This morning I sat at my desk and spent 5 minutes trying to figure out what day it was. Yesterday I spent 2 hours trying to organize my organizer, and on Monday I wrote out the same to-do list in 4 different places because I knew I would forget both the urgencies and the physical list if I tried to rely on just one source for direction. I think it’s pretty safe to say my mind is in a million directions, and none of them seem to be converging in the beautifully compatible matrix that I would prefer, but I’m in it. I’m in all the things that I want to be in; I’m in the thick of building the businesses, the lifestyle, and the community that I’ve been so passionate about. I’m in the chaos, the planning, and the constant demands of getting all the things done and trying to balance the fact that nothing seems to include an easy button — seriously, nothing. I’m in it all because that’s what it means (or requires) to really be an entrepreneur and have successful businesses — even if that’s not intensely apparent in the pamphlet.
Usually when people tell me they want to ‘be an entrepreneur’ or own their own business it’s for more flexibility of work hours, the imaginary concept of work-life balance, or autonomy (hey, good luck). I’ve never heard someone say that they want to own their own business because they’re interested in working longer work weeks (and every.single.weekend), owning more risk, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If I did hear the latter from someone, and it was remotely believable, I’d tell them they should probably go for it, and I’d probably even invest some of my own money in them.
The hard parts about owning a business are all the things no one ever actually sees, or that no one wants to believe — and that too many people don’t want to put the time and energy into. It’s constant working, it’s late nights and early mornings trying to get through emails, taxes, payroll, planning, organization, scheduling…..maintenance needs, inventory, staff issues, staff development, product development, being a little bit of everything to everyone, and somehow still trying to manage your own life so the structure doesn’t start to crumble. Over time you develop systems (hopefully), you create consistency, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a staff that supports that structure so it’s possible to not only manage it, but to grow it. It’s the same as in a corporate environment, except it is exponentially harder and more personal. Worst case scenario in the corporate world — you lose your job and you find another. Worst case scenario as an entrepreneur, you lose your house and a little piece of your soul. My point is, it’s not easy. If you’re doing it right, it will be the hardest and most consuming thing you ever do — and consequently, the absolute best. If you’re in it for the image, the romanticized idea of the ‘freedoms,’ or worst yet for some sense of misplaced power over others, you’re not going to last very long.
I’m not trying to discourage anyone from starting a business — quite the opposite really. I’m trying to discourage the false sense that owning/running a business will create more balance or make life easier. What I’m encouraging are successful businesses and business owners — because that’s the only way any of this is worthwhile.
The single most important piece of advice I would tell someone thinking about starting their first business is to get more advice. Talk to people who have done it before — to people who have been successful, and people who haven’t. Ask how they started, what they learned, what they would have done differently and what they wish they had known. Then ask yourself if you’re willing to sacrifice everything to not only make it happen, but to make it work. In your business you’re going to become the least important person — critical, sure, but developing your staff and building community trumps anything that you want for yourself, and most of the time, that means your own balance, at least in the first few years.
Right now we’re at the tipping point in our two businesses; one that has been tipping for a while, building and growing in ways that we could never have imagined, and it’s awesome. The other is in a period of change, but for the better, and is poised and ready to build beyond the scope of what’s possible in most other markets. The third business, well that’s still in development, and the infancy build doesn’t start until late this spring, so we’re just gearing up for another period of growth and constant nurturing. It’s never a dull moment, but it’s a work of passion. A vulnerable, expensive, and very risky passion, but if you put the work in, and you work it smart, the payoff will be great — in more way than one.
Today I’m here getting myself organized for the week. I’m mapping out to-dos, structuring new campaigns, and scheduling everything so all the moving parts can sync up a little bit better. And you know what, while my brain might be ready to explode, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.