The media often glamourizes the idea of starting a business and becoming your own boss. You hear about successful startups run by 20-something college dropouts that rake in millions of dollars.
Behind all that glamour are stories of failure, hardship, bankruptcy, 100-hour weeks, family disputes – all the unsexy stuff in starting a business. Before you sign up for the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship, it’s important to have a clear idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
This post breaks down 10 not-so-sexy things no one tells you about starting a business. The more informed you are, the better you can prepare yourself for what’s ahead.
1. Ideas are worthless
Great ideas are just potential. People come up with brilliant ideas all the time, but very few of them will become millionaires after starting a business.
When you come up with a business idea, it’s important not to get too attached to it. As entrepreneurs, we often become obsessed with our ideas instead of focusing on whether there’s a need for them. Your business idea may not work. The sooner you can recover and pivot, the better your chances of success.
Keep this in mind: people don’t care about your brilliant ideas. They want products to solve their problems. Plain and simple. It’s up to the marketplace to determine the value of your idea. If people won’t pay money for it, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
Even once you’ve validated your business idea, you’re still not done yet. The most important step that makes all the difference is execution. A mediocre idea executed well is better than a brilliant idea executed poorly. That’s why planning is so important before starting a business. Give yourself ample time to plan out your launch, work out any kinks.
2. Learn how to sell or go home
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you run. If you can’t figure out how to get consistent, reliable sales, you won’t be in business for long. That’s the brutal truth. Unfortunately, many new entrepreneurs have negative associations with sales. They see it as sleazy, pushy, or immoral. I think this is just part of our social conditioning.
We look down on telemarketers, used car salesmen, and those people who go door to door selling knives. We see sales as tacky or icky. I was one of those people who thought sales were beneath me. However, after experiencing month after month of little to no revenue, I had to quickly reframe my approach to sales.
I enrolled in an intensive sales coaching program, learned from the best copywriters, and did dozens of sales calls. I quickly came to see sales not as something tacky, but as a process of serving your potential customers and guiding them to make the best decisions. This was a game-changer for my business. Learning sales took me from struggling to selling out my high-ticket coaching program.
“Sales” is the most important skill you can learn as an entrepreneur. You have to know how to talk to your target audience and explain the value you provide to them. This requires a deep understanding of your customer’s pain points. If you can communicate to someone exactly what they’re struggling with, then they’ll trust that you can solve their problem.
3. Failures and disappointments are the norms
The first time I launched my Pinterest course, I made a grand total of $. Exactly three people purchased it. My launch goal was $5,000.
I’ve been rejected by at least 30 brands that I pitched for a collaboration.
One of my first clients refused to pay me. I had to threaten him with a lawsuit before he finally paid – 9 months later!
An editor from a major business magazine reached out to me to write a piece only to change his mind at the last minute.
Facebook rejected my ads and suspended my account.
Pinterest suspended my account two times (as I write this my account is currently suspended.)
These are just some of the many stories of failure and disappointment that I’ve accumulated over the last 3 years as an entrepreneur. You have to have some thick skin to be an entrepreneur because things will go wrong.
Your product might flop.
Even Jeff Bezos has had countless failed products and launches.
You may spend thousands on ads and not sell anything.
One of my fellow blogging friends spent $20,000 on ads and only made $8,000.
Failure is necessary for success; it’s a part of the process. If you’re not failing once in a while, you’re not even trying. That might so cliche, but it’s the truth. As an entrepreneur, you are by nature a risk-taker. Some risks will pay off and some won’t. Learn what went wrong. Adjust your strategy, and keep going.
4. It will probably take you longer than expected to be profitable
My advice to anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur is to give it at least five years of consistent effort after starting a business. Yes, five years. Many people underestimate how much time it takes to build a successful business. I’m in year three of my business and I’m still discovering so much that I don’t know. I say five years because, assuming that you don’t have any business background, there will be a learning curve. You will make mistakes. You may have to pivot your business a few times before it finally works.
Giving yourself five years keeps expectations reasonable and pressure low. It allows space for all the learning, mistakes, and growth you need to experience to become the best entrepreneur you can be.
5. Building a business is a journey, not an event
That’s why one of the most important traits you can have as an entrepreneur is patience. You must keep working even when you don’t see results. This is one of the hardest things to do because it’s natural to become unmotivated when you don’t see the fruits of your labor.
