There are plenty of audiobooks, podcasts and numerous programs on other media formats to tell you how you too can build your own business and live comfortably and have an easy life. In my experience if something is easy, everyone does it, is doing it, and it’s pretty much a social norm. That being said, there are those who do build businesses and those who climb mountains, and those who compose symphonies, the key part here is that not everyone does it.
As such, I don’t think everyone should try and build a company, similarly how not everyone should try and climb a mountain. Most people have no desire to have the stress or take on the extra work, as well as the risks. But for those who do decide to give it a try I’d like to express some thoughts that could help you on the journey.
Leaving Your Full-Time Job
I remember when I co-founded my first company (it wasn’t that long ago), the company had started and we were taking on projects and there was money coming in. I remember consistently messaging my business partner, “can I quit my job yet?”. He responded “no” vigorously. Eventually I got the chance to leave that full-time gig. What I’d like to strongly suggest is to not take that decision lightly, and not try and jump the gun the way I did. You should only leave your full-time work if you have enough savings to keep yourself living comfortably for at least 3 - 6 months should your new income disappear. Should you need to enter the job market again you will need the cushion cash. Only leave your full-time job if your start-up or new business requires your full-time attention. You’d be surprised what you can manage when you work in a focused state, for only a couple extra hours a week day. Leaving too soon can add significant stress to your life, especially if you’re still ironing out bugs with your workflow. You need to be able to walk before you try and run.
Get an Accountant/Bookkeeper
Do not under any circumstances assume that because you’re frugal or smart with money you don’t need an accountant. There should always be someone who can look at what you’re doing and advise you on your decisions. Bookkeepers and Accountants also can show you ways in which you can make your money work for you. As the old adage goes, “there are only two guarantees in life, death and taxes.” The government’s tax representative is not your friend, or your enemy but they can easily uproot everything in your personal life as well as your business’. You are not likely smarter than the government’s team of tax collectors. They will win the battle nine times out of 10.
Another key point in this is that numbers don’t lie. Your accountant will point out expenses you may not realize are adding up and draining your company income. Business owners can often be emotionally tied to their efforts and the customers and assume that things will work out, but an accountant or bookkeeper will help you keep your lights on.
Clients, clients, clients
It really doesn’t matter if you’re building a service-based business, a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), or a book series. Clients (or customers) are everything, and you will have to deal with them. Though I am confident that there are many makers out there who would love to imagine that the customer doesn’t exist, or doesn’t have to be dealt with. But, these are the people whose money you’re asking for, and they need to trust you to build that connection. Ensure that your customers are satisfied, and if need be, take on less customers in order to deliver your best to the ones you have. Never let a client undermine you either or make you feel like you are less than your value. Some customers have a way in which they try to get a “deal.” And though there are always exceptions to the rule, set your price (keep it market competitive) and stick with it. Reducing your value for any customer implies you don’t agree with your own pricing. Customers respect consistency and delivery. If they cannot afford you or your product that is their issue, not yours.
It’s challenging to get the attention of anyone in today’s market. There are many, many companies out there bombarding them with ads and most people are too busy in their own world to care about your solution or service. Marketing can get very costly, very quickly, and if you don’t know what you’re doing with it, does it make any sense to fork out a bunch of cash for Google ads? If you do decide that you need to do marketing to build your business I strongly suggest making sure you measure the success rate of small campaigns first before investing large amounts, again we need to walk before we can run. In my own experience, word of mouth is the best form of connecting with people and building customers. Sometimes your best ambassadors are your former coworkers who enjoyed working with you. Reach out to your business community and make connections - like I said above when building a business you’re going to be dealing with people, and those people are the people whose money your asking for.
Time and Work Life Balance
I get the vibe that many people out there who want to start a business are under the impression that with your own company you get to choose your own hours and you get to take lots of time off. This has never been my experience. When you own a company you need to be available for your customers to reach you. Yes, you get the freedom to decide when you work and at what schedule, but reducing your hours often reduces your income or the potential of it.
On that note, some founders will tell you to work 90 hour weeks, I’m of the mindset that if you need to work 90 hours a week you’re likely doing something wrong, either task delegating or, you have no wish to spend time with family and friends.
There is a slim chance that your 85th work hour quality matches your 12th. I will say that I have worked 65 hour work weeks and sometimes more than that. I love what I do, but I also love having time with my family and friends. Working a normal week is perfectly fine, and if you have enough work coming in, then you can choose to hire more staff, or outsource some of that work to allow you to have more time.
I do my best to keep a standard work week with an hour or two extra a day (mind you I don’t commute). That gives me that extra time to be productive and sometimes I work weekends but that’s often only when I really need to and I try to keep it to a shorter work day, which often means just in the morning or the evening. Building a business doesn’t have to take up all your time, or disrupt your entire life. However, I will also say that owning a business means you’re often thinking about it even when you’re spending time with your family.
The last thing I’d like to talk about which I feel is ignored or not directly talked about enough is the word “enough”. I’ve worked with start-ups and built a couple businesses, none of which are worth millions or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most businesses are not like Facebook or Amazon. Most businesses make enough to support a family or provide a steady income to one household member. If you’re going to build a business then at the beginning of your planning determine what number is enough. Figure out what your income goal is for your company and what would help you feel relaxed and not stressing about your life. There are many people stressed in this world over trying to make ends meet. Building a business which requires massive effort to survive or be noticed seems pointless to me. Build a business because you want to create something, or help people enjoy a better life, not for the sake of getting rich.