7 things they don’t tell you about entrepreneurship (that you will want to know)

7 things they don’t tell you about entrepreneurship (that you will want to know)

If you are at the beginning of your journey as a creative entrepreneur, you are probably filled with enthusiasm and excitement about sharing your ideas, skills and talents with the world. Here's what you need to know to stay motivated.

Congratulations on taking that bold step because the world truly needs the value that you are uniquely qualified to give. Depending on who you talk to, becoming an entrepreneur can be the best thing that will ever happen to you — or the most difficult thing you will ever experience in life. In my humble opinion, it’s both at the same time! And nothing that anyone tells you beforehand prepares you for the roller coaster ride.

According to Pew Research Center and the Small Business Association, over 30% of people go into business each year despite the fact that 30% of businesses fail before they reach year two (and most won’t make it to their 5th year). Despite the growth and popularity of entrepreneurship, the odds are against you. But the rewards are extremely high if you can manage the risk. To navigate the ups and downs, there are some things you need to understand right now so you won't be blindsided down the line.

I received my MBA at the institution that is ranked #1 in the world for innovation and entrepreneurship. And yet when I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey I somehow found myself completely baffled at the nature of my struggles. I expected it to be hard but I wasn't prepared for the types of challenges that I experienced.

That’s because what I wanted to achieve with my business wasn’t the model that we see in Silicon Valley and in the examples of startups featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Fast Company and the likes. Reading these exceptional stories of fast growth and unparalleled success (or sometimes hearing about them directly from my former classmates and peers) were inspiring but somewhat irrelevant to me.

Because I wanted a business that supported my ideal lifestyle (not the other way around). I have a crystal clear vision of what happiness means to me and I went into business for myself so I could manifest that vision.

On the other hand, the whole 4-hour work week model was not not realistic either. First of all because my business is directly linked to my sense of purpose so I actually want to work. Second, because that model is really just a clickbait title backed by a marketing ploy. The basis of it is admirable (getting out of the whole 9-to-5 rat race) but only seeking shortcuts to success will also have you running around in circles with nothing to show for it.

So at the beginning of my journey I had no reliable model to emulate. I wanted a more balanced approach to managing my life and life’s work and for the longest time didn't see a feasible path forward. Only years later was I able to create my own model and share it with others who have similar aspirations. Here are a few hard lessons learned that inspired my model and that you’ll want to be aware of sooner than later: 

  • Personal growth and business growth go hand-in-hand

  • Your role and responsibility is not to make money

  • Persistence and endurance are more important than skill

  • You will absolutely fail (many times) before you succeed

  • Things are almost never what they seem so mind your business

  • Find the sweet spot between what you want to do and what is useful  

  • Go with the flow instead of always trying to be different

  • You won't get very far if you insist on going at it alone

Personal growth and business growth go hand-in-hand

Playing to the extremes is not sustainable. No, you will not get far if you are only willing to invest four hours a week into your work. On the other hand, you will crash and burn out fast if 14 hour days are your norm.

I know because I’ve had periods when I went all-in on work barely leaving my home office to get fresh air. And then I’ve had periods when I was living it up for months in destinations like Cape Town and Santorini and going days if not weeks without putting any real effort into my businesses. Both of these extremes would leave me wildly unsatisfied and jeopardized the vision I had so carefully crafted. I soon realized that work-life balance couldn't just be a theoretical concept but something I had to calibrate for.  

The essence of my model for creative entrepreneurs is to pursue freedom, fulfillment and financial success in a balanced and authentic way. Staying true to your life vision and building a thriving business to support it (without destroying yourself) requires self-awareness about what matters most to you, as trade offs will be made. However, when you live and work intentionally those tradeoffs won’t feel like losses and you’ll come to establish a deep satisfaction with your way of doing things.

Your role and responsibility is not to make money

During my first couple of years in business money consumed me. In those early days I equated running a business with making money and didn’t distinguish the two. But I would have these incredibly dramatic feast and famine cycles that were causing too much disruption to my normally even-keeled disposition: things like earning $30,000 in one month and only $300 in the next, starting and stopping business ideas and switching processes at whim.

