What it’s like to run a business

Most new entrepreneurs find that running their own business is more emotional and more involving than any kind of work they've done before.

People compare it to bringing up a child or having a romantic relationship - more often than not it's a total rollercoaster. But if you love and believe in what you're doing, it can also be the most rewarding job in the world. This guide explores what it's like to run your own business.

The lows

  • Starting a business is hard work - seriously hard work. You'll almost certainly encounter all of the following along the way at sometime - if not all the time for your first year or so.
  • Long hours:
    • Pretty much a given. There are a few fortunate souls who are so super-disciplined they can get away with an eight-hour day, but the vast majority find themselves working until the early hours, waking up tired, and working weekends.
    • If this is going to be too much of a burden for you, consider an internet or part-time business that doesn't need you constant supervision.
  • Constant setbacks:
    • You'll be lucky if everything goes to plan when you're starting up. Expect setbacks - everything will take far longer than you expect, cost more, and bring less money in.
    • Optimism is a great asset, but if you accept that things will go wrong you'll be a lot better emotionally prepared for it when they do.
    • You need to be the kind of person who is not easily defeated to overcome this. Determination is one of a successful entrepreneur's most defining characteristics.
    • Remember to account for mistakes and missed deadlines in your plans and budgets. Draw up best case, expected and worst case scenarios and save emergency cash reserves and time periods to give your business buffers.
  • No money:
    • You should be taking as little salary as possible for at least a couple of years - if any.
    • You're also likely to have invested a lot of your own cash into the business.
    • Get used to doing things on the breadline - don't go cold turkey, ease yourself into it so you get used to cutting back on luxuries.
    • That said, keeping a small amount separate from the business will give you that little boost when you're at your lowest to go on a long weekend somewhere or treat yourself to a nice meal. Some much-needed stress-busting!
  • Stress:
    • Your savings are on the line, as are some of your friends. You've quit your job. And your business doesn't look like it's going to be turning a profit any time soon. In fact, your three months behind deadline. Expect situations like this and they'll come as less of a shock when they do.
    • Even things such as all the accounting admin can become very stressful. Consider bringing in administrative help to lighten the load - your mental health is worth the cost!
    • People deal with stress in different ways, but it's crucial to try not to take it out on the people closest to you - you'll need their support.
  • Incredibly lonely:
    • Unless you have a business partner, you'll be spending a lot of time alone, working, late into the night.
    • You friends and family won't understand what you're going through.
    • You have to spend a lot of time away from loved ones as you work, work, work.
    • Support groups and business-starter groups and meetups (both online and offline) can really help - read our guides on support groups for more info.
    • Lots of people underestimate how affecting the loneliness of starting a business will be - so come emotionally prepared.

The highs

  • There are of course massive highs to counteract the lows. That's why so many people start their own business.
  • Doing something you love, every day:
    • You can create your business around something you love doing. Which means you get to enjoy your job, all the time.
    • Create a business around a passion or hobby means you get to do more of what you previously only enjoyed in your free time, all the time.
    • As the business develops, you can also tailor the business or bring in other employees or external professional help to avoid the parts you enjoy doing least. Which means you can focus on doing the stuff you get the biggest kick out of.
    • Business owners also often thrive from the variety of their day-to-day - it'll keep things fresh and challenging and exciting and you'll be learning all the time.
  • The challenge:
    • It will be challenging - you'll be using a vast range of skills and you'll have to learn on the job for many, while juggling more things than sometimes seems possible.
    • And with challenge comes reward - you'll get a fantastic sense of achievement.
  • Being your own boss:
    • While you're going to have tough times and work hard, it's a lot more satisfying working late for your own business than someone else's.
    • You also have complete control over everything - no need to be subjugated by someone more senior.
    • You can work when you want, where you want, for as long as you want, wearing what you want and, basically, doing everything the way you want to.
  • Satisfy a market need:
    • Many business owners start out because they find themselves frustrated by something they need not existing. When you're the person filling that gap, it can be extremely satisfying.
    • If your product or service is something that genuinely helps people, it can be incredibly rewarding to realise you've improved their lives in some way or brought a smile to their face or enabled them to do something they couldn't before.
    • There's also no greater buzz than seeing someone on the street with your product, or meeting someone for the first time and finding out they know about your business and like it.
  • Gaining business experience:
    • If you're planning on going back to being employed by someone else in the future, then running a business can look fantastic on your cv. It shows determination, organisation, initiative, and a very varied skill set.
    • You might also want to run a business just to learn more about business and improve your skills and knowledge. The variety of work involved and the responsibility of running everything will give you understanding often far beyond what any course or degree could.
  • Create employment and opportunities for other people. Being able to give someone a job or pay them dividends is a huge plus that makes all the hard work worth it.
  • Meeting new people. While you'll be working alone for much of the time, when you're out and about networking, finding suppliers and partners and mixing with other business owners and people in a new industry, you'll meet loads of interesting and like-minded people who'll very often share your passion for what you're doing.
  • The money:
    • While a lot of businesses are lucky to break even, there's always the possibility your business will generate enough profit not just to sustain itself and you, but to actually up your personal income.
    • If you plan meticulously and work hard enough, there's no reason why it shouldn't be you that has a runaway success.
    • If your aim is to make a large amount of money, focus on building a fast-growth business that you can sell in several years.
    • Be warned though - if making money is your sole aim, you may get too disheartened when it isn't happening to put in the effort that's required to build a success. Supplementing a desire to make profit with a passion for the nature of your business will help motivate you more.

The balance

  • Ultimately, you put in as much as you want to get out.
  • You choose your own hours and way of working, so how much of a commitment you make to your business really depends on what kind of business you want to run and how you want it to develop.
  • Think of the long-term and make enough effort to make things work, but try to be considerate of the people close to you as well.
  • Pick a business that suits your lifestyle and way of working so that you don't have to make too many sacrifices.


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