I had no idea what I was doing but I knew that for as long as I could remember I'd always wanted to build a company and be my own boss.
April 4th, 2014 marked my first official day as an entrepreneur, and it’s been an amazing journey since. I’ve seen great successes, experienced many failures, made some fantastic friends, and learned a hell of a lot along the way.
So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share with you 5 things I’ve learned in 5 years as an entrepreneur.
1. Just start
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” - Mark Twain
Planning is hugely important when it comes to business, but there’s also a limit to it. Too much planning and not enough implementation means you won't actually achieve anything. If you’re thinking about leaving your steady job and pursuing the life of an entrepreneur, then preparing for the changes you’ll inevitably face is absolutely imperative. But it can quickly become an excuse you fall back on in order to avoid doing the hard or intimidating work. The planning becomes a form of procrastination; being busy for the sake of it.
The same happens when you’re running your business or starting a new project. It’s easy to sit around discussing what you should or shouldn’t do, what might or might not happen, combing over every minute detail for days on end. This, however, will stop you from actually getting started and ultimately attaining what you’ve set out to achieve.
So just start. Take the first step. Get going. It doesn’t need to be perfect, and maybe you’ll fail. So what? Failure isn’t actually all that bad.
2. Failure happens
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” - Samuel Beckett
We all suffer from the fear of failure. “What if I can’t do it?” We ask ourselves. “What if something goes wrong?”. It stops us from pursuing our dreams, from attempting to deviate from the plan and take risks. Entrepreneurship is risky business, I won’t lie. I remember in college how much they used to tell us that the definition of entrepreneurship was, in fact, risk taking.
Nothing’s set in stone. You don’t always have something to fall back in. Your new idea might not work. But maybe that’s the beauty of it all: you’re doing something new, different, perhaps even something that’s never been done before, and hoping you can pull it off. But if you don’t pull it off, if things don’t go to plan, it isn’t all that bad.
We think failure is the worst thing in the world, but it’s actually not. You just get back up, dust yourself off and try again. It's not fatal, you can nearly always hit restart. If anything, I’ve learned more from the failures I’ve experienced as an entrepreneur than the successes. Overcoming failure is more beneficial to you than you can imagine.
“..And what will other people think of me if I fail?”. Trust me. Other people’s opinions don’t matter.
3. Compete against yourself
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” - Theodore Roosevelt
For a long time I was influenced by what other entrepreneurs were doing, what people thought of me, how my competitors did business. I was getting worked up that I wasn’t doing enough or doing the right thing. It took me a long time to realise that in fact all of that didn’t really matter, that I shouldn’t compare myself to other people, and that I should only compete against myself.
We compare ourselves to other people everyday. Social media makes it easier. We scroll through feeds of “perfect” lives, wishing ours were the same or better, and in business it’s no different. Don’t worry about whether your friend from college is making more money than you, whether that new startup next door is already (seemingly) more successful than yours. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Everyone has a different story, and a different path, and it’s no use comparing yours to someone else’s. It isn’t a fair fight - we’re all different.
Instead of looking at other people, look at yourself - where you were yesterday, where you were last year (or even 5 years ago!). Compare yourself to that person and be your own competition. You’ll start to see what you’ve accomplished, where you can improve, and can feel proud of the things you’ve achieved on your journey. Believe me, your mental health will thank you for it.
4. Take care of your health
“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold or silver.” - Mahatma Gandhi
The first thing that goes out the door for a lot of people when life gets busy is taking care of yourself. Whether that’s through not eating properly, a lack of sleep, skipping the gym or not taking some much needed time off work, your health can really start to deteriorate when you don’t give it the attention it needs.
Both my physical and mental health have suffered over the last 5 years, and I’ve only myself to blame. Continuous late nights in the office led me to make poor eating decisions (reaching for a microwave meal instead of cooking) and not prioritising time to exercise saw me gaining a lot of weight. Not taking time off and dealing with the stress I was under properly caused me some serious anxiety issues, so much so that I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, worried about falling apart and not being able to face the day. It’s no way to live, and you’ll not only see the impact it has on you but also on your business.
If there’s only one piece of advice you walk away with from this post, it’s to take care of yourself. There’s only one you, you’ve only got one life, and your health is so important. No amount of “hustle” can achieve the success you’re working towards if your body and mind aren’t in good shape. Take a break, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
5. You’re not alone
“Ask for help not because you're weak, but because you want to remain strong.” - Les Brown
The entrepreneurship route isn’t for everyone. That’s a fairly obvious one. Long hours, hard work, financial uncertainty and all that risk we talked about earlier. It’s easy to see why most people don’t work for themselves. When you start out as an entrepreneur, you quickly realise how few of us there are out there (at least in comparison to alternative career paths). It’s quite likely that most, if not all, of your friends and family are employees, working for someone else, living the 9-5 life that most people live. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it can be isolating when your days are structured differently than of those around you, when you don’t have a boss to report to or a colleague to ask for help from. There aren’t any water cooler conversations or after work drinks at the beginning.
You aren’t alone though, it just takes a little bit of effort. There are countless people who have been (or still are) where you are in this moment, and countless people will follow you in your footsteps. It was the main reason why I started Entrepreneur Evenings - the desire to connect with other like minded entrepreneurs, and perhaps help some entrepreneurial hopefuls in the process. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other entrepreneurs for advice, asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness.
Even those in competition with you aren’t your sworn enemies. Over time I’ve learned that even within the same industry, we all have our own unique skills and passions, and it’s much better to collaborate than to compete. Keeping your cards (and your ideas) too close to your chest all the time means you might not discover new opportunities that are out there. Be open - you never know what might happen.
* * *
The past 5 years haven't been a walk in the park. There have been many business setbacks, personal problems, times when I've doubted myself, times when I just wanted to give up on everything. From it though I’ve learned patience, persistence and perseverance. Today marks a huge milestone for me. Sitting down at that desk on my first day back in 2014, I could never have imagined where I’d be today, but after these past 5 years, I can safely say that I don’t regret a second of it. If you work hard and truly love what you're doing, you can do anything you set your mind to.
I’d like to finish this post by saying thank you to every client, colleague, contact, friend, family member and naysayer. I could never have done it without you.