1. Nothing Happens Overnight
In the early stages of running my small business, I constantly found myself filled with feelings of anxiousness and anticipation. Why had this brand not achieved the level of international success that I had envisioned when I started the company? Why was my brand following not massive? Am I ever going to see this brand reach the heights that I so desperately desire?
I was either having a tough time curbing my problems of time management, or I was making the same mistake that small business owners across the world suffer from on a regular basis. I was expecting to shut my eyes a poor man with a small company at night, and open them a rich man with a large company in the morning. Of course, this is one of those feelings that unless you make a conscious effort to combat, it is only natural to suffer from. Unfortunately, it is one of the most dangerous mistakes to make in the early stages of operating your business. It can be, and often is, utterly demoralizing.
Ask any business owner if their road to profits took longer or shorter than they had originally anticipated. You show me a man or woman who tells you that it took shorter than expected, and I’ll show you a good liar. Running a successful company takes time, and there is simply no way around it. Okay, so maybe once in a while you read of a miraculous business maneuver that results in “overnight success”. There’s actually a word for this kind of success! Luck. Or being in the right place at the right time. For every example you find me of true overnight success, I will find you seventy-five examples of businesses that took five years before they turned a profit.
2. Little Things Make a Big Difference
How often have you been given extra packets of ketchup at a drive-through, and gone home to find yourself surprisingly pleased whilst you dig through your bag of warm goodies? It’s the same French fries and cold soda that you’ve always enjoyed, but those extra two packets have just made this lunch the best one since your mother sent you turkey and gravy in a Tupperware container. Weird, huh? Something so seemingly irrelevant has just made your experience with this restaurant more enjoyable than you ever thought possible.
Now, imagine the same situation, although this time you delve into your fast-food bag only to find the drive-through attendant failed to provide you with the condiment so critical to the meal. You’re now contemplating either driving back to the restaurant or knocking on your neighbor’s door begging for spare ketchup packets. You see, it’s not really the meal itself that makes you happy. Of course, the meal must taste good. But if two meals both taste relatively similar, for a relatively similar price, it’s the little things that make you loyal to one over the other. This idea holds true across all elements of business. In an industry filled with barbers dishing out haircuts, the ones who give you a free comb are the ones who last.
3. The Hardest Things Are the Most Important
Something you quickly learn while running your business, especially if you are running it alone or with very few employees, is that the tasks required to operate effectively are incredibly diverse. In my experience being interviewed by magazines and publications, one of the most common questions I hear is, “Could you describe what you might do on an average day at Bokos?” I do my best to frame a useable answer, but responding to this question is surprisingly difficult. Especially when “everything” is not what they want to hear. Unfortunately, “everything” is about as close to the truth as anything else. Among the wide array of various tasks that need to get done, one thing becomes very clear, very quickly. The hardest things are usually the most important.
4. It Doesn’t Hurt to Try
Coming to terms that there is no roadmap to follow as you run your business is perhaps one of the most important ideas to accept. The trouble is, it is also one of the most difficult. You may find yourself filled with thoughts like, “I do not know with certainty what will happen if I do this. I better just avoid it altogether.”
Everybody likes a sure bet. Whether you knew it at the time or not, when you took on the role of owning a company, you also took on the role of a pathfinder. There is no set of steps to follow that will ensure a prosperous future. But there is also no harm in deviating from the status quo to make decisions that might seem obscure and unpredictable. I have found that often, these somewhat ridiculous side quests end up being better strategic moves than the safe bets. With a safe bet, you know what you are getting. When you try something new, the end result is unknown. It could be bad, making you say to yourself, “What the hell was I thinking?” Or, quite possibly, it could be the one thing that changes your business forever.
5. Prepare for Sacrifice
A nine to five job can be, and often is, extremely demanding. Every day, millions of people around the world experience a great deal of stress attempting to effectively deal with the demands of working for a large company. They force themselves out of bed well before the sun rears its head, rack their brains to figure out ways to increase profit and decrease spending in a congested cubicle, and sit through stop-and-go traffic on the way home to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall. For many, this stress filled job is so demanding that a cold, frost-brewed draft is in serious demand by eight o’ clock that night. Owning a company takes those stresses, and that demand, and extends it beyond the eight-hour workday.
An old saying in the entrepreneurial world goes, “When you own your own company, you are always at work.” Working for a company is like watching football every Sunday, owning the company is like being the head coach of the team. If you are not willing to make sacrifices, owning a company might not be the best option for you.
6. It’s not Just About the Money
I once had a man I had never met request to speak with me about owning a company. As we spoke on the phone, he told me that he was a 28-year-old electrician working in Texas. He said that the job that he currently held paid very well, he was bringing home around $60,000 per year. Nothing to laugh at. But he told me that he didn’t want to work for somebody else, he wanted to start his own company. He told me that he hated every minute of his current job. He said it didn’t matter how much money he made, he just wanted the freedom to make his own decisions and set his own hours. He had the spirit and outlook every entrepreneur must have. It’s not about the money. It’s about the drive, the excitement, the experience, and the freedom. It doesn’t matter how many suits a man owns, he can only wear one at a time.
7. Expect the Unexpected
Running a business is tough. There is really no other way to put it. Remember when Dorothy was making her way to the city of Oz, and ran into all sorts of obstacles and uncertain situations along the way?
Well, running a business is much like Dorothy’s incredible journey.Around every turn, there will be obstacles that you must quell before you can continue moving towards the ultimate goal of owning the business of your dreams. These obstacles will come in all shapes and sizes, and some will be very difficult to anticipate. Some, however, are very easily avoidable if you are both proactive and careful in making key business decisions. Obstacles are unavoidable, they are simply a part of business that you cannot escape from. They are, however, manageable. If you are able to effectively plan and anticipate these potential delays, it will transform the massive pothole in the road into a small, manageable divot.
8. Ask Yourself the Tough Questions
What differentiates me from my competitors? How long am I willing to continue working this job if things take longer than expected to get off the ground? How much money will I be happy with? Where do I see this company in three years? These are the kinds of questions that need to be addressed in the early stages of starting your own business. An old saying says that if you fail to plan, you should plan to fail.
Asking questions about your company, what you want out of it, and where it is headed long-term will help you gain perspective on what you are actually getting yourself in to. If you are simply starting a website that sells small bracelets that you make in your free time, it is less important to ask yourself where the company should be in three years. But if you are serious about the business you are hoping to create, asking difficult questions helps you look at your company in a transparent, honest way. One of the first, and often most difficult steps in answering the complicated questions, is constructing a business plan.
Matt McManus is the founder of Bokos, a Minneapolis-based footwear company. The brand has been featured in the Star Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal. He is a private pilot and photographer.