This month marks 4 years since I started Hot Pepper Communications, and earlier this spring, I passed the 2-year mark since I started doing it full-time.
Even though I’ve been in business for myself full-time for only 2 years, I’ve been running businesses off and on for nearly 20 years. Here are 17 lessons about entrepreneurship I’ve learned during that time (some of them more recently than others):
1. I must have a flexible schedule.
I tell people that I don’t work 9 – 5, I work 5 – 9. I’m often working until 21:45 and at it the next morning before 5:00. That can be taxing, but I also have flexibility. I can take off an hour to go to a non-profit board meeting or two hours to go with my family to an agriculture fair.
2. I must be comfortable with inconsistency
Every workday is different. While I do the same type of work each day (writing, editing, and social media), it’s always something new. Running a Twitter account for a realtor, for example, is not the same thing as running a Pinterest board for a furniture manufacturer. Editing a master’s thesis is not the same as editing a magazine article.
3. It’s easy to get a raise.
With my employers, I had to wait for a raise or accept annual cost-of-living increases. Now, if I want a higher income, I just need to sign on new clients. It’s all up to me.
4. I’m around my family more.
Even though I work in a designated office space, I can still hear my family interacting. When I stop for dinner or to get a drink, I can interact with them. I can hear them laughing and chatting about random things. I love my family, and being around them more (even if I’m kind of not) is a great blessing.
5. I can nap.
Because of my long workdays, I am often tired. If my day isn’t too hectic, I can find a few minutes to relax, put in some earplugs, cover my eyes, and snooze. If I don’t do this, I often drift off. A quick nap rejuvenates me and helps me carry on. I can’t do it every day, but when I can, it makes a huge difference.
6. I must be super motivated.
It was easy to get into a rut when I worked for someone else. Now, I’m always motivated to find more clients and increase my brand awareness. It was always someone else’s responsibility to do those things, now it’s mine. Literally, if I don’t do it, no one else will.
7. I must work long hours.
As I said above, I work 5 – 9. That’s actually pretty typical. I have plans to hire employees in the near future, but before I can do that, I need enough work for them to do. Until I do that, I have to do all of the work.
8. I get no holidays.
In the last 27 months, I have taken 3 weekdays off: Christmas, my uncle’s funeral, and the day after surgery. For Christmas, I moved all of my work to the following Saturday. For my uncle’s funeral, I spread my work throughout the other days; in fact, it took me three days to recover from the backlog. For my recovery day, I simply charged my clients less.
Because I am my only employee, if I don’t work, the work doesn’t get done. If I took holidays, I either charge my clients for work I didn’t do, or I give them a reduced rate and take home less. So, no holidays.
9. Saturday is my Friday.
I take Sundays off. It’s the only day I take off. As a result, Saturday is to me what Friday is to everyone else. I have a 6-day work week.
10. My pay is intermittent.
Some clients take months to pay me. Some clients have me do small job which are only, say, $10 or $20 worth. It’s difficult to budget when you have no idea how much money you’ll make, especially in the initial stages of the business. Things are starting to stabilize, so it’s less of an issue than it used to be. Even so, clients come and go, so the money coming never stays the same for long.
11. People forget I’m working
Every so often, I will get a phone call from someone asking me to help them with something during the day. Sometimes I can help, but usually I can’t. They always seem to phone when I’m trying to meet a deadline, too.
12. Some clients take months to pay you.
If you’re going to start a business — especially a B2B business — don’t depend on all clients paying you immediately. Some of my clients have taken months to pay me. I’ve only ever had 2 delinquent accounts (and they were each only $40), but some do take a while to pay me. Be prepared to either live on very little some months or make sure you have reserves set aside.
13. Some clients take months to sign up.
While some companies are quick to sign on as clients as soon as I meet with them, others take their time. Never depend on potential clients as a source of income until you’ve actually done work for them and billed them.
14. Some clients require reminders.
People are busy, and this is quite apparent when your business provides services (rather than products) for other businesses. Whether is getting approval on a final draft, getting a payment on an invoice, or asking for feedback on another project, some of your time will be spent trying to track down clients. If you don’t have patience, you may not be cut out to be a business owner.
15. It’s hard work getting clients.
Sending out a mass email to all your contacts will provide relatively little business. Buying advertising space for B2B services will provide relatively little business. Don’t expect all your advertising efforts and money to result in new business. Some of it will see like a waste. If you aren’t good at sales, you’re going to have quite a go of making your business work.
16. Be prepared to fail.
Personally, my wife and I have failed at running a business 8 times. Hot Pepper Communications is our 9th business, and finally, it’s been our most successful. It‘s kind of funny actually because 9 is my favourite number.
Failure is part of entrepreneurship. It’s one of the risks you must be willing to take if you venture out on your own. In my opinion, it’s a risk worth taking. You will learn more lessons through failure than you will in a textbook. You will learn that forces exist that are out of control and that will tear you down. You will learn that you need to be able to live off nothing sometimes if you want the business to survive. You will learn that you can’t live your life as if your client is going to pay their invoice this month.
17. It’s tough being an introvert.
I’m an introvert, and I have anxiety. That makes it difficult to cold call and to reach out to new people at networking events. Business grows more slowly for introverts, but being successful is possible.
Do you run your own business? What are some valuable lessons you’ve learned?