Entrepreneurs: How to know when it’s time to get a damn job.

You have likely been sold a dream; a highly romanticized version of reality. You are probably a lot more idealistic than you realize or care to be. You imagine that somehow everything will work out some day. Your big break will come soon.

Meanwhile, you are sinking deeper into debt. You never seem to be able to adequately cover your monthly expenses. FORGET saving. As fast as you pay off one thing, a deficit is created somewhere else.

Sometimes you binge on working, putting in 12-16 hour days for days on end. Other times you spend your days mindlessly scrolling through social media, (or your preferred form of entertainment), lamenting to yourself about all the work piling up on you, which you cannot seem to be able to bring yourself to do.

Your are depressed and disenchanted. This is not how things are supposed to be! Surely by now, at your age you should have accomplished more… right? You are seemingly always playing catch up and no matter how much you actually manage to get done it just does not add up in the end.

Sound like you? Keep reading.

Why did you become an entrepreneur in the first place?

The premise upon which many of us embark on this journey of entrepreneurship is based in sentiment. This in and of itself should immediately raise a red flag to any sober minded person.

Basing life changing decisions, (which will affect not only yours but that of others), on some whimsical sentimental fantasy is not only extremely selfish and irresponsible, it’s also downright dumb.

One of the most common sentiments felt by budding entrepreneurs is a desire for ‘freedom’; financial especially. Freedom to express one’s self or freedom to follow one’s dreams also rank high on the list. It is not that anything is wrong with these pursuits and others which fall into similar categories. Things go awry however when these pursuits take precedent over more important things like adequately providing for, taking care of and securing a future for your family, (present or future) or for yourself for that matter.

Now you may be thinking that financial freedom does not fall into the category of sentiment however, many of us end up behaving as if it did.

So often entrepreneurs reach the point of abject poverty, dependence on others and/or crippling debt in stubborn defiance and denial of the reality they face, in pursuit of their failing (or already failed) businesses. It is as if having a business/being a business owner was an end in itself versus having a business that actually makes money.

The irony is that the toxicity of this way of life is touted as some glorious path to success that many before have trodden. Going broke and nearly losing your mind to make a business work is viewed as some right of passage of sorts; something you cannot avoid on your path to, (or even a precursor of) success.

This is undoubtedly a twisted view of how entrepreneurial success is achieved and while there are undeniable success stories and examples of those who have endured circumstances with similar themes it must be understood that these are exceptional, less than ideal situations to be avoided if possible.

There is a better way to do entrepreneurship.

I submit to you that the best way to embark on the journey of entrepreneurship is from a position of maturity, competence and financial stability. I will say it another way. If you are going into business because you are already struggling financially with the hope of becoming successful and being rescued from your situation, you have already set yourself up for utter failure.

I know that this flies in the face of everything the media has been teaching us recently about entrepreneurship. The story of the underdog who came from nothing and eventually became something as a result of unwavering determination, talent and innovation against the odds is one we love to listen to and to tell over to ourselves. We also fancy imagining ourselves as that person, the one who will eventually succeed.

What a load of bollocks.

Entrepreneur, if you have NO PERSONAL SAVINGS and/or are in DEBT while trying to run and simultaneously live off a business, realize that this is not an acceptable state. If your business is unable to consistently cover its own running expenses with money left over to pay you enough to cover your own personal expenses AND save then the business has failed to perform its function as a business. You may also need to face the fact that you have failed as an entrepreneur.

At this point, you are simply creating a larger and larger deficit which is going to have to be compensated for somehow. You are effectively digging a deeper and deeper hole for yourself which you may struggle for years to crawl out of with no guarantee that you ever will.

Stop. It’s probably time to find a job.

You have probably read that new businesses operate at a loss for a time before a profit is made and this is true. However, this only reinforces my point. With this being the case you should always go into business with enough money from savings, an investment or a loan to run that business for the period of time it will take for it to break even and begin to turn a profit.

Otherwise, you must be in a position to personally invest in the business from your present earnings, propping it up without jeopardizing your own financial stability.

Entrepreneurs often begin to think of themselves and their businesses as the same entity. This is an easy pitfall to fall into when so much time effort and energy is invested into an idea you are trying to make work. They begin to equate the business’ success and survival to their success and survival. The business’ affairs become personal affairs, its debts become personal debts and so on and so forth.

The reality is however that a business should ideally be viewed as a separate entity, a tool, a means to an end; to be disposed of the moment it becomes no longer useful or effective at performing its functions. There should always be a level of emotional detachment and willingness to let go or move on where business is concerned.

It is the already rich and successful who are truly able to afford to go into business for the love of it, and who often find that elusive joy and fulfillment that we are encouraged to seek as a result of doing what we are passionate about. The reason they are able to do so is because they are free from the anxiety and stress associated with being dependent on the success of the business for their survival or well being.

For the rest of us trying figure out the formula for entrepreneurial success consider this:

Most successful entrepreneurs start businesses wisely and safely, taking on minimal personal risk. Many start off already possessing business acumen from growing up with parents who do business. Others have sought mentorship or have extensive family support, inheritances, accumulated savings, good salaries and tangible assets in place before venturing to assume the risk of enterprise.

Additionally, many entrepreneurs possess prior experience and knowledge in their respective areas of enterprise, having also made inroads into their prospective markets from contacts made working in their fields for a number of years. Yes, many entrepreneurs are formally employed when starting out and don’t leave their jobs unless it becomes an absolute necessity.

The high rate of failed startups alone (and a little common sense) should inform you that it would be most prudent to go into business from as an advantageous position as possible.

So I already have a failing/failed business, what do I do?

  1. Be honest with yourself.

It may be time to ask yourself some difficult questions: 
What can I do to make my business work? How long will it take? Can I afford to wait that long? What if it really can’t work? What if I am unable to work due to sickness or some other circumstance? Can I adequately take care of myself or my family? What if I die?

2. Set a timeline, then plan.

Re-take control of your life. Decide where you want to be from a financial perspective and set a time frame within which you want to get there. If your business cannot get you to that point, consider other options.

3. Be realistic.

Life is not a Japanese Anime and you are not the protagonist. The good guy, the underdog, the hard worker, the dreamer does not necessarily prevail in the end. Life is a lot harsher and more brutal than the stories we are told. Success is not owed to you. You are not an exception you and are not special, different or somehow immune to unrecoverable failure.

You need to exercise the same patience, wisdom, caution, self control, intelligence, work ethic, diligence, thoroughness etc, as the next person on your path to success and even then there is no guarantee that you will achieve what you have set out to.

Nonetheless make the most of your opportunities and don’t compare yourself to others who have had different opportunities than you. Take only calculated risks and always have contingencies in place. Only a fool jumps out a plane with no parachute and expects to reach the ground safely.

4. Get your priorities right.

Decide what should come first for you, what you actually put first and why. Endeavor to correct your mistakes, then make decisions and act based on what you have decided. This may mean putting your dreams on the back burner; you might need to wake up swallow your pride and go back to the conventional 9–5 grind.

It might mean making sacrifices and lifestyle changes to ensure your business becomes what it ought to be. Do what it takes to get it done. No one will do it for you.

Lastly, as with any endeavor in life you should seek the counsel of those who have gone before and successfully navigated the path you wish to follow. Overconfidence, and an unwillingness to listen to criticism, discouragement or take correction are often portrayed as traits needed in order to not be swayed from reaching your goals but are in reality the best ways to end up making costly mistakes which could otherwise have been avoided.

Owning a business should add value to your life and not take from it, otherwise, what is it worth? Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and not everyone is an entrepreneur.

And that’s ok.

Written for a friend, or two.