by Ann Willets
A Serial Entrepreneur shares some hard-won wisdom
I love when I hear about women who are thinking of taking the entrepreneurial plunge and starting their own businesses. I did the same, more years ago than I care to count, and the experience has changed me in ways I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Which is not to say it’s been easy, or even that it’s all been good. But that’s because nothing in life ever is. The people who are sitting around today thinking of how much they hate their bosses should know that I have days when I’m not so sure about my boss either – and that’s me.
Starting a business isn’t something you do if you’re looking for an easier life, or a stress-free one. It’s also not something you should do because you’re convinced you know more than everybody else. No one finds out more than a business owner how much they don’t know.
But having said all that: Is it worth it? Oh yes. Every bit of it. And the business world needs more women doing it, so if you’re one who’s thinking about it, I say come on in. You will have the opportunity to drive your own destiny in a way many others tell themselves they would like, but most never quite get themselves in position to do.
You can build something that is your vision, based on your values, designed to reflect the uniqueness that is you. If you want to change it, you can. If you want to shift directions, that’s your call. If you want to reward others who have helped you succeed, no one can stop you.
So yes. Come on in. But come on in with eyes open. I shake my head when I meet business owners who already know everything, because one of the smartest things you can do is learn about the mistakes made by others who came before you. You’d be surprised how willing most are to tell you about it. The business world is filled with good people who are happy to share the benefits of their experiences. You just have to ask. So do. It will take tenacity to start your business so you might as well start exercising it by seeking knowledge from others.
Here are some things I’ve learned that I’d like you to benefit from knowing:
Don’t fear failure. It’s inevitable anyway. I’m not saying failure is good, although it can be a good experience if you learn from it and let it strengthen and refine you. But I’m simply saying that failure is inevitable because business people are human. You will not do well with every account. You will not hit a home run with every product. You will not always make good hires. You can succeed more than you fail, and you need to, but I’ve seen too many people in business that are afraid to make any decision because it might be the wrong one.
Don’t be like that. If you fail, recognize it as part of your experience. Even if your entire business fails and you have to do something else, that doesn’t mean you’ve been defeated. It just means you have to deal with a setback, and we all have those. Speaking of which:
Have a fallback plan. Don’t obsess over it. Don’t even think about it much. But have it. If your business doesn’t make it, what would you do? How would you do it? If you have a plan you’re comfortable with, you will find the ups and downs of business a lot less stressful because, again, you do not fear failure. The business you’ve started should be an amazing and wonderful experience for you. It should not be something that keeps you awake at night because you think your life will collapse if the business goes under.
Now, let’s talk about not letting it go under. First, avoid the overhead trap. Your objective is to succeed and make a profit. It’s not necessarily to grow and create jobs. It’s great if you can, but you do that when it helps you to grow profitably. And don’t take on more overhead just because you have a good run. Make sure it’s sustainable over the long term, because all that overhead can become a trap when things get rough. If you ever find you have to chase new business just to cover your overhead, you have too much overhead and you need to cut some. Immediately.
Understand that business is cyclical, which means you don’t get too excited when things are good and you don’t start looking around for sharp objects when it slows down. Don’t underestimate nature, either. Hurricane Sandy dealt a blow to a lot of people. Be prepared and think of every contingency you can.
Most of all, love what you’re doing. I’ve dealt with all of the above and now I’m dealing with change again. But I love what I’m doing and I wouldn’t change the experience in the slightest. If you can envision yourself saying the same, even after dealing with setbacks, then you need to do this – and the business world will be better off if you do.