There’s a haunting, scary, messy truth about being an entrepreneur. Those who dream about entrepreneurship think about the freedom of being able to chase big dreams, the thrill of building empires and the joy of making a mark on the world by doing something better than any other person in a field has yet done.
There’s something to all this. Entrepreneurship is indeed fun, rewarding and freeing. But there’s a dark side to entrepreneurship that nobody likes to talk about much. Being an entrepreneur can be grueling, spirit breaking and downright tough. I hope you have thick skin. You’ll need it. Here are the six scary truths of entrepreneurship:
1. You are not your own boss.
I wanted to be my own boss, just like millions of other entrepreneurs. What I soon learned was that great entrepreneurs are never the boss, except perhaps in title. There are more than 300 sales professionals and staff members at the company I own — and they are the bosses.
Awesome businesses are built by listening to the people who make the business entity run. Anytime one of my people calls me “the boss,” I quickly remind that individual that I am directed by my team. I am their employee, the one employee who has 300 bosses who help lead the ship.
2. You won’t be the highest-paid.
So many new entrepreneurs have grandiose visions of making huge amounts of money. Perhaps some will. For most, though, it will take years, probably decades. To build an amazing empire, you need the best sales team and staff, and this will require you to invest funds.
When you find a person who can take your empire to the next level, you will be the first to give up your own paycheck to hire them because that’s what entrepreneurship is about. Your business will take on a life of its own almost like a child. You will want more than anything for it to succeed and flourish, even if it’s at your own expense.
So you will sacrifice and happily eat your $1 ramen noodles in the quiet of your home so that you can hire the cream of the crop to help you build your business bigger. You will sacrifice today for a better tomorrow because that’s what great entrepreneurs do.
3. Work-life balance is impossible.
In the building stages of a business, seeking work-life balance is futile. Work will become your life. When you are at home working in your yard, at your kid’s soccer game or getting ready to turn in at night, you’ll be thinking about your business.
You’ll wake in the middle of the night worrying that you should have handled something better or jumped on an opportunity faster. There is no 9-to-5 to building a business, only 24/7. Yes, you will spend time at home and even on vacation, but you will always be on, thinking about your business.
I love running my company, but I’m the first to admit that my house is always a mess, my car makes me look like a hoarder with constant remnants of the last two week’s worth of appointments, and sometimes I go to bed in the clothes I wore to work because I’m so tired that changing into pajamas is just not an option.
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4. A hidden support team is oh, so very critical.
A great company has a great support system, including executive, administrative, production, manufacturing and additional staff. That’s the official company. A great entrepreneur also has an amazing support staff outside the office, perhaps a spouse, kids and friends. Your family better have a 100 percent buy-in to your dream if you’re going to be an entrepreneur or your business or family will suffer.
My real estate empire is a by-product of the support I have at home and the friendships I’ve cultivated over a lifetime. The foundation of my work life is family members who understand that I sometimes have to field phone calls all weekend and attend networking events most evenings and that a recruiting appointment will often trump a homemade meal. Time is always carved out each week for them because they are the why behind everything I do. But when you have not just one boss but hundreds, an entrepreneur and the family that supports her are required to make occasional sacrifices.
5. Someone won’t like you.
The hardest lesson for me was this: The bigger the empire, the more enemies are made. For most entrepreneurs, it’s a tough thing to realize. That’s not to say you won’t have legions of supporters because you absolutely will. But there will always be people who won’t like the way you do things, the decisions you make or the direction you’re headed in. For some entrepreneurs, this is spirit breaking.
You will spend a big part of your life pouring every ounce of your being into the company. You will give back to your sales team, staff and the company in general until it hurts. Sometimes you’ll make decisions in the best interest of the company but not necessarily of the employees.
You’ll make decisions that are in the best interest of one set of employees but not others. You’ll cut out services because you have to cut costs. There will always be someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing, and it will hurt.
Your business is something that you gave life to and it is in that way your baby. Not much that will hurt you like someone putting down your business or saying that you just don’t care about the people who make it up.
6. Perception matters.
Even when your business is not doing amazing, act like it is. Smile. Perception matters. Perception, in fact, matters more than reality. Six months ago, I rebranded my business. It was the most difficult time of my entire business career. I lost one-quarter of my sales force because these staffers didn’t believe in me or my new brand.
There were nights when I went home and cried myself to sleep, and yet I put a smile on my face and went back to the office the next day ready to take on the world. In six short months, I recruited as many new salespeople as the number of those who left. I can now say confidently that the rebranding was the best move I ever made in my career.
The hard truth is that there will always be days when you have to use every ounce of your being to put on a smile to tell the world that everything’s OK. I promise, if you do, one day you’ll wake up and everything really will be OK.