It’s official. I survived the first year as a new business owner virtually unscathed. Of course, I rode the roller coaster of emotions that most new business owners or entrepreneurs face during the first year — the highs of a new adventure to the valleys of self-doubt or fear of failure. If you can get past the negative emotions and push forward, you have won half the battle.
I spent most of my career in the corporate world. It was hard to fathom leaving the security of regular paychecks and benefits to enter unchartered territory. But the desire to create something of my own was far too strong to ignore. I was willing to take the risk; otherwise, I would have always wondered what would have been.
A planner by nature, I took a methodical approach — developing a business plan and even a detailed project plan of tasks that required completion before leaving the corporate world behind. But what I learned is that you are never as prepared as you think you are. Just like managing a project, there are many unknowns and roadblocks along the way.
On the other hand, I have spoken to successful business owners that had a complete opposite approach. They took the plunge with only an idea and $1,500 in the bank.
Clearly, that takes someone who is comfortable with risk! So, how comfortable are you with risk? Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously said: “In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Here’s what I learned:
Understand the level of risk you are willing to take
Before taking the plunge, it’s important to understand the level of risk you are willing to take. I was once told that leaving a job without having one lined up is “career suicide.” To me, this is someone that is the least comfortable with risk or change. I am comfortable with taking career risks as long as I am somewhat prepared (i.e. having more than $1,500 in the bank).
Are you comfortable with ambiguity or frequently changing scope and direction? What about financial risk if you don’t have revenue for six months? If you are the type of person that thrives when challenged and has the courage to endure all the ups and downs … what are you waiting for?
Get used to being outside of your comfort zone
Once you’ve made the decision to move forward with your venture, you will be thrust into situations that may or may not be your expertise. You need to be comfortable handling all aspects of your business, whether you like it or not. Some are strong at sales and marketing; others are better at details and execution. You don’t have to be a whiz at everything to have a successful business, but you can seek guidance from those in your network who are more knowledgeable in areas that you are not.
Take advice with a grain of salt
Just because something did not work for someone else does not mean it won’t work for you and vice versa. For example, I received a lot of advice on networking and ways to generate leads — some were against networking functions altogether, and others swear by it. Don’t be afraid to try different things. Some may not work out but some may prove to be very effective. Determine what works best for your business.
Have a strong support system
This is key, especially during the first year when you may be feeling impatient or frustrated. Someone said to me, “I don’t understand why you don’t have any clients yet” after I had only been in business for a few months. Don’t let these types of comments deter or pressure you. There will always be those who try to make you feel insecure when in fact, they are insecure themselves. Surround yourself with a positive, supportive group of people.
Set goals and deadlines
Hold yourself accountable by setting goals and deadlines for your new business. Write down two or three milestones that you want to achieve within the first six months, and then add target completion dates. For example, “launch new company website by X date” or “first client consultation by X date.” I went as far as developing a timeline diagram for the first year. It’s interesting to look back and see how much was accomplished in a short period of time!
Whether you aspire to be an independent consultant, freelancer, entrepreneur or business owner, there is nothing more challenging and rewarding than seeing your dream come to fruition. The only regret I have is not doing it sooner!