The Top 5 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Solopreneur

startupIn the six months since I left my full time job last June, I have learned more than at any other point in my entire life. Not only am I learning new skills needed to start a business, but I have also learned so much about myself. When you are your own boss, there is little place else to look (or blame) besides yourself, thus coming face to face with the good, the bad and the ugly has become a regular exercise. Here is what has shaped my first six months as an entrepreneur.

Failure looks and feels much different than I expected

Going in, I had been advised that I should expect to face failure at some point. Big or small – I knew it was an inevitable part of becoming a successful business owner. What I hadn’t imagined is how different it felt now that I was responsible to myself for my own success. Failure wasn’t a sign to give up or be discouraged and sulk. It was a quick self-check that something wasn’t working and to fix it. It was driven by motivation instead of stunted by frustration. It wasn’t the terrifying beast I expected nor was it insulting ‘told you so' demon that I dreaded facing. Most importantly I realized it sure didn’t mean that I was destined to fail on the whole. Failure in fact, wasn’t failure at all; it was hands-on learning that made me even better.

The ideas you start with are usually not the ideas you run with

Again, this one blew my preconceptions out of the water.  Once I got doing rather than just planning and thinking, things really began to take shape, often in a different way than I anticipated. The more I interacted with clients and the small business owners than my own services were targeted towards, the more I learned what they needed – and that was often not what I thought they were looking for. This forced a re-examination of what I was doing. Again – not a failure. It was a readjustment based on new knowledge and learning. Now what I am working on is quite different than what I started off thinking I would be doing 6 months ago.

Being true to yourself is more important than I realized

This is a biggie. I have voluntarily subjected myself to ingesting mass quantities of information on a daily basis: reading and studying industry practices, inspirational stories, etc.. This seems to give me a sense of security because I know I am not alone in what I am doing. However, with that comes a lot of varying sources of expert advice and that can really derail you. I found that I often ended up questioning myself (read: doubting) rather than taking the information as just that: information. Therefore, one of the hardest yet most important lessons I’ve learned is to remain true to what it is that you want to do. Amidst the mountains of information, remembering my own mission proved to be a challenge. That is why, with the start of a new year (and getting back to a work routine) my personal mission statement will be pasted on the wall in front of me while I work. I suggest you do the same. Knowing everyday what your purpose is, and acknowledging the ultimate reason for getting up each morning and boarding this crazy entrepreneur ride, will reinforce and permeate all that you do. Let it be your guide.

Financial stress makes a terrible business partner

Sure, one of my goals, like most people who go into business for themselves, is to help sustain my family's lifestyle on the income generated through my business, but there are a few building blocks along the way to success, and income will not be where I need it to be right away. Don’t let the pressure of financial obligations force your hand when it comes to business decisions. Financial pressure is probably the worst motivating factor when it comes to making sound business decisions. I have been there more often than I’d like to admit in the past 6 months, and can tell you firsthand that financial stress makes a lousy business partner. It can force you to compromise on your mission (again – another great reason to print your personal mission statement and put it where you can be reminded of it regularly). If you can, take part-time work that will help lessen that burden and in turn, lower the stress, allowing more productive and positive thoughts to emerge. Nothing good ever came from worrying – don’t let this futile emotion tie up your brain power and sap your motivation.

There will be dark days where self-doubt taints every breath you take 

I know this because I have had a quite a few. The questions come fast and furious: What am I doing? Why did I think I could do this? What makes me so special that I think I can succeed? What the hell am I doing? What if this is a huge mistake that will forever mark and ruin my life? Seriously, wtf am I doing again??

You get the picture. It starts off as a little tiny seed and BLAMO! Within a few minutes this beast has emerged and I’m wondering if I was drugged when I conceived of this plan to start my our own business in the first place. What was I thinking???! Gasp!

That is when having an amazing support system is so important. This is when having a mentor is so important. This is when having your mission statement at point blank range in front of you is important. I think the biggest truth about being an entrepreneur is that it isn’t easy. Everyone has dark days, but my goodness, those days are still so much brighter than when I didn’t have a plan or was toiling away in a 9-to-5 job feeling unsatisfied, wondering if this was IT; this was all my professional life was destined to be.

Even in the dark moments of near crazy, I feel alive. I have something worth freaking out over. I have something that I care about enough that it prompted me to change the course of my life. So ya, those moments are tough but they are real. They are difficult because building a business is REALLY hard work. If it was easy, then everyone would do it, and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?

Being a entrepreneur or solopreneur  isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ever thought it might be for you, or you are right in the thick of it, keep on going. Push through. That’s what I’m doing because honestly, I can’t imagine living any other way now. Best of luck in 2014, and remember, as a wise man once said, if you are going through hell, keep going. Good luck!

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