8 Things No One Told Me About Owning My Own Business.
I’ve gotten into the habit of answering the question, “so what do you do?” with “I’m a serial entrepreneur…”
& you should see the funny looks I get in response. But seriously, it’s the best way to describe myself. I mean, I do a lot of things. I am the owner of multiple small businesses, after all. (That is still surreal for me to say, “I own multiple small businesses”… yet, it’s been true for going on 6 years in some way, shape or form.) But bookkeeping, check… marketing & advertising, check… event planning, check… content creation & social media strategy, check… business development, check… HR, check… sales, check… idea generation & innovation, check… & anything else that needs to be done, check check.
The girl that struggles with imposter syndrome within me immediately starts to rear her ugly head with worthless things to say like, “well, hold on a minute… what actually defines what you do as a business?” & I begin to start to doubt myself. Do I employ anyone? Technically, no. I have a freelance consultant that helps me out for a few hours a week. Do I bring home the bacon? No. In fact, I don’t even eat bacon. I am blessed to have married the most intelligent man I’ve ever met, who provides for our lifestyle & enables me to have the freedom to pursue my passion projects. So is that what these “businesses” really are? Are we actually talking about “hobbies”?
Listen ladies, I don’t know what it is about being a woman that makes us instinctually doubt our strengths & skills, & discount the hard f-ing work we put in while also, very likely, managing our homes, our families, our husbands, our social lives, our commitments to the community… (raise your hand if you could keep adding to this list… ??) You get my point.
The brain of a woman is hard-wired to multi-task. We’re always doing 85 things at once, while also have a different set of 85 thoughts. Do a quick Google search of “differences between the male & female brain” & then get out a notebook. You will have hundreds of reasons that will come in handy for your next argument with your spouse, trust me! I once heard someone describe the female brain as a plate of spaghetti, which demonstrates the fact that we always have a lot happening upstairs, all interwoven into a big mess that somehow makes sense to us… while describing the male brain as a waffle: meaning, each little square that soaks up all the butter is an individual thought box. Men can literally only handle one thing at a time. (& sometimes even that is a challenge, right girlfriends?!)
But I digress. What I do are passion projects, yes. They literally light my soul on fire. I really freaking love what I spend my days doing, & I believe I’m on a path that not only fulfills me, but will help others as well. I didn’t start this blog… or my social media strategy & content creation consulting… or The Dostal House, with the intention of any of them making me a bunch of money. In fact, “an income” wasn’t even part of my original thought process. (Now, I wouldn’t be disappointed if I woke up one day & realized that I hustled myself right into an incredibly comfortable income, but) I started each of my businesses from a place of personally needing them. All three of my businesses happened accidentally; all three have evolved organically, & all three continue to change every single day.
Being a business owner wasn’t what I set out to be… I actually grew up planning to be a dentist… but a business owner is, in fact, exactly what I am today. & there’s a whole bunch of stuff I’ve learned along the way that I certainly didn’t expect or see coming, & things no one ever told me about. So, in an attempt to make you feel like you’re “normal” if you are embarking on your own journey as an entrepreneur… here are 8 things no one told me about owning my own business (& I wish someone would have!):
There is no one telling you what to do.
I mean, obviously… right? This is the very reason so many people choose to start their own business, in the first place! But seriously, there is no one telling you what to do.
One one hand, working for “the man” probably means you know exactly what is expected of you. Your role is (for the most part) clearly defined by your job description. You know with reasonable accuracy what your days are going to look like & what you need to get done, because there is someone “telling you what to do.” Life as a business owner is absolutely nothing like this.
What I mean is this: it’s allllll up to you. This is your brainchild, your baby. This is your big idea… & the only one that can make this idea a reality is you. I quickly learned there is a difference between being busy & being productive. Starting out, I was really good at being busy. I’m terrible with free time… I will fill it! However, starting my own business showed me that I wasn’t always good at being productive.
