A recent study by the University of Phoenix showed that 63% of 20-somethings in the US want to run their own business. But is it as wonderful as people say it is? Here are some of my experiences along the way.
#1: It can be terribly lonely.
It is lonely having your own business – but the frustrating thing is, the loneliness is self-inflicted. While others complain about their 9-to-5 jobs, your set of complaints are completely different, and, as studies show, less than 10% of people own or have owned their own business – so in any group of 10 people, you are that 1 weirdo with a strange set of problems.
It can be a very alienating experience, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who actively needs social acceptance.
Sometimes running your own business requires a ‘lone wolf’ type quality – you need to have the courage to say “I will try” when others say “you will fail”. You will need to have the instincts to move away from your pack, and learn to hunt alone.
As you are building your business – and especially in the first few months when you’re still in the red – there will be days when you will feel crippled by your choices, you will say no to social plans, and you just can’t stop working on a project because you are too worried of failure.
While other people around you entertain more trivial problems, your problems are a lot more serious, such as: “Will we go bust? Will I lose my savings? Where is my next paycheck coming from?”
“Starting from zero will dent your ego like nothing else.”
#2: It will be a humbling experience
It is incredibly humbling to see your bank account be drained – month after month, hinging on just your unproven business idea or a hunch.
In the first year, we didn’t even pay ourselves and we were self-funded from savings and investments.
Big changes had to be made — rather than ordering food delivery without much thought, I cooked at home; rather than buying material things at a whim, I forced myself to buy only when necessary.
From seeing friends rise up through the corporate ladder, I was just starting again. I could no longer hide behind a big brand I was representing. I could no longer cite how much influence or clients or expertise the company I worked for had.
We self-funded the business, and started with 1 client. We undercharged till we got to year 2, just so we could win business deals.
Starting from zero will dent your ego like nothing else.
#3: You will learn to DIY 90% of what you need to do
Everything you have never had to do before such as: invoicing clients, sending out letters, buying your own stamps – all these things I hated because I felt they were too mundane for my time.
And then there were other things I learned which were actually good for me to know such as, SEO, and online advertising. I have never had to do these tasks before.
But I’m glad I did because I now have a completely new set of skills – and my clients have also asked me to do some of these things for them.
Unfamiliarity has turned into habit, habit into skill, skill into expertise, and expertise into new lines of business.
#4: You will have a newfound appreciation for SMEs
I have a greater respect for SMEs, but even more so F&B owners. Afterall, the F&B industry is extremely competitive, with high rates of restaurants going out of business, labour challenges, and the fickleness of F&B customers.
On a certain F&B street in Singapore, it was rumoured that 50% of F&B outlets that opened, had closed within the first 6 months! That’s brutal.
Before starting out, I could never fathom buying, say, a main course for $19 from a new eatery with fancy menus in hipster fonts when I could go next door for say, $12.
Now that I know what it takes to run a business, and to run one profitably – I gladly support new eateries.
#5: You will learn the true value of money
To be honest, I never appreciated money until now. When I worked 9 to 5 (okay, to be honest, it was more like 9 to 9), I used to not know where most of my paycheck went because I would spend impulsively as I knew I would still get paid at the end of the month.
A handbag in a colour I didn’t need here, another pointless moisturiser there, and by the end of the month, I would wonder where it all went.
Now that I know the effort it takes to earn every dollar, I appreciate what I spend it on.
#6: You will learn resilience
Overcoming the risk of failure trains your mental resilience.
I work with my spouse, and we find ourselves coaching and encouraging each other though challenges, psyching ourselves before a big pitch, playing team-player, coach, mentor to each other – all at once.
It takes strength to not fall apart before a client pitch, to stand up for yourself and your unknown brand.
It takes courage to compete with the big boys who have millions injected into their business, and years of business experience to contend with.
It takes resilience to not give up, give in, or go back to the safe haven of being a salaried employee again which can seem quite attractive.
Especially when you didn’t hate being a salaried employee, and you were actually quite good at it.
You just wanted entrepreneurship more and had the resilience to see it through. – LB