A colleague recently encouraged me to share some of the not-so-glam parts of owning my own business (trust me, most of it is non-glam). Starting a business was never my plan and happened very much on accident. It’s taken more than seven years for me to find any degree of “success.”
Most entrepreneurs struggle. It’s hard work.
So what would I share with undergrads considering entrepreneurship about lessons I’ve learned?
Five Hardest Things:
- No set schedule. No, it’s not 9 – 5, it’s more like 24/7.
50, 60, even 70 hour work weeks aren’t uncommon. You do what you have to do to get the work done. With your own biz, all-nighters are not relegated to the fond memories of college.
- The “buck” (but not the decisions) stops here.
I’m responsible for the success or failure of a campaign or initiative, but don’t always get to make the decisions that go into it. That means that I get to be responsible for a problem, even if the client didn’t follow my advice to avoid it.
- The financial ebbs and flows.
It’s not easy to do your own marketing and business development, especially in “flow” times when you’re busy. But if you don’t, the work (and the money) can dry up.
- Working in a vacuum.
I have a super talented account assistant and an amazing business partner who I just happen to be related to, but most of the time, I work solo. Brainstorming for one is not nearly as fun (or effective).
- Working with a vacuum.
Most of my business life has been spent in a home office and all the distractions therein.
Five Best Things:
- No set schedule.
I may work a lot, but sometimes my day doesn’t start til 10 and if I need to deal with family stuff (pretty often with a kiddo) or take a retail therapy break, I can.
- Creative freedom.
My work is my work. I get to be creative and think big. There’s no silo or vertical niche that I fill, I get to do it all.
- Clients who trust me.
This comes with experience. A decade in PR and (finally!) looking like I’m older than 30 means I have a little cred before I bill for a single minute. The other part of the trust equation is that I do good work. Consistently.
- Creating new opportunities. Learning new things.
If I’m learning something new, I’m a happy girl. Maybe it’s the luxury jewelry market, or sustainable food, or industrial manufacturing… regardless, information is fuel for my noggin.
- Helping businesses and nonprofits succeed
I’m as committed to my clients’ success as if their business were my business. And they know it! That feels pretty good.
Five really crappy lessons I had to learn:
- Get help with the parts you’re not good at. For me, that’s the “business” side (taxes, bookkeeping, etc.).
- Don’t overpromise. Be realistic about your time and what you can accomplish. I hate saying no, so this is a biggie for me.
- Manage clients’ expectations. It’s not likely that you’re going to get that “above the fold” New York Times article right away (or ever, for that matter). Help clients understand how the process of PR works. This is something I still struggle with.
- Trust your gut.
I love being an entrepreneur. I love what I do. I have the best clients who do the most interesting things. I’m quite honored to be on their respective teams and know they trust me to help them set and achieve their objectives. But owning your own biz is hard freaking work. And you have to be committed for the long term.
Check out these ten TED talks for startups, too. Great advice and great presentations.