Here’s what still scares me the most about owning my own business(es) today: your business doesn’t work unless you do. You are your business. No one else is there to make this thing happen… it’s all on you. Some days I feel like I’m on top of the world. I’ve hit my stride & I am able to see with such precision & clarity exactly what it’s going to take for me to achieve my goal. I’m flying high on that adrenaline that every entrepreneur knows & loves… I’m crossing things off my “to do list” left & right, I’m executing like the boss that I am. & other days I am literally paralyzed with the inability to be able to see straight. I wake up & am unable to define what the heck I do, let alone set out & do it. I feel “stuck.” Those awful voices of self doubt start to speak up again, & I begin to wonder what the hell I’ve done & I’m really good at convincing myself I must be legit crazy to think I have ever had a good idea in my life.
This is normal.
Enjoy the process. Yes, the life of an entrepreneur is like the most extreme roller coaster ever imagined. It is full of the highest highs & the lowest lows, & we seriously have to be a little dark & twisty on the inside to actually enjoy this shit… but it’s the real deal. This is the process. There is no way around it. It is hard. You will feel uncomfortable. But the rewards of owning your own business, being in charge of your own destiny & living each day to fulfill your life’s purpose is oh-so worth it!
Sit in your feelings. See them. Identify them. Process them for what they are: temporary & normal. This is usually where, if you open up to someone about what you’re feeling, you will get the very helpful advice: “if it was easy, everyone would do it.” (please note the sarcasm. This is the absolute most useless thing you could ever possibly say to an entrepreneur. It’s stupid, really.) Listen, you might be doubting it in the present moment, but you already know you’re the goods. It takes balls to start your own business, much like how it sometimes takes balls to be a woman. You’ve got this, sister. You’re just feeling stuck.
Make a decision. You can either stay in that “stuck” zone, freaking out… or, you can keep moving forward. This is typically where I close the laptop, set down my phone, & do something completely unrelated to what I’m working on, purely for the sake of making me feel really damn good in a moment where I feel anything but. I might take a bubble bath & pour myself a glass of wine at 11am. I might go get my nails done. I might workout, or I might just lay on the couch & watch an episode or two of a Sex & The City while snuggling my dog. (SATC is always my go-to for channeling all the girlboss vibes!) Just move.
There are also no days off.
Like, never. The idea of being your own boss & owning your own business sounds heavenly, in theory. It’s not. Seriously, it’s really not. It’s great, don’t get me wrong… keep reading… but, think about it: you have an 8am – 5pm job. At 5pm, what do you do? You go home. You might meet up with colleagues & friends for happy hour, you might go home to your beautiful family & eat dinner. You might have kiddos that have homework you help with… or tv shows you settle in to binge watch. Sure, you’ll probably check your email a time or two because, let’s face it: we, as a society, are addicted to our smart phones. But, this is on you: you likely don’t have to check your email. I mean, really. The company you work for will survive until the next morning, when you plug back in at 8am.
When you own your own business the company will not, in fact, survive until the next morning, without you. Your business is you; you are the company. As your own boss, you no longer have the luxury of leaving work at the office… because you are the office. It’s the craziest thing. Something naturally comes over you & you are always, constantly thinking about work. Every second of every day… there it is, in the back of your mind or the forefront. It’s there. Did I send that email? Did I pay that invoice? I’m over budget… sh*t, I’m over budget!
Fact is: it’s next to impossible to turn your inner “Female Founder” voice OFF.
Get really good at prioritizing. Be able to determine what activities need to be done first, & which will have the most impact on moving the needle forward. Be super careful not to get too far ahead of yourself… it’s ok to dream big, but stay focused on what you need to do each & every day to help you turn that big dream into your reality. One step at a time.
Time block. Research suggests that in an eight-hour day, the average worker is only productive for two hours & 53 minutes, so make it a goal to dedicate 3 hours every day to intentional build-your-business efforts. Then, you can walk away. Go do something else. While it goes without saying that you are above average, also cut yourself some slack. Ask yourself this: when do you do your best work? Is it first thing in the morning, when you mind is fresh? Eliminate all distractions, & dedicate 3 hours to getting shit done first thing in the morning. Are you better in the afternoon, after you’ve had time to clean the house… do the laundry & dishes… & get your home life situated as you like it? Then do you, Boo! Conquer the world within your home & then settle in for 3 hours of uninterrupted work time after the dust settles.
