Entrepreneurship. All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

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Last week I contributed to Dr Shannon Reece’s Weekly Question “What was the catalyst in your life that drove you onto the entrepreneurial path, and what keeps you on it?” Over 100 entrepreneurs shared their stories.

I loved my corporate career

I worked for good companies, starting my career in Human Resources before later becoming a Management Consultant. I’ve worked in about 40 organizations across a range of industry sectors. I had challenging and stretching development opportunities and promotions.

On the whole, I had really good bosses. In fact they were so good, I’m still personal friends with some despite not having worked for them for over 20 years!

I got to travel the world, experience life as an expat in Singapore, New York and London and I met amazing people from all around the world (long before social networking made it easy!). I even met my husband through my career! And of course, I earned a lot of money doing it.

So what was the catalyst that drove me onto the entrepreneurial path, despite such a great career?

Well, despite all of the upside, there was also a lot of downside. Many weekends on a plane, foregoing social events, missing my family, living an unhealthy lifestyle and feeling like a puppet – not in control of my own life. Work was my life.

After the birth of my son, I returned to corporate life in a part-time role thinking that would be the best of both worlds. It wasn’t. I know a lot of women manage it and I take my hat off to them.

I was torn between wanting to do a great job and wanting to be a great mother and have a life. I was miserable. I felt like I was failing at everything.

I had to work out how to put myself back in control.

I wanted to build a lifestyle that gave me the flexibility to spend time with my son when he was a toddler and as he progressed through the school years. I also wanted to do something intellectually challenging that allowed me to earn an income doing something that I love.

I’ve been running my own business now for nearly four years

But it hasn’t all been a straight path from Point A to Point B. In fact, far from it! I’ve meandered. I’ve headed down paths only to come to a dead end. I’ve hit the proverbial fork in the road and had to make a decision about which path to take. I’ve loved it and loathed it – often in the same hour!

Have I ever thought about giving it all up and going to get a J.O.B.? Sure! But the thought of having to go back to corporate world where I’d have to commute to an office, deal with office politics, be physically present between 8am and 6pm and work my butt off for a salary, just makes my stomach churn. Even just writing about it now, I can feel my anxiety level rising.

So, what is it about running a business that’s so appealing?

I recently asked on Twitter “what do you most like about running your own business?”

Here’s a summary of some of the responses that came back:

  • For me, it’s the unique ability to create my own context
  • Flexibility, control, freedom, ability to to listen to feedback & translate to action wherever possible
  • Being able to create MY stuff MY way in a way that works for ME
  • It serves my dream life
  • (There’s) no real limit as to how successful I’ll be
  • Freedom to be
  • Being free to pursue my own goals & desired outcomes & not those of others. Being the chess player & not the piece is 4 me.
  • My business works for me to provide the cash-flow AND the time-flow to enjoy life at its best. *It* is there to serve *me*.

Thanks Tweeps for your contribution

Sound appealing? To me it does.

But is entrepreneurship all it’s cracked up to be?

Feeling like a puppet?

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I can only answer that question from my own personal perspective and the answer for me is “yes, but…”

    1. You need to be realistic about your earning potential.
      Chances are, you will take a drop in income when you first start out. Sure, there are lots of success stories out there where people managed to make more than they did in a corporate job but for most people it takes time to build a business and replace or exceed the income. Work out what financial reserves you have and how you’ll manage the cash flow.

 

    1. It’s important that you love your business idea because you will live it 24/7.
      You will be reading, networking, learning, creating and immersed in your business. It’s hard to switch off. You need to create work/life balance and this can be even harder when you work for yourself, particularly if you’re a driven, motivated, high-achiever.

 

    1. Self-discipline is critical.
      It’s easy to spend time doing things that have nothing to do with building your business. You can sleep in late. You can go for a run mid-morning. You can meet friends for lunch. You can get the washing, shopping, cleaning done. You can spend hours on Twitter, Google, YouTube and Facebook. Before you know it, the day, week, month is gone but your business is flailing. Having a structure to your day/week and systems in place helps.

 

    1. It can be an emotional rollercoaster.
      Every business owner I’ve ever spoken to says that they experience emotional highs and lows, often in the same hour! You need to develop resilience and find coping mechanisms help you through. Don’t rely solely on friends or a partner and don’t try to deal with it alone. Get a good support network in place.

 

  1. It’s not for everyone.
    If you want someone to tell you what to do, when to do it and how to do it, then stick with a job. If you can’t afford to or don’t want to take financial risks, then stick with a job where someone pays you a salary. If you’ve found a job that you’re excited about, that fits with your lifestyle, that is fulfilling, that ticks all your boxes, then hang on to it – you’re one of the lucky ones.

I’d love to hear your views about whether you think being an entrepreneur is all it’s cracked up to be or whether it’s all a bit over-rated.

