I’m often surprised when I talk to people interested in starting their own businesses. When asking about my own experience as an entrepreneur, they’ll say to me “you’re so lucky” or “it must be great to be out of the rat race.” Statements like this make me smile because they couldn’t be less true. Luck has nothing to do with it … and the rat race, while different, is faster than ever.
That’s why I wanted to share the realities of being an entrepreneur. First, a disclaimer – at the end of every day, I wouldn’t trade my current situation for any other option, and I am grateful for my success and my ability to continue doing what I truly love. However, being an entrepreneur is not the easy, carefree career path that many believe. It’s actually quite the opposite; when everything is invested in your own business (time, money, passion, creativity) it can border on obsession! And when you work from home (or your spouse or family members work with you), you rarely, if ever, leave the office—at least from a mental standpoint.
Let me start with a few hard truths of being an entrepreneur:
It’s stressful. If you think meeting a boss’s deadlines or demands is tough, try meeting your own—especially when your personal savings is on the line, you’ve already taken out a second mortgage, and your credit cards are all but maxed out. Or even worse, you’ve borrowed money from family and friends and you’re on the hook to pay them back, ASAP. This type of pressure lights a fire under even the most laid-back personalities. Not only will you feel the pressure of getting your business off the ground; you will feel the pressure to do so quickly, so you can have some semblance of financial security back.
It’s never-ending. Yes, it can be thankless to work for someone else, knowing your skills and talents are ultimately making someone else a bundle. But in most jobs, you can leave the work behind when you go home to enjoy your family, your hobbies, or your friends. As an entrepreneur, the workload can be intense, especially during the early stages when you are the CEO, the CFO, the HR person, the Sales staff, the marketing guru, the tech guy, the office manager, and the janitor – all rolled into one. With all these roles, there is rarely a moment that you feel your work is “done” for the day; there is always something more you could be doing, like researching new markets; writing press releases; contacting new media; cold calling new sales outlets; developing new products – the list goes on! And that can tend to eat away at time formerly devoted to family, leisure activities, workouts or relaxation—it’s a difficult balance to strike.
It’s frustrating. Maybe you’ve partnered with someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Or you’ve received a shipment of damaged products that you need for a trade show the next day. Or the media appearance you spent days preparing for is suddenly cancelled due to a natural disaster. As an entrepreneur, these types of situations happen on a regular basis (I speak from experience—all of the above happened to me!) The truth is that you never know what’s around the next corner…and it can be extremely frustrating when you’ve planned to spend a day on product development, only to find out that you, yourself, have to repair cases of product packaging that came apart during shipping.
So with this kind of stress—this kind of pressure—and this kind of workload—why, then, would anyone subject themselves to being an entrepreneur? The answer is simple—the positives generally outweigh the negatives:
It’s rewarding. When you are successful, you reap both financial and emotional rewards (although the emotional usually has to tide you over for a while!) There’s no better feeling than seeing a product you’ve worked hard to develop on store shelves, or when you’ve provided successful service for a grateful client. It’s exciting to make a sale or win a new client when you know it’s all due to your own hard work; it’s gratifying when customers tell you that your product, service or example has made a difference in their lives. And of course finally turning a profit – and knowing your business can be a source of financial support – is extremely rewarding, as well.
It’s flexible. Once you work for yourself, it’s common to feel you could never work in a conventional 9-5 office environment again. I believe it’s mostly due to the flexibility. Yes, you may work more hours—but you can do so on your own terms. You can stop work at 3 to pick up the kids from school—without asking your boss for permission. You can work from midnight to 4 am if you’re a night owl or an insomniac. You can work from home or your own office—with daycare on site. When you’re the boss, you call the shots—and the new freedom can be exhilarating.
It’s the chance to create. Many entrepreneurs are driven by the need to build something great, help other people, or leave something behind. Perhaps it’s a business that your children can join and grow; maybe it’s the legacy of creating something that will be around long after you’re gone. No matter what the motivation, creating something from nothing that grows and develops through the years can be almost like raising a child—it’s your baby, and you’ve nurtured it to its current level of success. That type of fulfillment is difficult to duplicate in most other career paths.
By Tamara Monosoff, of Mom Inventors