I was all over the place because the focus on money had me doing things that were not conducive to a thriving business and weren't in line with my personality, my life vision or my purpose. That’s because focusing on making money disconnects you from the essence of who you are as a creative entrepreneur and the value you can uniquely add.

Instead, you need to develop a wealth mindset and focus on nurturing your creative energy so you can generate value. When what you have to offer is truly useful to others, money will flow more naturally and consistently.

Persistence and endurance are more important than skill

Entrepreneurship is a game of endurance, simple as that. In the midst of periods of deep-set doubt, I like to meditate on a biblical quote I came across that pretty much sums up my philosophy on running a business:

The fastest runner doesn't always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn't always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don't always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

I come from humble beginnings and grew up in a place where most people don't make it out to do anything of significance. But I refused to be a product of that environment and somehow had the resolve to re-imagine a completely different existence for myself — and I went on to do incredible things.

I beat the odds that were stacked against me at an early age because I kept pressing on. Life seems a bit random sometimes but from my personal experience I believe luck happens to those who have grit. I don’t think there are any other secrets to success as an entrepreneur except one: stay at it.

  • When I was shocked that my elite education and glossy resume did not prepare me for my entrepreneurial struggles, I stayed at it.

  • When I was going through my depressing feast and famine cycles and dealing with unreliable and inconsistent flows of income, I stayed at it.

  • When I didn’t have anyone to turn to because my model for success was too different and no one in my network could quite understand what I was trying to accomplish, I stayed at it.

I guess growing up as I did taught me a thing or two about grit and what it means to hustle. I don’t care what you background is, you’ve got to have a hustler's mentality. Yes, build your skill set. Yes, have a strategy. Yes, develop a good process. Yes, establish a consistent routine. But when all of that fails (and it will as I’ll discuss below) don’t give up because your lucky break may be just around the corner.

You will absolutely fail (many times) before you succeed

Failure is inevitable and it will come in many different shapes and forms so be ready. The whole overnight success story that’s constantly written about is simply not true. I know this from my own experience, but also because as a consultant and coach I have intimate, first-hand knowledge from real entrepreneurs about what it takes to make it. You are not about to earn $100,000 or $1,000,000 overnight so get that out of your head now.

What will happen is that you are likely to make a bunch of mistakes and have a lot of setbacks, and your ability to rise above them will equip you with the insight and resilience you’ll need to eventually succeed.

Let me give you an example. I started an e-commerce business a few years ago. I lucked out and ended up with a full feature article written up in Fast Company (this was organic press I did not pay for). That feature sent a flood of traffic to my website and then encouraged other publications to write about the business which sent even more traffic. I thought I was ready but I was not prepared for the traffic.

I didn’t have a proper sales funnel in place. I wasn’t ready on the fulfillment side. I ended up selling out of my product. In less than a week I had a 5,000 person email list and 500 person waitlist but couldn’t make money from either because I was so completely frazzled. That amount of high-quality press should have been my ticket to an "overnight" six-figure business. But it ended up being a failure. I’ve since dissolved the business because running it started to feel too much like a high-growth startup which was exactly what I didn’t want.

That experience taught me a lot. It clarified what I wanted (and didn’t want) from a business. It opened up my eyes to the necessary fundamentals you need to have in place to properly run a business. But more than that, it helped me understand that it takes failure to learn what you don’t know.

However, you can anticipate failure so you are better able to bounce back. One way is to understand yourself. Much of your failure will come from your own self-sabotage. By understanding how you tick as en entrepreneur, you’ll be more emotionally prepared for the setbacks.

Things are almost never what they seem so mind your business

I’ll keep this short and sweet. It is easy to look outward, see what someone else is doing and then feel bad about your own progress. If you make a habit of doing that it will stunt your growth. Sure, it’s ok to be inspired by success stories and to try to learn a few tips from those who appear to be where you want to be.