If you’ve got a question for me about running a business, please ask it. I’m happy to share all that I know.

P.S. If you are ready to make the leap from corporate job holder to entrepreneur, then join my free webinar, where I’ll share the five keys to starting your own business, avoiding common start-up mistakes.

12 Responses to Entrepreneurship. All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

  1. Robin Dickinson April 6, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    “I’d love to hear your views about whether you think being an entrepreneur is all it’s cracked up to be or whether it’s all a bit over-rated.”

    Thank you for this excellent post, Suellen. It resonates strongly with me.

    To answer your question…

    It’s all I know. Having left corporate in 1992, I’ve burned my employ-ability bridges long ago. So I make it work. I get out of it what I’m prepared to put in.

    Having no choice but to step forward makes a huge difference to my success. I see many people keep a ‘get out of jail’ card in their back pocket i.e. something like, “if this doesn’t work, I can always go get a job or retire or whatever.”

    In my opinion, this robs them of the very thing that makes entrepreneurs succeed – an urgent desperation that MUST find a way through all of the pain, frustrations and difficulties – to persevere, to push through, to make it happen, make it work. Does that make sense?

    Best to you,

    Robin πŸ™‚
    Facilitating your business success

    • Suellen April 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

      Thanks for commenting Robin.

      I like your point about the ‘get out of jail’ card. I wonder how many entrepreneurs end up going back into some kind of corporate job and for those that do, I wonder whether will always wonder ‘what if’.

      To answer your question… it makes perfect sense. If you have no fallback, you will find a way.

      Think I will throw away that card I’ve been keeping in my pocket, just in case, and focus on making it work!

      Thanks for the perspective.

  2. Cat Matson April 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    Is being an entrepreneur all it’s cracked up to be?

    No.

    But don’t get me wrong. Like Robin, I personally wouldn’t, couldn’t, have it any other way. But being an ‘entrepreneur’ is not anywhere near as glamorous, exciting, liberating or even fun as it sounds. I often say that people leave perfectly good jobs because they don’t want to work for an “idiot” (insert other derogatory nouns here) … only to work for a bigger one.

    Being an entrepreneur, as thrilling as it can be when things ‘work’, when you achieve successes, can be extraordinarily challenging. Many entrepreneurs actually end up working longer hours for less money than they did when they were employed … flying in the face of their very reasons for becoming ‘an entrepreneur’ in the first place.

    However, being an entrepreneur is incredibly satisfying and rewarding … and for me, is the ONLY way I can achieve the things I want in my life.

    I do think the romantic notions of entrepreneurship ARE over-rated … and I think we, collectively, need to be more realistic in our expectations … and in the stories we tell. It generally takes a LONG time to see tangible, *improved-condition* results from entrepreneurial efforts … yet the ideal notions of it suggest that with the right ‘model’ it’s a straight-forward and easy journey to entrepreneurial success.

    Is it all it’s cracked up to be? No. Are notions of Entrepreneurship over-rated? Yes. Is it the *best* game on the planet? For me, absolutely!

    Great post Suellen … thank you for sparking a great conversation!

    Cat

    maximising your business performance

    • Suellen April 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

      Hi Cat,

      Thanks for your comment – made me smile.

      Funny how the long hours, hard work and even working for a tough, unforgiving boss can be so rewarding πŸ™‚

      I’m sure studies have been done on the traits of entrepreneurs (anyone know of any?) and it would be interesting to see whether masochism is a common trait!

  3. Catherine White April 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Hi Suellen

    A thought provoking post, and one I’m sure will challenge wannabe entrepreneurs.

    My late husband was a serial entrepreneur, and it’s been said, my spirit is that of an entrepreneur, but I have no glamour stories to tell. It’s hard yakka to be an entrepreneur, or remain married to one.

    Clearly, most entrepreneurs resigned corporate life for reasons cited here, and often out of a belief they can do a better job than most of their bosses.

    As seasoned professionals, they are right to consider themselves up for the bosses job. But it takes more than savvy business plan and a dream, it often sucks up more capital than anticipated, and takes longer to get off the ground than hoped for.

    The problem for entrepreneurs is they are usually so passionate about their dream, so emotionally invested in it, they rarely see anything else, and fail to hear the sound advice of trusted advisors.

    The most successful entrepreneurs understand the business is not their identity, which makes the prospect of failure less damming.

    I was forever amazed at the manner in which my husband could make something out of nothing, buy up dead businesses, and turn a profit. I admired him greatly, but first hand experience proves you need the heart of a thoroughbred to go the distance.

    Cheers
    Catherine

    • Suellen April 6, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

      Hi Catherine,

      I think we were commenting on each others posts simultaneously!

