Three Things Nobody Tells You About Being An Entrepreneur
By Daniel Ndukwu
Being an entrepreneur is the new black.
The news is filled with stories of tech founders who’ve built billion dollar companies in their garages. It’s them against the world.
Snapchat is worth billions.
Facebook has over a billion users.
Slack was the fastest company to achieve a billion dollar valuation.
Although these stories can give you hope and inspire you to take the plunge, they paint a picture which leaves a lot of gaps. For a first time entrepreneur, it can make you believe all you need is a cool idea and the investors will follow.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Ideas are easy; it’s your execution that’ll set you apart from the crowd.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for a long time. There were periods in my life when I couldn’t scrape together enough cash to eat three meals a day and paying rent was iffy at best.
There were times in my life when I was going to the club every night and buying $500 bottles. Now, I’m at a point where I’ve struck a balance between consumption and production.
When I look around, young entrepreneurs are being misled. Whether it’s intentional or not, I’d like to clear the air and tell you some of the things being left out of the larger conversation on entrepreneurship.
1. Being an entrepreneur is lonely
You may think there are a lot of us everywhere you go. There aren’t. Most of the world wants to get a job, to get married, and retire at 65. You’re a different breed and people will never understand why you choose to forego a guaranteed paycheck for unlimited risk.
You immerse yourself in the task at hand. At times, you live and breathe it to the detriment of other relationships. You can’t help it, it’s who you are. There’s nothing wrong with that, but over time, it alienates the people around you.
They just don’t get it. You work from sun up to sun down with little to show for it. They give you advice that’s supposed to help.
“Go get a job.”
“You’ve tried, now leave it alone and get your life together.”
“When are you going to get serious about your future?”
Their poorly placed good intentions will have one of two effects. Either you give up your dream or you stop associating with them. In the end, it’s just you, your team, and your fellow entrepreneur buddies.
When you achieve a modicum of success, they’ll come back, but the way you see the world and the way they see it will be different. At most, you’ll keep up a cordial relationship.
Don’t get me wrong, some people can balance the boat quite well. Most can’t. I want you to know the most likely outcome for the path you’ve chosen. It’s one of the many sacrifices you’ll make before you get to the finish line.
What you can do
To mitigate the effects of how entrepreneurship affects your personal life, there are a few things you can do.
1. Make a conscious decision to develop personal relationships. It’s easy to forget about the people who love you when you’re passionate about building an empire. Just as they’re interested in your wellbeing, return the favor. Go out for a coffee, talk on the phone for a few minutes, or catch a movie. Keeping relationships healthy takes less work than people realize.
2. Live in the present. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your business. Take it one day at a time. Get you head out of the clouds and don’t always think about the future. Fall in love with the journey as well as the goal.
2. It’s the hardest work you’ll ever do
I’ve been surprised to no end by some of the conversations I’ve had with entrepreneurs. I often hear, I want to sip drinks on the beach or I don’t want to work as much.
It’s surprising because I don’t know where they got the idea of leisure and relaxation. Business is hard, challenging, and fulfilling. A regular job, no matter how challenging, is a mere warm-up.
Think about this. As an entrepreneur, the buck stops with you. You are the final say. There is no one above you. You are the first and the last as far as your company is concerned.
It’s up to you to make payroll. It’s up to you to pay suppliers. It’s up to you to approve strategy. It’s up to you to keep the books up to date. It’s up to you to hire and fire.
All these are auxiliary activities; you’ve not considered what it takes to run your core business. If you can stay in business working only 60 hours a week, please, come and be my productivity coach.
Entrepreneurship is far from a walk in the park. It’s more like a marathon through a minefield. Half the time you won’t know what you’re doing. The other half of the time you’ll be surprised they’ve rewritten the playbook when you weren’t looking.
The speed of innovation has changed business cycles from eighteen months to one month. It’s the same speed that’s allowed you to compete against some of the biggest names in your industry. It’s the same speed that’ll leave you behind if you’re not working hard and smart.
The natural course for most entrepreneurs is burnout, declining creativity, and stress. That doesn’t have to be you.
What you can do
There are many ways to prevent burnout that will still allow you to keep up with the rest of the world.
1. Take conscious breaks. A few years ago, I discovered a system called The Pomodoro Technique. It’s a system that works with the brains normal function. We have peak concentration for periods of about 25 minutes. After that, concentration declines and work suffers.
The Pomodoro Technique takes this into account and regiments your workday into 25 minutes of activity interspaced with short breaks. A two hour work period consists of 4 pomodoros and 4 breaks.
2. Exercise regularly. No, I’m not a health coach, but I have discovered the value of regular exercise. I don’t sleep much, on average, I’ll get 3-5 hours of sleep a day. I’ve been doing it for years. My secret? Exercise.
When your body is in peak physical condition, you’re better equipped to take on mental, emotional, and psychological challenges. You can perform better with less.
Start with a few short workouts a week until you find your groove. After a while, you’ll come to appreciate the time you spend exercising and many areas of your life will simultaneously improve.
3. You’ll likely fail repeatedly
This is the hardest part to accept on the road to building a successful business. Everyone likes to gloss over the details of their failure because it doesn’t make for a good story.
When I was building my first digital brand I spend almost two years without making money. Two years. All the while I was figuring out what was working and what wasn’t. Finally, I made my first $15 sale. I was hooked.
That was 2011. Since then I’ve suffered lawsuits, been delisted from Google, and betrayed by my partners.
Trust me, for every successful entrepreneur you see, they’ve had countless personal failures. For every successful entrepreneur you see, there are 10 you’ll never hear about. For every successful entrepreneur you see, there was a titanic struggle she’ll never tell you about.
There’s a bright side to this story, the more you fail, the more likely you are to succeed. You can only learn from mistakes. Every mistake you make teaches you what not to do.
What you can do
Failure is inevitable, but as long as it’s not a fatal one you can keep going. I can’t show you how to remove failure altogether, but there is a way you can reduce it.
1. Always be learning. Cliché right? It’s the only thing no one can take away from you. You’re company can be taken through lawsuits, your business can fail through external factors, and your partners can turn on you.
If you take the time to learn everything about your business and industry then you can bounce back. No one can take the knowledge you have from you. Read thirty minutes a day, enroll in classes, or take online workshops. Whatever you can do to stay on the frontier, do it.
2. Get a mentor. A mentor doesn’t need to be a millionaire or billionaire. A mentor doesn’t need to be famous. A mentor is not your high school teacher. A mentor is someone who guides you, drops knowledge bombs, and watches as you grow. They chime in when they have insights to share.
Mentors DO NOT perform the work for you or hold your hand. Think of them as a type of accountability buddy. They tell you some things to try out and maybe how to do it. They give you ideas and suggestions. They’re a rock in the shifting sands of business. They’ll steer you away from life threatening mistakes and watch silently as you make the necessary ones.
Being an entrepreneur is one of the most challenging things you can choose to do with your life. It’s also one of the most fulfilling things you can do. I want you to take on the challenge as someone who understands what they’re getting into.
It can be lonely but also full of joy. It can be hard, but rewarding. It can be riddled with failure, but lead to massive success. You determine how it looks to you.
The last thing I want is for you to start the journey and give up halfway through because you were unprepared. Instead, go in with your eyes wide open. Allocate the necessary time, energy, and dedication to get the job done.
Let me know what you found out the hard way about being an entrepreneur.
Guest author: Daniel Ndukwu
Daniel Ndukwu is the founder of The Experiment (www.iaexperiment.com) where he helps digital entrepreneurs and bloggers build successful tribes and businesses using psychology and smart content.