Set boundaries. No one can keep going at a level 10 at all times. & the people in your life deserve your time, too. That’s reality. In our home, we make it a point to have dinner together every evening. No phones at the table. By 8pm, we tend to set our alarms & put our phones down. Hubs & I snuggle up to read or watch tv. Osman curls up with us in bed, too. But we *try* to make it a natural, but conscious, effort to unplug from “work mode” & plug in to “life mode.” It’s important to set aside time away from your biz where you are fully, 100% present.
There is no such thing as “work – life balance.”
At least, I don’t believe there is. As an entrepreneur, you can’t just “shut off” all this creative goodness! If there’s one thing I know to be true about myself & my workflow, it’s this: when I’m feeling it, I’ve gotta get it out right now. Everything else falls to the wayside. My creative spurts leave me just as quickly as they arrive, so I feel the anxiety of capturing it while it’s hot.
Instead of “balance,” I prefer to strive for a healthy “work – life integration.” My businesses are a direct reflection of me. I am my work. I often write about what I’m currently struggling with, what I’m feeling inspired by, or how I really feel about something for SignedM. because it’s my way of “showing up” & living my authentic self, through this blog as my creative outlet. I founded The Dostal House out of conviction, for the same reason. I had fallen in love with working for myself & pursuing something I thoroughly enjoyed… but, working from home on the couch day in & day out wasn’t good for my soul. I desperately needed the energy of other women on their way to feed off of, I needed to surround myself with other girl bosses building pursuing their passions to help me through my “off” days. That inspiration & energy gives me life!
Not everyone “gets it”… but the people I have in my life today, do. They might not understand exactly what it is that I do, or how I make money… but they can see that I’m fired up & impassioned about whatever it is I’m spending time building here, so they support it. Even when it means I lean way into my introverted tendencies for a bit.
& every single relationship you have in your life will change.
Some, not for the better. Friendships, marriages, family roles, etc. Life as you knew it is now over, & a new version has begun. Some people will get this & respect this… others won’t. You no longer have “free time,” & you likely won’t be able to do *all the social things* with your friend group, like you could before. Because you’re tired. Bone deep, your brain literally feels like gooey mush, pulling out your own fingernails sounds less painful than dreaded small talk, & even having conversations with those that you know care, love & support you sounds like a chore.
Not everyone in your life is meant to be there for it’s entirety. Some are only meant to spend a season. Trust in this. It is said that we have 3 types of friends: friends for a reason, friends for a season & friends for a lifetime… & there’s nothing like big life changes (like starting your own business) that will expose who is what. & that’s OK. Here’s another one of those “if I have learned anything” things: losing a friend hurts, no matter what kind of friend they are or have been. But things always happen for a reason. Yes, it will suck in the moment… yes, I lost some of what I thought were life-long friends through my failed business & certain life changes… but, having come out the other side, I am so grateful for the people that are in my life today. & I am equally so grateful for the ones that are no longer!
You are going to mess up BIG.
In really scary, expensive ways. I mean, I would say this is completely unavoidable. Think about it: you don’t know what you don’t know… so you have to figure it out, somehow. Sometimes you’re going to get it wrong. But then you’ll know, ya know? It’s all part of the process, & remember: trust in that process!
I messed up big. Multiple times. I mean, within 6 weeks of opening my first business I received a “cease & desist” letter from the same attorney that represents The Rollings Stones & their brand, because the name of my store infringed upon another business’ licensed naming rights. There goes $10k. Whoops.
I learned a lot about business partnerships the hard way. Different commitment levels to a business should be reflected by different ownership rights. 50/50 is never a good idea. Clearly defining roles is a must. & having an exit strategy is a necessity. Money makes people weird. People lie. & you can’t expect the same level of loyalty you offer someone from anyone in return.
Also, karma is real. I believe in that shit, so I try to do the right thing & let the rest take care of itself.
Use your failure as fuel. There are select opportunities inside every failure, & failure is just part of the process. Mourn your loss, don’t cheat yourself out of that, but also don’t get stuck here. What did you learn from your failure? If you had to do it all over, what would you do differently? Making mistakes gives you great insight & perspective into the moves you make in the future.
