“I’m so jealous of what you do.” “I wished I was as brave as you.” “Sometimes I think I should do what you did and just leave.” Since I quit my corporate job and became an entrepreneur, I cannot remember how often I have heard these phrases. I do take them as a compliment. However, the media have created a very rosy picture of entrepreneurs. It may seem that the grass is indeed greener as your own boss. But is it really? I have put together six questions you should ask yourself before taking the leap.
Even though I was well aware about the implications, I could not imagine their real impact. Starting a business might be considered brave. But I think it is about taking calculated risks. If you seriously consider to start your own business, not only read but carefully reflect on these questions. I did not publish this article to discourage anyone from founding a business. On the contrary, I always try to encourage others to pursue their dreams. Nevertheless, there is an oversupply of what I the rosy picture and very little reality. Hence, I decided to give you some real insights into my own experience.
This article is quite long but I wanted to give you real advice. Not the usual clickbait title “6 Things You Need to Know …” which then leads to generic two sentence answers.
1. Can I handle earning much less while working way more than in my full-time job?
The reality of entrepereneurs is much more unglamorous than most people expect. The first lesson I had to learn was that I had to live with much less than during my corporate job. Even though I knew about that before, I underestimated it. I was used to fancy dinners, parties, shopping whenever and whatever I wanted to. Suddenly, I knew I had my savings and it would take a long time until income will be booked into my accounts. Because as a business owner you always come last – expenses for product development, marketing, staff, etc. – and if there is money left, founders pay themselves. Needless to say, it is most of the time a fraction of what we used to earn and takes time until it matches our previous salaries.
At the same time, you will work much more and probably even harder than ever before. Even those founders who were in high-pressure jobs such as investment banking or consulting say that starting their own business is way harder. I think it is probably because we work on our own projects, our babies. In addition to hard work, we also have the personal relation to the project. We cannot just walk away like from our desks at the office. The business is constantly with us. (More about this in point 2.)
Are you really ready to give up your cushy lifestyle? Before I started my own business, I was a regular at parties and social events. However, because of time and money constraints as a founder, I radically had to decrease my social commitments. For a party animal like me this was not easy. And I also had some friends who not only started to make comments that I have become boring but who eventually turned away. Are you willing to make these sacrifices?
2. Am I prepared for the emotional rollercoaster?
As I mentioned above, as a founder, you can never really walk away from your business. While I had public holidays and weekends to myself most of the time during my corporate career, my lifestyle radically changed as an entrepreneur. I now work whenever I can – also on weekends or public holidays. On the one hand, it simply happens because if I do not perform, the business will not evolve. On the other, I identify myself so much with it and love what I do so much that I actually enjoy working. It sounds crazy and not every task is fun. But most of the time, I really enjoy what I do.
Nevertheless, there is the emotional rollercoaster. Every entrepreneur warned me before I started out. And I am telling you, if you have not been on it, you have no idea. I got stressed out in my corporate job. I had tough days, but never ever to the same extent as a founder. There are phases were you will not be able to sleep because you are worried about paying your bills, if your product will be bought by your target group, or where you wonder if it was really worth it. I am very honest, it is an emotional strain on yourself which will also affect your relationship, family and close friends.
Even though it can be really tough, the good thing about rollercoasters is that as low as they go, there are highs. And the highs you can get from being your own boss are super super high.
3. Can I be on a journey on my own?
When I told my mentor that I would quit my job, he gave me one really important piece of advice: “Running your own business is a lonely journey; not only when you start it but also when you grow. As a business owner the tough decisions have to be made be you. And only you. You may have a team who supports you, or advisors. But eventually, it is the owner who takes the responsibility.” If shit hits the fan it will be your reputation. Can you deal with it?
4. Do I want to and can I learn fast?
My learning curve as an entrepreneur was much steeper than in any educational programme or job I did before. I have been spending countless hours educating myself. Youtube and Google have become my best friends. I would have never thought that I would be able to acquire such a broad variety of skills. I came from Finance and International Relations and expanded my skill set by Marketing/Branding, developing customer journeys, app/website development, videography, illustration, photography and all the related editing and many more.
The reason was simple: firstly, it is always cheaper to do it yourself if you can. Secondly, if you outsource tasks, you need to know what your business partners talk about. I am a person who thrives from learning. I always want to learn more and I am not scared to dive into areas about which I do not know anything. Are you the same?
4. Can I bridge the gap between overachieving myself and delegating?
In my opinion, most entrepreneurs are overachievers in a certain way. It is a lifestyle for those who really want to work hard and achieve more than others. Otherwise, we would just stay in regular 9-5 jobs. The difficult thing can be the balance between overachieving, perfectionism and delegating tasks to your team.
5. Can I ignore people who will not understand what I do?
There will be people who genuinely support you, or even admire you for your choice. But there will also be a fairly big crowd who does not understand what you do. Countless times I heard things like: “It will be very hard for you to have a real job one day. It will be tough to start working again.” I have stopped to take these comments personally. It simply shows a lack of understanding.
Also remember one thing: those who changed our society or disrupted systems were rarely understood by others. Think about the personalities you admire. I always think of Lady Gaga’s personal story. When she started out as a young singer next to her studies, there even was (and still is) a Facebook group by fellow students dedicated to bullying her. Comments like “She will never make it.” or “She’s just crazy” are not different from the stuff that will be said about you. I do not say here that we will all be major personalities in society. But whatever our dreams are, if we try to achieve them, there will be those who are petty. Can you handle their comments? Can you ignore them? Do you have enough positive people surrounding you?
6. Do I still want to take the leap?
As I mentioned before, this article is not meant as discouragement. However, I wanted to give you a real insight into what it means to start your own business. Sit down and thoroughly think about the six questions. How do you feel about them? Of course, you will not be able to answer them as yet. The journey only starts with your very first step as a founder. However, I think these questions can be a useful insight into what it will be like. And never forget, there is a reason why you will go through the hard phases and why you will be able to cope: because you want to work hard for your dreams. If it was easy, everyone would do it. But those who manage to handle it, will reap the benefits. Good luck!