      Thanks for sharing your personal story and experience. A friend of mine’s father was a serial entrepreneur and although he was extremely successful and as a result, she had/has a privileged life, she couldn’t stand it when her husband left the corporate world and went out on his own. She felt that she’d lived with so much uncertainty growing up that she couldn’t go through it again, nor put her own children through it. Her husband has gone back to a corporate job – he could see how unhappy it was making his wife and he valued his married and family too much to risk it.

      You’re spot on about the passion and emotional investment. Mea Culpa! I wish I could find a way to separate my identity and my business but then I couldn’t do it in the corporate world either! So, I had better be successful because the prospect of failure is not pretty.

      Some good lessons for me and for ‘wannabe entrepreneurs’
      Thanks Catherine

  4. Linda Fairbairn April 6, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    Just as there are horses for courses, entrepreneurship is not for everyone –

    What I think many people forget is – While they’re doing their ‘job’ the business back-end is being taken care of by supporting departments so… someone else is taking care of the marketing, promoting, designing, the accounts, the reception and administration… while you just focus on the speciality you’re being paid for –

    Setting up your own business requires the organizational ability to either cover all of these bases yourself, or oversee the delegation of these tasks (recommended so the habit is established early) –

    I liken it to one of those plate spinning acts – Whilst you are busy carrying on with your performance out front, you’re having to ensure all the other plates (departments) keep airborne πŸ˜‰

    Its a lifestyle, where you hold the keys – and like while learning to drive, the ride can be bumpy, erratic and the journey certainly not straight!
    Nothing is assured, its a life that is forever evolving and changing… and that’s why I love it!

    • Suellen April 11, 2011 at 11:10 am #

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks for commenting on my post last week.

      You make a really good point about all of the activities we need to take care of and the skills needed to do them well. When I was working in large corporations, there was always an ‘us and them’ attitude between the back-office (cost centres) and the customer facing (revenue generators) teams. Funny how when we run our own business we often have to do both – particularly in the early days. The conflict between back office and customer facing activities still exists – only now we’re arguing with ourselves about where our time, effort and dollars are best spent! Some things don’t change.

      Delegation of low value/ non-core activities makes sense but can be difficult when pennies are tight and small business owners are trying to do everything on a shoestring budget. I know a lot of small businesses are making the most of virtual assistants (onshore and offshore) and turning to places like elance and odesk and even fiverr for support. I’d love to know whether anyone has had any personal experience with any of these. Who do you delegate to Linda?

      Your love of your business really shines through – I’d say entrepreneurship is definitely your thing!

      • Linda Fairbairn April 11, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

        When you start, things are tight, but in hind sight I’d recommend getting into the habit of outsourcing just a couple of hours work a week at the very beginning so as to set the trend πŸ™‚
        This of course is less tempting if you’re an all rounder and are perfectly capable of doing it yourself – but learning to delegate at this stage is far easier than when it becomes actually necessary – And its quite motivating knowing that while you are doing ‘this’ that ‘that’ is also under-way πŸ™‚

        Some work is carried out on site by local casual staff, but I’ve also developed working relationships through Twitter with Australian virtual assistants. (As we produce an Australian Made product for holidaymakers in Australia, our values are such that we operate an ‘all’ Australian organization) – Twitter has meant I’ve been able to get to ‘know’ the VAs interests and values before taking the plunge to utilize their skills – which has been a very positive experience.

        • Suellen April 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

          Thanks for sharing the info on outsourcing Linda. I have outsourced a few things but plan on doing a lot more in future. As you say, things are tight in the early days but as someone said last week, you save your way to business growth so I’m planning on spending a bit on a good VA soon. I’ll be talking to you for recommendations!

  5. Sally Foley-Lewis April 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    Those reasons that the tweeps provided for why they like running their own business are such great self-serving, actualising and positive ones. I have to admit I also have similar reasons yet just as strong a reason for me is that I want to serve my clients properly, authentically and ethically (I’ve seen ‘rubbish’ and snake oil in the areas I work).

    I consider myself to still be in start-up mode and I feel blessed to have connected with more experienced soles who are experts in fields where I have gaps; this I believe, has helped keep this E-thing a buzz more days than a fizzle.

    Great post Suellen, thanks for sharing.

    Sally | Fast Tracks Manager Productivity

    • Suellen April 11, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      Hi Sally,

      Great point about being able to serve your clients properly, authentically and ethically. Being a business owner means that you can build a business culture based on your own values rather than having to find a fit within an organisation or, as is the case with many people who are unhappy at work, working in an organisation where your own personal values are in conflict with the organisational values. How do you know when you see the those peddling “snake oil”?

      As you know, I attended the Kochie’s Business Builders Bootcamp last week and the thing I loved was that there were over 700 small business owners in attendance and it was great to share ideas, hear the stories about the challenges business owners face and learn from those who’ve succeeded. The presenters oozed enthusiasm and a real love of what they do, despite admitting that at times it’s bloody hard!

      Thanks Sally and good luck with the “E-thing”. New managers need people like you to show them the “right” way to do things.

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