In recent years, the Nigerian economy has been struggling, characterized by pay-cuts and job losses in many sectors. Household income has ddeclined as unemployment has risen, and there is a palpable struggle to make ends meet through alternate sources of income. Almost everyone is exploring and investing time and meagre financial resources into seemingly profitable ideas, and entrepreneurship has become the word of the day.
It’s the third year running this blog, the second year of my photography business, and fourth attempt at entrepreneurship, so I thought I’d put together a list of things I didn’t expect and business school didn’t prepare me for.
1. “Be Your Own Boss” They Said
Being my own boss isn’t all it is hyped up to be. In fact, now I realise I liked having bosses. There was someone to look up to for guidance and professional advice in difficult situations, someone who was genuinely interested and vested in the same business goals, someone to share the highs and lows of the journey. Agreed not all bosses are helpful every time and a few are downright cruel. Regardless, having one meant there was someone else to be held accountable for failures. Now, sink or swim, it’s up to me.
In addition, there’s no one to blame for being overworked. Well, I am the one overworking myself. I can’t be upset or mad because I know and understand why I have to do the things that must be done.
2. Not as much Freedom and Free-time
All too often, the idea that entrepreneurship is the gate way to financial and personal freedom is promoted. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong, but the only freedom I’ve got is the freedom to work endlessly. Running your own business, at least at the beginning, means you are almost always working. Sure, you can take a break whenever you want, but you are less likely to. You aren’t exactly free to do whatever whenever. especially where customers with deadlines are involved. You do what they want to meet their needs or you quite simply won’t get paid. An Annual leave is even less likely depending on the size of your business. You haven’t broken even so what leave are you talking about?
3. You Work Twice as Hard
As a staff in an organisation, you are a small part of a system and your responsibilities are routine and finite. In a small business however, you are essentially the system. You’ll have to motivate yourself in the morning, plan your schedule, research and design your products, evaluate your sales performance, work on your forecast, meet customer inquiries, satisfy orders and use feedback. My head is spinning just trying to articulate these responsibilities.
Until you earn enough to hire support staff, you’ll probably have to do more than 10 people’s jobs simultaneously. You might get occasional assistance from generous friends and family members but most of the time, you’ll have to fly solo and fight like hell not to crash.
4. You Need Patience and Perseverance, a lot of it.
Gosh, business growth can be excruciatingly slow. Depending on the value the business creates, it can be a while before you start to see decent returns. I’m talking months or even years. Whatever you are into, some months will perform better than others, for no real fault of yours and it will be easier to give up, perhaps smarter to close shop than to invest more resources in a venture that doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. Having a great Idea is one thing, having a financially viable one is another. Being successful requires the patience of a saint and the determination to succeed, constantly tweaking the business strategy to achieve your business objectives.
5. 24-hours Just Isn’t Enough Anymore
There’s always so much to do and the time really does fly by. Very often, I raise my head from my laptop to find that the sun has set and another day is almost over, even though I haven’t achieved much of what I had set out to. There is a lot competing for your attention, and you are in a constant race against time. My time has become so much more precious and so I schedule much of it, trying to squeeze in the little things, like a phone call to a friend on a birthday or anniversary.
6. You Bear the Losses and Still Have to Share the Wins
Like most things in life, no one is really interested in your start up when it’s nouveau and not making any money. You’ll struggle to see that your business thrives, you’ll look for support or beg for loans all of which you’ll probably do alone. But as soon as you start seeing reasonable earnings, everyone and their puppy will want a part of the success and if you want to grow, it might be smart to share, at least a little.
7. No One is “Self-Made”
Marginally successful Nigerian businessmen love to brag about how “self-made” they are, but if you really think about it, no one is completely self-made. They might have done most of the work but there were people who contributed to the business success, even in small ways. Claiming to be self-made really is, in my opinion, egotistical and quite disrespectful of the few people who supported you.
8. You Become Alittle Boring
Because you spend much of your time focused on your business, you’ll know or care for little beside subjects related to that industry or at most, business in general. This is likely to make you a poor conversationalist among friends or at events.
9. The Constant Anxiety
There is a tremendous amount of anxiety that comes with running your own business and the fear of failure. Month after month, even when my analysis indicates that I am making remarkable progress, I worry that this may be my peak and it isn’t even good enough. I am afraid that I may not find ways to improve my performance and may not be able to surpass this. The fear that perhaps I have outdone myself for the last time is always lingering. I have spoken to colleagues about this and they too seem to feel the same way when they are successful.
10. The Risk of Failure is Really High
Nigeria still ranks as one of the worst places in the world to do business, with over 90% of small businesses failing within the first 4 years, for all kinds of reasons including lack of funding, poor business policies and the hostile business environment. Those that survive, will be marginally successful and less than 1% will grow into a conglomerate. Point is, not all of us will be Dangote. It’s just not going to happen. I’m not being pessimistic, it is the realist and the sooner you understand this, the better you will manage your expectations.
11. It’s Personal and Can Kill You
“Start a business” they say, but no one talks about the depression and suicide rates in startups. Your business becomes “your baby”. At least in my case, it is. The bigger the gap between where I am and where I want to be, the higher the stress I feel. Your business will affect not just your reputation but your mental and emotional wellbeing. Sales go up and it’s a good day! You are happy and high as a kite. Sales go down and you panic, analyse, speculate and try to fix it.
An estimated 30% of all entrepreneurs experience depression, a mental illness and a major cause of suicide. In January 2013, Jody Sherman, founder of Ecomom shot himself that year. 24 year old Ovik Banerjee, a colleague, followed a year later.In May 2015, 31 year old Austen Heinz, CEO of Cambrian Genomics killed himself. Earlier this year, Austin Ugochukwu, almost took his own life, after being duped of N360 million. You need to develop a really thick skin to survive being an entrepreneur.
Now, this isn’t to suggest that starting your own business cannot be a worthwhile endeavour. Far from it. There is a lot to learn starting your own business. Besides possible financial success, entrepreneurship encourages personal growth in many aspects of life including time management, negotiation, resourcefulness, problem-solving skills, and offers a great deal of personal fulfilment.
However, I am of the opinion the dark side of entrepreneurship is often left unaddressed and overshadowed by wishful thinking associated with becoming a founder. Not everyone should start their own business and it is important to put a lot more thought into quitting our 9-5 jobs for the glamour of entrepreneurship. A job that fetches a decent wage may be more dependable than the uncertainty characteristic of start-ups.
Do you run a small business? Are there things they didn’t tell you about being your own boss? Let me know what you think in the comments!
As always, thank you for reading!
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