Written by: Shannon Snow
I am lucky, when I decided to start my business I was surrounded by nothing but love and support. Every person I told about my adventure greeted me with excitement, and said they believed I would be successful – every person but one.
I needed to be surrounded with optimism to follow my dream, but I also needed a dose of reality and that came one morning when I asked a businesswoman I admired to coffee in hopes she would give me some advice. She not only gave me more advice than would fit in a book, she made me face the hard facts and helped prepare me for what was to come.
I’m sharing a few of her most impactful thoughts here in hopes that maybe someone starting a business will give this a read. Her advice forced me to face the reality of what was coming, and without these thoughts I am sure that I would not have made it through year one as successfully as I did.
Work where you want to go.
During our conversation I remember being bummed because I was opening a specialty consulting business. The decision to serve Community Colleges meant that there would be travel in my future, and after a career of cushy desk jobs where travel was a treat I was suddenly dreading the need to be on the road.
That’s when the businesswoman I so admired gave me the best advice I have gotten to date, “travel where you want to go.” Genius! Why didn’t I think of that? If I target schools places that I want to visit I could at least write off part of my expenses if they aren’t included in the contract. Turn work into a vacation. Brilliant.
It will be hard.
I doubt anyone goes into this thinking it will be easy. She informed me that while everyone says it will be hard what she meant is it will be really hard.
She warned me about sleepless nights, worrying about finances, balancing everything that needs to be done. She warned that I would have less control of my schedule than ever because clients (and a paycheck) will be my priority. Then she looked me in the eye and asked if I was up for this because starting a business takes perseverance and it will test every limit I have.
It will be lonely.
As a sole proprietor, my business is mine and mine alone. My friend warned that with every perk to this fact comes a drawback. Until there are employees, there is no team to lean on. There is nobody to make the tough decisions for you. There’s no admin to manage your calendar.
You must do all the jobs, not just the stuff you like, and sometimes it’s not at all fun. Despite all that she warned the worst part is there are no co-workers to share in your joys and frustrations. It’s all you – all the time.
What I wish someone would have said
Obviously, I thought about these issues and moved forward with my business with a more realistic view – and I wouldn’t change a thing. Despite all the ups and downs, I have never been happier. Still, there are a few things that I wish someone would have told me.
The best investment is accountability.
Fairly early on I made the decision to hire Rachel and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Hiring her brought a renewed energy into the company, created a team environment, and made work fun again. It took the loneliness factor away and gave me a reason to work harder because there was a second person who needed a paycheck. I had increased accountability.
Rachel adds more value to the company than I can express, but I often say that even if she didn’t just having her around is worth every penny. Having her makes me work harder, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s a natural born motivator. Together we can conquer the world.
You might not work that much.
I’m in an industry that does not require me to be at a physical site several hours a week. As long as I take care of my clients and make sure the business is running smoothly, I’m good. However, a major reason I left my job was hours, and coming from a position where I worked 60 hours a week I sometimes feel like I’m slacking. As a result, I’ve taken to asking other independent consultants how much they work. Rarely do I get an answer above 35 hours, and most of the time it’s under 30.
That might seem shocking, but here’s the catch. While I don’t “clock” as many hours as I would for an employer, when I am working I’m hyper-focused. There are no social breaks, no walking the halls or surfing the internet to kill time. There is no stopping me when I’m in work mode, I’m on a mission to complete the task at hand. I have never worked this hard in my life, it’s just consolidated.
You never stop working.
I live with a constant worry that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not going to get the next client or that the checks aren’t going to come in. It is likely that this will never go away, even when the company is hugely successful there will always be jobs to worry about and business to pursue. The result of this overarching worry is that I never stop working.
I may not be on the clock, but my mind is constantly running. When I can’t sleep because I want to write a blog about the lessons I learned my first year in business at 4am, I just get up and do it.
The best way to get started is to start.
There is tons of advice out there about how to get started, how to write a business plan, do your market research, etc. My reality is that I did none of this. I knew in my gut that I was talented and that I had something to offer so I just got out there and did it.
Of course, I would recommend you prepare for your new venture, but what that means to you is different for everyone. It’s easy to overthink these things, especially when your livelihood is at stake. Would you rather live with knowing you gave it your best shot or the regret that comes with never trying?
Shannon Snow is the Principal at Snow Consulting Services. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners who focuses in facilities planning and operational support. She has over a decade of professional experience and founded Snow Consulting Services in 2016.