But you don't know the full backstory of that person who you’ve identified as being successful. You don’t what they did to get there (that you may or may not be willing to do) or whether they are actually as successful as they seem. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the world of business and it's impossible to discern the full truth. Armed with only partial knowledge about someone else’s situation might lead you to make decisions that are not in your best interest.

This is why, bordering too much information, I try to be as transparent about my experience as I can. I have people who email me thinking I have all the answers and assuming I have some magic potion that will solve all their issues. I don’t. Don’t be fooled by the polished website. Because of my experience, there’s a lot I bring to the table as a coach and a lot of value I add to my clients as a result. I love my life and my work, but that doesn't mean things are perfect over on this side of the screen.

At some point you will have to get out of that “groupie” way of thinking and mind your own business (both literally and figuratively). It’s ok to admire what someone else is doing but don’t be so impressionable and don’t take everything people dish out as doctrine. Focus on your own pursuits and learn how to trust your own intuition above all of the other noise.

Find the sweet spot between what you want to do and what is useful   

The thing about being creative that’s really hard when you transition into entrepreneurship is finding balance between what you want to create and what the world needs.  

Some people advise that as a business owner it’s not about you and you need to be 100% committed to fulfilling the desires of your audience. But that is a silly way to approach things as a creative. You won’t last long if you are pushing forward ideas that don’t resonate with you personally.

On the other hand, there’s the sentiment that entrepreneurs should be disruptive and come up with off-the-wall ideas that turn industries inside out. But that’s silly too. If you take a look at some of the most successful startups, you’ll see that they found a unique spin to a pre-existing concept. Their idea, in and of itself, wasn’t that unique — it was how they executed it that’s really noteworthy.

You won’t execute well if the idea doesn’t inspire you, but no amount of execution can sell something that no one wants or needs. Learn how to be in tune with the times and find the sweet spot between what you love doing and what is actually useful.

You won’t get very far if you insist on going at it alone

I just so happen to have the rare INTJ personality type which, in a nutshell, means I live in my head. My mind is like my own personal playground and I feel most comfortable there. But as a creative entrepreneur I’ve had to manage the introversion and learn how to seek help when needed.

Most of the creators and entrepreneurs I know, regardless of their personality type, struggle with this. That because our ideas, projects and ventures are like our children — we are protective of them. We want to nurture them on our own, in our own way, without interference from outsiders. But no matter how skilled you are or confident you are in your abilities, you can’t advance your business on your own. There are things you don’t know, skills you don’t have and limits to your resources.

I’m working with a client right now — an attorney turned entrepreneur — who I absolutely admire because she has zero qualms about asking for help. She’s just in the early stages of her business but has stunned me with her progress. While still juggling a full-time career, she literally wrote her business plan in days where it would have taken most people months.

That’s because she’s the queen of cold-calling. She’s on Linkedin networking with entrepreneurs who play in a similar market. She’ll dial up a major player in the industry in a heartbeat to ask them for advice. And what’s fascinating is that all of these people have been happy to help her even though she is offering them nothing in return. Her ability to clarify her business model and strategy so quickly all came down to her going direct to people who are where she wants to be, and garnering insights from them.

I have another client — a fashion marketer turned fashion startup founder — who knows how to make a dollar stretch. Instead of having a scarcity mentality because her resources were limited, she figured out how to maximize her budget to get the help she needed. She got clear about what was essential and decided to invest in three resources that she felt were most critical to her ability to succeed:

  • She hired me as her business coach because of my extensive fashion and e-commerce experience which saved her the time and effort she would have spent trying to launch her website alone.

  • She outreached and built up a network of the best designers in her field — even when it meant traveling half-way across the world — so, as a retailer, she could have access to the best products on the market. 

  • She invested in high-end photography services so she could create stunning images that conveyed her elevated brand essence and set her completely apart from competitors.

Whatever apprehension you may have about partnering, collaborating or outreaching to others to advance your idea must be overcome if you want your business to be successful. Start today by attending my complimentary masterclass that will teach you how to achieve freedom, fulfillment and financial success in your life and business.