For every business owner who has met the demands of starting, growing and paying for a business, there are loads of bright sparks that never finish the first draft of a business plan. American essayist and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, hit the nail on the head when he said: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” The main difference between those who take the plunge and those who live a life asking themselves ‘what if?’ — fear.
The idea of starting a new business is scary, let alone actually starting one—no matter how many visions of you kicking corporate arse you manifest to the gods of success, you will, at points, freak out due to the inevitable pressure of the confidence-killing challenges that will confront you along the way. So, what can you do to break down these barriers to your success?
Things that will make you freak out, but that you don’t need to stress about:
Not knowing where to start
Ask most entrepreneurs how they started and it’s likely they had a lightbulb idea, followed by very little idea about how to set the wheels in motion. A great starting point is to ask for help; find someone who’s hit the big time in a similar business to the one that you’re interested in starting for yourself and then pick their brains. We’re not saying copy them—that would be weird—but there’s no harm in finding out what drove them to begin their own business journey, querying how they structure their existing business, and reaching out to see if they can give you any golden nuggets of advice. Chances are they’ll be flattered.
As with everything from how to roast the perfect potato to finding out which Friends character you are, the internet is a buzzing hive of information on everything, so when you look for business ideas similar to the one you have as well as the brains behind them, you’ll soon see that everyone will have all approached their brainwave differently so there is no rigid right or wrong. Just knowing that success has grown from the hard work and dedication of people who once had no clue where to begin should uproot the seed of doubt in your mind. Take one step forward at a time (even if along the way you stumble a few steps back) and the path will stretch out before you as you continue to walk.
No business experience
Some of the world’s most successful businesspeople began their entrepreneurial lives with very little business know-how; even Richard Branson and Walt Disney defo didn’t know their profit and loss from their balance sheets when they started out.
Having a business background isn’t necessary to start a company, and business skills can be acquired through colleagues and advisors, and learned over time. What is required is a niche insight into the industry you want to go into, and a core skill and competence that makes you well qualified to start your venture—it would be odd, for example, if a shit-hot mixologist chose not to come up with the cocktail recipes for their new line of DIY cocktail kits.
You’ll of course need a passion for the product or service, massive motivation, tenacity and perseverance to turn your dream into a reality. Have a clear vision on the kind of company you want to start, the role in the business you’d like to play and whether you need and want help to get the company off the ground—have you thought about finding a co-founder with complementary skills?
Not being an expert
It takes years to become an expert at anything, and the likelihood is you probably know enough about your product or service to answer the lion’s share of questions and solve most issues that may arise in the beginning. What you don’t know, you need to learn and will be able to find the answers for with proper research, so don’t worry if you don’t feel like a pioneer in the field…yet. Learning is absolutely required for continued growth, so commit yourself to excellence and to constantly finding out more.
Not finding funding
Being a business owner would be a bit too much of a breeze if every person with an idea just sashayed into bank and was given a pat on the back and a huge loan. In reality, entrepreneurs without investors have to jumpstart their businesses off their own backs and many find that a slow and steady process of building the business (perhaps with a small business loan, but without an enormous amount of debt) minimises financial anxiety.
In order to raise funds through your bank or an investor, you’ll need to do a lot of ground work to validate your business first, so build a prototype and do your market research before you even consider pitching it. If you truly know which customers you’re trying to target and can show a clear path to profit, as well as a willingness to work bloody hard to get there, you stand a much better chance of raising capital and support.
How to pay the bills
This is likely the biggest issue for most people when it comes to starting a business. The idea of skipping out of your job on a Friday having slammed your resignation on your boss’s desk with a view to starting your new business on Monday is madness, frankly, and probably not the path that many—if any—owners of booming businesses followed.
Start by building the company up alongside your current job until you reach the point where you can safely make the transition. Which, yes, does mean you’ll have to work in the evenings and over the weekends, albeit in the short term. Once your business has some customers and is turning over some cash, you’re ready for outside investment and growth, which is the point at which you should think about leaving your job and moving into your blossoming business full time.
Failing the family
Sad, but true—a lot of promising minds don’t follow their dreams for fear that the new enterprise will not provide for their families and cause money worries, when actually, it’s experiences like taking a leap into the business unknown that show courage and bring families together. Your other half will want you to lean on him or her for support and it’s great for kids to see parents going hell for leather to achieve something for themselves.
Speak to members of your family every step of the way as the venture progresses and they’ll understand that you’re not prepared to sacrifice their safety or see them go hungry. Talking openly about the risks you’re about to take and how important it is that you invest as much of your time and energy into the success of the business as possible will prepare those closest to you and make them all the more willing to offer support and encouragement.
Things that will also make you freak out, but that you definitely need to do:
Validate your idea
Most people easily fall head over heels with their own business idea from the minute they think of it, which is essential, but can also lead to an over-protective defense of it and a fear of seeking validation from others who might not see it as quite as revolutionary. You need courage and a thick skin to start a business as well as a resilient and considerate attitude towards constructive criticism.
Share your idea with friends and colleagues that you trust will be truthful with their take on what you’re planning. If they think it’s a load of old tosh, don’t throw your toys out of the pram. Good friends tend to be more brutal than family members and will look at your idea from a rational and practical perspective, so get a grip, listen to what they have to say, discuss what your take on it is and work through any potential pitfalls together. It’s basically free consultation, so take it where you can.
Set attainable goals
There is a massive amount of nit-picky details to think about when starting your own business, as well as loads of equally time-consuming practical processes to put in place, but if there’s one trait people who get it right have in common it’s their ability to set realistic targets. Start by working out what your overall company mission is and break that down into smaller, achievable tasks that serve as vital stepping stones towards completing the bigger picture.
Smaller goals will make your company’s overall aim more digestible and less intimidating, and starting from the conclusion and working your way back to the introduction will automatically steer you in the direction of where to actually begin. If you’re a perfectionist, learn to adapt—not every single element of your five-year plan has to be micromanaged for you to start building your own website, or talking about your business idea to anyone who’ll listen.
Work-life balance takes time
This is a biggy as it blurs the lines between professional and personal, but pouring a majority of your time and energy into a business is going to impact on the time and energy that you have for your social life and personal relationships—there’s no two ways about it.
If you’re already an entrepreneur, the likelihood is that the line between your professional and personal life is already a bit blurred, but it’s impossible to start a new business without wondering how your family and friends will react to the fact that you’ve temporarily dropped off the face of the earth. At first, you may feel all you do is work and juggle your other commitments, probably dropping a few personal plans along the way, but the long-term ability to focus some of your time on your family and friends (which is good for your mental health, let’s face it) is essential, and running a business doesn’t have to be overwhelming all the time.
There is definitely no one-size-fits-all solution for every business and founder, but if you surround yourself with people who understand the need for balance and who won’t make you feel guilty for missing the odd meeting in favour of chilling with your kids, the need to nurture your business constantly should lessen as you achieve more success, confidence and control over what you’re doing and where you’re headed.