However, you must keep your eyes on the big goal. When times get tough, remember why you became an entrepreneur in the first place. That will give you the strength to push through obstacles.
6. Your mindset is 90% of the battle
We all carry baggage from our previous experiences, stemming as far back as childhood. We often have negative thoughts and limiting beliefs about money, about ourselves, and about what’s possible for us. When you start a business, all that baggage will come creeping up. For me, it was low self-esteem and a negative association with money, both of which date back to my childhood.
The low self-esteem came mainly from bullies in grade school; the negative association with money came from witnessing massive corruption and embezzlement as a child in Nigeria. I had a hard time selling myself and selling my products because of these disempowering beliefs, which were buried in my subconscious.
When 2019 came around, I took a step back and focused on developing myself. I attended the Millionaire Mind Intensive to start the process of overcoming my money blocks. I also went to therapy specifically to deal with my self-esteem issues. I’m sharing this to show you that you can’t ignore the emotional/mental baggage if you want to succeed in business. Identify the things that hold you back and tackle them head-on before starting a business.
7. There’s no one-size-fits-all path to success
Beware of anyone who promises you the simple 3-step formula to solve all your business problems. It doesn’t exist! You can learn from what others did to be successful. However, you have to adapt their strategies to your own business.
I’ve invested over $30,000 in courses and coaching. These programs didn’t magically change my business just because I learned something new. I had to apply the teachings over the course of months to get results. I think investing in business education is always a smart move, but don’t expect it to fit your business. You are in charge so it’s up to you to make your business work.
8. You may have no life for years
Someone said that when you become an entrepreneur, you trade your 9-5 for a 5-9. That couldn’t be more true. When you’re an entrepreneur, the work isn’t done when the clock hits five. It’s done when you’ve completed that new launch, that blog post, or whatever you’re working in.
Even then, you’re not done. There are newsletters to write, social media posts to share, taxes to file, and the list goes on. The work is never truly done.
It’s normal to work 14-hour days in your first few years. As you expand and hire employees, your workload decreases. You’ll end up working less and making more, That’s when a 4-hour workweek actually becomes feasible. Until then, you have to grind six or seven days a week. Forget about going to happy hour with your friends after starting a business.
9. Be prepared to be broke for a while
Making $10 million in two years is certainly a possibility when you have a winning business idea. It’s not the norm for most entrepreneurs.
Unless you have a trust fund, you’ll probably be living on ramen noodles and canned beans for a few years. This is assuming you quit your job to go full-entrepreneur without much savings as I did. I moved in with my parents to keep costs low. That’s just the price you have to pay for long-term success. As an entrepreneur, you trade short-term comfort for long-term luxury.
10. Your family and friends will question your sanity
Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey because chances are, every one of your friends and family works a 9 to 5. If you come from an immigrant family like myself, that compounds the problem. Immigrant families, in particular, tend to frown upon risk-taking.
To my Nigerian parents, the idea of trading a comfy job for a business that has no guarantee of success just doesn’t make sense. Coming from a country where there are no jobs and little opportunity, their primary concern is job security and putting food on the table. A job in healthcare provides that. Entrepreneurship does not. When I told my parents that I was quitting my job to become a blogger, they thought I was joking! Over the years, I’ve gotten awkward questions, like
“How much money are you making now?”
“So when are you going to get a real job?”
I’ve also gotten objections like “that won’t work” or “it’s not possible.”
Don’t let objections from family and friends discourage you from pursuing your dreams. You know deep down why you chose this path. As long as you have a compelling reason driving you, what others think doesn’t matter.
I know it can be disheartening to put your heart and soul into something, and people look at you as if you’re crazy. But that’s the price to pay if you want to be exceptional. You have to go against the grain.
You will question yourself repeatedly
What am I doing?
That’s a question that will likely cross your mind many times throughout your entrepreneurial journey.
You will doubt your abilities, compare yourself to others, feel like an impostor, and wonder why you couldn’t just settle for a job like everyone else. Over the past three years, I’ve felt like throwing in the towel so many times. But I knew that simply wasn’t an option. I was fully committed to this path. I figuratively burned the ships so there was no chance of retreat.
Final Note on Starting a Business:
In the end, the prospect of spending 40 of the best years of my life working for someone else was far more painful than 5 years of poverty and failure. I knew that I could earn more money and have more impact working for myself than I ever could as an employee. That’s why I toil day in and day out and will never quit.
What’s your reason?