Quitting your job to start your own business takes guts. Actually, that’s a massive understatement. Joining a gym when you’re out of shape takes guts. Asking for a raise takes guts. So does giving someone your number, singing in public, or polar dipping. Starting your own business takes guts, plus a dash of insanity. A pinch of crazy. A little bit of who the hell do you think you are.
I work with a lot of coaches and consultants and designers and other entrepreneurs – people who used to work in the traditional corporate world and then took a risk and ventured out on their own. If you’re on the verge of taking that leap yourself there are a couple of things you should know:
First, it absolutely lives up to the hype. Working for yourself is amazing! It’s freeing, it’s exhilarating, it is challenging and rewarding and it fills you up.
Second, it’s also a total fucking gong show. Especially at the beginning. Your first year of business will be fraught with more frustration and doubt and uncertainty than you’ve probably ever faced.
I’m sure you’ve heard all about that first bit – the hype. Entrepreneurs are not shy about sharing their success stories. And you’ve seen the braggy photos of Monday morning latte art and laptops at the beach #blessed #beyourownboss #bestjobever. Who could blame them, really? The freedom that comes with entrepreneurship IS awesome.
But that second part? The paralyzing anxiety? The terrifying uncertainty? The crushing doubt? The emotional circus involved with actually getting your business off the ground? Very few people talk about that.
I was chatting with a new coach last week who was totally freaking out. She’s 10 months into her business and she feels like she’s all over the place, trying to appeal to everyone, struggling with confidence, making compromises that feel shitty, feeling like a fraud half of the time, and not making as much money as she’d like. I can’t remember exactly what I said to her, but it was something along the lines of OMG, I TOTALLY FEEL YOU. I remember what that feels like.
In the first year of my business I used up nearly all of my financial cushion (if you’re thinking about quitting your day job PLEASE have a financial cushion). I also spent months creating offerings that I eventually scrapped. I poured money into stuff that didn’t pay off. I talked myself into doing things I thought I had to do (another reminder that I haven’t quite learned that lesson yet). I listened to bad advice from “experts” when it went directly against what my gut was telling me. For everything I built there was another thing I had to knock down. It was A LOT of trial and error. And for a Type-A-ducks-in-a-row-control-freak like me it was emotionally exhausting.
I’m a few years into my (thankfully successful) business now and it’s STILL a lot of trial and error. I recently removed one of my offerings. Something about it didn’t feel right, so I scrapped it. Very few of the entrepreneurial circles I run in talk about the importance of experimentation, of trial and error. I wish people would talk about that more. I have two graduate degrees in business AND I used to teach at a business school and I can’t remember talking about the importance of trial and error once.
We think we’re off to the races once we have a great idea or a killer business plan, but I’ve found that trial and error is the thing that has helped me the most. It’s also something I’ve resisted. Big time. Because it’s SO. EFFING. FRUSTRATING. But it turns out learning from your mistakes works. (Don’t you just hate that?)
The things I learned in my first year of business helped me to eventually get it right. But I’m still learning. Experimenting. Fine-tuning. Tweaking. I’d wager that people who have been in business for far longer than I have would say they’re still doing that, even with years and years under their belts.
One of my coaching mentors, Martha Beck, likes to talk about butterfly goop when she’s talking about growth and change. What’s butterfly goop, you ask? Before a caterpillar becomes a butterfly it goes through a goopy phase. The caterpillar literally liquefies into goop right inside in the chrysalis, and that goopy mess is what eventually becomes the butterfly.