So you fancy the entrepreneur’s life, or what you’ve heard about it. Being a #girlboss, in control of your own time, answering to no one, getting rich doing what you love every day.
Let’s just say there’s more to it than the success stories you read. Having been involved in media, retail, education and F&B start-ups over 14 years – a couple of which were successfully sold for modest six-ﬁgure amounts while others simply folded despite my best efforts – here’s what I’d tell my closest friends before going into business for themselves.
1 DON’T. JUST... DON’T
If anything else in the world could make you happy, do that instead. Don’t go into business for the love of it. Passion, schmassion. Because even if you start out with something you love, you’ll have to do a ton else that you don’t love in order to support it.
My ﬁrst business was a line of homeware. I loved transforming vintage items into modern homeware for myself. People said “you should totally sell these”, which sounded like a dream, so I started a webstore. Soon, I was dealing daily with suppliers, customers, inventory, accounts, marketing, website upkeep and arranging deliveries. Later, I opened a store, and with it, added managing a landlord, staff , regulatory bodies, and maintaining and upgrading the space to my daily tasks.
You’ll notice that “designing homeware” appears nowhere in that list. That’s because, in reality, I got to design homeware maybe once every two months. If you want to focus on doing what you love, ﬁnd a job working for someone who’ll pay you to do it. Don’t start a business.
Sounds discouraging? If you found that one little “don’t” to be harsh, run far, far away from the constant downer that is business, and thank me later from the comfort of your salaried office chair.
2 PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR BANK IS
Don’t go the start-up route expecting to get rich quick, because even if you eventually succeed, you’re likely to ﬁrst spend more than you make – for quite a while.
Once you’re in the thick of a venture, one of the hardest things will be telling where the business ends and you begin. So before you start, decide on the minimum you’re comfortable with having in your bank account, based on your needs. Now promise yourself you will not dip into it for the business, no matter what. Never take out personal loans or put things on your credit cards for your business either.
This is important, because if it came down to it, you’d probably do a direct blood transfusion to your business if it needed it to stay alive. However, you will not make good decisions if you’re driven by fear or desperation – and if you dip too deep into your personal savings, you will be driven by fear and desperation. Do everything else – seek additional funds, explore business loans, renegotiate credit terms with suppliers – to get what your business needs without affecting your own basic well-being, because if you’re making poor decisions in a crisis period, it’s likely to just be a longer death.
3 SLEEP – WHAT’S THAT?
If you thought having one job was stressful, you will have no words for what it’s like to do six jobs you weren’t trained for, all at the same time, with no boss to shield you, no pay cheque at the end of the month, and your own money at stake with every decision you make (or avoid).
These are just a few roles I’ve had to assume: accountant, advertising copywriter, press relations representative, social media analyst, human resource manager, inventory personnel, web designer, cook, buyer, legal assistant, janitor, salesgirl and waitress. When you wear that many hats, your head never gets comfortable on the pillow.
Even if you reach a point where you settle into your roles or can split duties with partners or employees, a business has so many aspects to think and learn about that the mind never really has time to rest. It seems like no matter how hard I meditate before bed, something’s bound to bubble up from my subconscious when I’m asleep. Even when I head out for a nice dinner, I ﬁnd myself wondering about the restaurant’s overheads and analysing its menu design or promotions to see what I can learn.
And don’t get me started on red tape and bureaucracy. It’s a fact of life I’ve had to deal with – but that’s another book altogether.
4 YOU MIGHT LOSE SOME FRIENDS
Don’t feel bad or embarrassed about charging family, friends, envious ex-colleagues and so on who want to patronise your business. That’s what they came to do.
Expecting free stuff or deep discounts isn’t support – in fact, it’s the opposite of support. People who genuinely want you to succeed know this. It amazes me how many times I’ve heard miserable new entrepreneurs say they don’t dare to tell their friends they can’t keep comping them stuff in case they lose their “support”.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t ever give people a treat. Just remember that the business is a separate entity from you. When I want to treat friends to a meal at Superfudo, a cafe I helped launch, I join the queue and pay for it. It gives me a chance to experience our prices and service from a customer’s perspective. If you’re involved in retail or providing a service, a goodwill discount that you’d give a regular customer works just as well.
5 YOU DON’T KNOW MUCH ’BOUT THE LAW
Contracts are set in stone, right? And lawyers – where do we start with lawyers? You’ll need a Law 101 crash course in lease terms with landlords and agreements with suppliers. And you’ll be dealing with their lawyers. But you might be amazed to learn that contracts are sometimes negotiable. Sometimes.
After the public carparks at Holland Village with space for more than 400 cars were sold and shut, foot traffic in the area dipped. While some neighbouring businesses chose to move out, we spoke frankly with our landlord, who graciously agreed to reduce our rent even though we were in the midst of our lease.
Not everyone will be reasonable and compassionate. But even if it’s a “no”, it’s a chance to learn what sort of people you’re dealing with. Those who understand business understand that the health of your business is in their interest too. Seek these souls out to partner and work with. Pay it forward whenever you have a chance. And continue those law lessons, because you never know.
6 THERE WILL BE THANKLESS TASKS
Just do them. Businesses are social entities, and even if you start a company for yourself, you’ll soon realise you have responsibilities to others. If you have customers or employees, you have duties to both – providing a service or product and jobs, which people count on to some degree. You also have a duty to our shared environment, to live lightly and use resources responsibly. This will cost you more, and nobody will thank you, but don’t let it stop you.
For instance, we choose to use specially sourced compostable foodware in Superfudo, which costs seven times more than regular disposables. Unfortunately, this regularly earns us criticism from well-meaning customers who assume that washing reusable dishes is the most eco-friendly choice (it isn’t always). At the same time, other customers take lids, straws, cups, utensils, or serviettes they don’t need, then leave them behind for staff to throw away. We sometimes feel as if we’re in this ﬁght alone.
Incidentally, going the dishwashing route would in fact save us a few thousand dollars annually. So, we spend more on something the business doesn’t beneﬁt directly from, to honour an informed choice which not everyone cooperates with, and some criticise us for. We do it anyway.
“WHEN I WANT TO TREAT FRIENDS TO A MEAL AT SUPERFUDO, I JOIN THE QUEUE AND PAY FOR IT.”
If it’s all that bad, why go the entrepreneur route at all?
YOU’LL NEVER BE BORED
No meetings (unless you want them), no fixed routine, no restrictive job scope, constantly changing challenges, and endless things to learn. Also, no dress code!
YOU CONTROL YOUR SCHEDULE
Start your day with yoga at the beach? Get a haircut on a weekday afternoon and make up for it later at night, or on weekends when it’s crowded out? Your choice.
YOU MOVE AS FAST (OR AS SLOW) AS YOU WANT
No need to prepare and submit a proposal for approval before you implement an idea – do it right away. Need more time for a decision? No one will get on your case.
YOU CONTROL THE VALUES AND DIRECTION OF YOUR BUSINESS
Want to change society? Give back to your community? Create jobs for overlooked segments of the labour force? Done, done and done – you only have to want to.
YOU BECOME SO DARN TOUGH
You learn quickly not to waste time whining and to focus on solutions. You’ll find your way out of impossible problems (red tape), create things that didn’t exist from scratch, and become stronger than you ever imagined.
PHOTO EVERETT COLLECTION