Remember: success is not the absence of failure; it’s the persistence through failure.
Know your strengths. &, as soon as it allows, hire out for your weaknesses. Plan for it. Build it into your starting capital needs. Do whatever you have to do. If you know nothing about how to build a website & technological difficulties bring out an inner rage you do everything in your power to hide from the world… don’t try to teach yourself how to build a website for your business. It takes money to make money. It is literally impossible for you to know how to do all the things. & even if you did know how to do all the things, there aren’t enough hours in the day to be able to do them. So don’t try to learn & do everything. Except…
If numbers aren’t your “thing,” take the time to make them your “thing.” I can’t even stress this enough: you have to know & understand your numbers. Don’t do the “Let’s just get these doors open… I’ll learn how to read these reports later!” Nope. Terrible idea. If you know nothing else, you need to know whether or not you’re making money or bleeding dry. Because if it doesn’t make money, it doesn’t make sense. & that’s when you do, in fact, find yourself with a very expensive hobby.
You’ll never really feel like you know what you’re doing.
If you are a control freak like me, this will drive you batty. It’s comical, really. I wake up every day & wonder if I’m actually on to something… or, if I’m just really good at being my own cheerleader. There has never come a point in time where I feel like I can “coast” in any of my businesses… because, in all honesty, I’m not the kind of brilliant that thinks up ideas that have never been thought of. I’m realistic: I’m not the only one doing what I’m doing. I’m the only one doing it the way I’m doing it. A day off for me could fall on the very same day that my biggest competitor has an epiphany… there are no rest days. As a business owner, you must always keep innovating.
Do your customer discovery. It’s a giant pain in the ass. It’s absolutely zero fun. You feel like a complete idiot, asking what you feel like are obvious questions… but those big mistakes you are definitely going to make? Don’t shoot yourself in the foot straight out of the gate by not doing your research. Just because you have a pain point to which you have the remedy doesn’t mean anyone else feels you. Make sure you have a market before you dive in the deep end. (Have I inserted enough analogies here?)
& if you didn’t struggle with anxiety before, you will now.
On the verge of a panic attack has become my regular way of life. Every time I hear of someone else creeping into my market space, I worry that it will end me. Every time I come up with a new idea, I fear that someone else is going to pull it off before I do. I constantly worry that I’m forgetting about a meeting, I regularly have to turn around to make sure I’ve actually locked the front door after leaving my house. I can only own hot tools that automatically turn themselves OFF after a certain amount of time, because I will forget to do it & if I lose something, the world stops until I find it.
But I kinda like the edge my anxiousness gives me. Too much anxiety is a bad thing, which I most definitely have had to struggle my way through learning how to manage effectively, but just the right amount of anxiety for me is tied to creativity & passion. It pushes me to always keep my eyes open & think outside of the box, while also remembering to stay in my own lane. If I ever find myself not caring about what my competitors are up to, I’d take it as a sure sign that my fire has sizzled out.
Just when you think you have nothing left to give, you find you have more.
It’s the damnedest thing. I have spent countless nights sobbing to my husband about how I’m done… I’ve given it everything I have… it’s time to throw in the towel… this isn’t “fun” anymore… let’s cough it up as another hard lesson learned, & see where life takes me next… he looks at me & says something profound like, “you know this is normal, right? This is all part of the process & you can’t cheat the grind. What about this?” & then challenges me to look at my business through a different lens. & just like that, <*insert finger snap*> I have a new idea. I have a little more to give. I don’t want to throw in the towel, I need it to wipe my tear-stained face so I can get up & go again. Starting your own business isn’t always fun, where did I get the idea that it was going to be? M., you love this stuff… you’ve got this, babe… Hubs is right: No, you don’t have to tell him that, but this is part of the journey! & he’d probably appreciate it if you did acknowledge it! & I find a renewed sense of love, appreciation & commitment… to both my business & my rockstar of a husband.
Surround yourself with people who support you. & see things differently than you. Sometimes you can be so close to what you are building, you can’t see where the opportunities are. Let outsiders show you where the opportunities are. Don’t let you ego get in the way of listening to the very people that are there to buy what you’re selling.
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