith.
3. You will lose money on many of your activities . In an ideal world, every dollar you allocate for staff, marketing, product development or support will result in more money being returned to you. Unfortunately, there is a lot of waste, even in small companies. Nobody intends to waste the money, it’s just that things don’t work out. Several years ago, MailerMailer explored offering a bulk text messaging option for some of our email marketing clients. We spent time and money building a prototype and showed it to our clients. When we explored pricing models, which had to account for our direct expenses, our focus group testing revealed that we wouldn’t be able to sell the product at the price points our existing customers were willing to pay. If we continued, we would have to pursue a new marketing channel, which would be very expensive and shift our core focus. After all of that time and energy, we abandoned the project. It cost us a good deal of money. I’ve lost money on so many projects that didn’t work out so I stopped counting. If I dwell on those “failures” I would avoid taking the risk on new projects. That would be a bad move because some investments pay off very well.
4. No matter how good your product or service is, there is always somebody trying edge you out. This ties in with surprise #1 – the emotional roller coaster. Someone is always breathing down your neck. They are trying to take your customers away from you so you have to pull out all the stops to make sure you retain your client base with the products and services they need and the stellar customer support they deserve. In my earlier company, GovCon, we were the number one destination for federal government contractors when our closest competitor came out with the first online version of a federal procurement database. This data was used by contractors to find existing contracts that were coming up for renewal. Nobody had done this before and we were caught blindsided. They started gaining market share and we knew we had to act fast. It took us over a year to build a competing product. There is always something else lurking around the corner and it will keep you up at night.
5. There are a lot of people who will blatantly steal your articles, designs, marketing content and more and then promote them as their own. This is my biggest pet peeve about running your own business. People who are too lazy to do original work themselves just steal yours and pawn it off as their own. I’ve found word-for-word copies of our marketing material, blogs, white papers, graphic designs – even components of one of our logos and other copyrighted content all over the web. One company stole parts of our article library that we spent tens of thousands of dollars building up. They took the articles and created their own password-protected site and sold access for a subscription fee. When we are able to chase down these perpetrators, we contact them to remove our original work. Finding every infringement is challenging and requires a lot of time. I’d much rather be spending my time and money elsewhere.
Don’t let any of these surprises discourage you. I started my company because I had an itch I had to scratch. I always wanted to run my own business and through faith and persistence I have been able to make it work. You can, too.
Do you run your own business? What surprises have you faced?