Last year, I sold my stake in a successful, growing business and launched out on my own. It was a good decision I do not regret, but it wasn’t without risk.
It’s exciting to be your own boss and run your own business, but it’s also hard work. Anyone who tells you different is just trying to sell you something.
It’s amazing to be able to take your wife to a movie on Friday morning and set your own schedule, but the bills are still due on time and the money comes from my own bank account.
You should start your own business. Maybe it’s a full-time, jump-off-the-cliff thing. Or maybe it’s something on the side. But it’s a good thing to build your own dreams instead of working to build someone else’s.
But I want you to know what you’re getting into. I want to share five hard truths about starting your own business.
#1 – There is no “somebody.”
Church Fuel has two employees – Rob and myself. And neither of us have received a paycheck. We’re self funding all of the startup costs through early sales and hoping our ideas gain traction.
Between the two of us, we’re doing everything. And for many entrepreneurs, it’s even more lonely than that. You might be the only one working on your business.
The small workforce means that if something needs to be done, we’ve got to do it. There’s no “somebody.”
Does that term ever come up in conversations? Someone needs to put it on the website. Someone needs to make a decision on pricing. Someone needs to call those clients.
There is no somebody. Well, technically there is…it’s ME!
If it’s going to go on the website, I’m going to put it there. If a decision needs to be made, all eyes are on me. If a client needs a phone call, I better start dialing. I’m the sales department and Rob is it IT department. He’s in charge of a ridiculous amount of things and I’m doing things I have no business doing.
Starting a business means you have to do things you don’t like doing or you’re not really good at doing. For all the talk about finding your dream or working out of your passion, there’s flat out hard work that needs to be done in any startup. It won’t be glamorous and it will have little to do with your life calling.
Yes, you should get in your sweet spot. Yes, you should work from your strengths. Yes, you should delegate. But early on, there is nobody else. These books about finding your passion and living your dream often leave out the part about, you know, reality. Some people are so addicted to vision, passion and causes they don’t know how to do the things that must be done. Some of the things you do in business don’t have ultimate purpose or lead to life fulfillment. It’s just…work.
Somebody doesn’t have a business card.
Somebody doesn’t have a job description.
Somebody doesn’t have an office.
#2 – There’s always a learning curve.
We started Church Fuel to provide insanely practical resources to move the church forward. I love the church and I love business, so I started a business to help the church. That’s what I love.
Not WordPress plugins.
Not payroll, merchant processors, or legal contracts.
Passion alone can’t run a business. It turns out, a lot of knowledge and know-how is required.
But here’s the good news. We live in a time where if you want to know something you can go learn it. You can read blogs and listen to podcasts. You can read a book, representing years of research and expertise. There are conferences and cohorts and online classes. These times really are amazing. Everything you need to know about any topic in the world probably has a YouTube channel.
We decided that InfusionSoft – an all in one sales and marketing solution – would power our business. And while I used it in a previous company, I didn’t understand how it worked. I could create the strategy but I couldn’t do anything with the software. That wasn’t going to be good enough this time around.
So Rob and I went to InfusionSoft University in Phoenix. It’s the software that powers our business and we needed to learn how to use it. It’s not the simplest thing in the world, but we got through enough of the learning curve to get it working. This cost us thousands of dollars and we spent it before the company generated $1 in revenue.
In the last six months, I’ve learned more than I thought I needed to know about merchant processing, project management tools, payroll taxes and dozens of other boring but important topics. The learning curve ain’t sexy.
But it’s supposed to be this way. Getting through the curve is what’s going to separate you from the other idea-filled wannabes and get you into the world of hustlers who know how to make things happen.
You may know a lot about your subject matter, but you’ve got to learn a lot about how to run a business.
# 3 – It’s probably not going to work.
After we learned how to use InfusionSoft and built a small mailing list, we created our first product – a 12-month coaching program called The Year of Healthy Systems.
We added the digital resource to our online shopping cart and set up the payment terms. But we forgot to set up the confirmation page, so when people hit submit, all they saw was a blank screen. They went back in their browser and tried again, eventually giving up.
But in reality, each of those transactions went though. They just were’t redirected to the proper confirmation page. And since those products were subscriptions, not only were they billed, they were billed again 30 days later.
And the name of the product didn’t really work either. Nobody wants to spend a year doing anything. People want instant help, so putting the word “year” in the title turned out to be a big mistake.
Rob fixed the billing issues and we changed the name of the product to The Systems Course. And we’re still finding with the pricing models.
The reality of starting a business is that what you do first often doesn’t work. You have to walk this tightrope between strong belief in your idea and the willingness to adapt. Mike Tyson says everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. That’s definitely true in the business world. Beautiful business plans often don’t survive first contact with real customers.
The reality of being an entrepreneur is that what you do often doesn’t work.
I’ve met so many people who started something that didn’t work but ended up giving up too fast. They moved on to the next idea before hustling on the last idea. It’s a vicious pattern for the impatient entrepreneur.
# 4 – There’s never enough time.
I use a task manager called Things to keep track of all my action items. I love this little program because it handles repeating tasks and syncs with all my devices.
There’s also a folder called Someday. You see, every task gets a due date. But the items are put in the Someday folder don’t. I’ll just get to them someday.
The items in the someday folder are growing.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve got way more ideas than I have time to execute them. As a company, we have products in line for production and campaigns that need work. But we don’t have enough time to do it.
And that’s the reality of business (life, really). There’s never enough time for all the projects. You have to be selective. You have to strategically say no.
More time is a myth. It’s related the the more money or more influence myth and it comes from a scarcity mindset. I’m never going to have more time. I have the same amount of time as Albert Einstein or Mother Theresa. It’s what I choose do do with the time I have that matters.
#5 – It’s not glamorous.
I recently spent two days with a client in California.
You might hear that and think I’m lucky to be able to travel to such exciting places.
But while I was there, I visited the inside of an office, the fellowship hall of a church, and the Holiday Inn. I was there working, not sightseeing. I’m sure Los Angeles is great, but I mostly saw the freeway.
That’s more or less how business travel goes. It sounds exciting to visit all these places, but I mostly see the airports and meeting rooms.
One of the guys asked me if my clients ever took me out to play golf. I told him I thought this was a great idea. Then we got back to work.
Starting a business is a lot like business travel. Because movies get made and articles get written about successful startups, everyone things they are glamorous. I’m not complaining – far from it! I’m thankful to do what I do.
But the reality is that starting something on your own is not always glamorous.
Chances are, your startup isn’t going to be acquired by Google. You’re not going to be profiled in the magazines or honored with awards. It’s far more likely you will do the work of two people until you can scrape enough money together to hire one other person.
Startup work isn’t glamorous, it’s ordinary. That’s the hard truth.