Starting a Business? Prepare for a Marathon

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Starting a business? How exciting . . .

You’ll get to be your own boss, call your own shots, and even determine your own salary. If you do a good job, you’ll be a raging success; if you fail, there’s no one to blame except yourself. Remember, you’ll never have to play company politics or deal with red tape and bureaucracy again. And, although the risks are high, so are the rewards. You’re one step away from living the American Dream.

Here’s what you have to look forward to:

On Your Mark!

Starting a business is an exhilarating experience. Most days you’ll wake up excited and raring to go. As Confucius said, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The experience is akin to nurturing a baby and watching it grow. You’ll start with a blank canvas and have the opportunity to create a beautiful work of art.

Starting a business can also be scary at times. In order to get start-up capital, there’s a good chance you’ll be placing a second mortgage on your home, maxing out your credit cards, and delaying taking salary out of the business until it becomes profitable. Many entrepreneurs also conserve capital by bootstrapping their operations in the early days. This may include working from home until you can afford office space, buying used equipment to save a few dollars, and working late into the evening until you can afford to hire colleagues.

The stress of launching a business is taxing at times. It’s not unusual to wake up in the dead of night worrying about the financial risk being placed on your family. When you’re staring at the dark ceiling, you may question whether you’ve done the right thing and whether you’ll be one of the lucky businesses to succeed. In fact, the odds aren’t exactly in your favor. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first year and 95 percent fail within the first five years.

When the business is yours, you’ll do everything in your power to ensure its success. If competitors offer customers your product or service for $100, you’ll figure out a way to offer it for $95. If competitors deliver the product in five days, you’ll deliver it in four. And, if their service is good, you’ll deliver it better.

Unfortunately, your competitors won’t sit idle and let you take away their business. If you’re not on your toes every day, there’ll always be someone in the wings wanting to take the business away from you. In fact, your competitors will try to offer better value just to put you out of business. And when they have the advantage of size and ready access to capital and resources, your competitors could be formidable.

Get Set!

In order to succeed, you’ll just have to want to win more than everyone else and give it everything you’ve got (and then a little more). It’s critical to work smart while you use your sheer willpower and desire to your advantage. That’s not always easy. Some days it feels like you’re running a long-distance race with no finish line.

At times it feels as though everything is being thrown at you — economic downturns, family emergencies, snowstorms. It’s tough watching similar businesses fall by the wayside and wondering if you’re next — I guess if it were that easy to start a business, everyone would do it.

Although you’re tired, you can’t stop. You don’t have the time to be exhausted. You look forward to weekends — not to relax, but to catch up. In fact, it always seems as though you’re one step behind. Something inside you tells you to “keep going.”

People will tell you to find ways to reduce your stress. (That alone stresses me out.) Your friends will take vacations, but without revenue coming in while you’re away, your vacations may be few and far between. Furthermore, the only way your start-up company will provide a healthcare plan or a 401(k) plan is if you secure these benefits and pay for them yourself.

People tell you not to take work so seriously, but it’s an important part of your life. In fact, your business becomes all-consuming. Even though you’re present when people talk to you, your mind may be drifting elsewhere — thinking about the business. While colleagues leave work early to attend their children’s ballgames and dance recitals, it may be hard for you to take the time off. When most people take a day off due to snow, chances are that you’ll make yourself available in the office because someone has to man the business — the buck stops with you. And finally, when friends and neighbors buy themselves “toys,” you may have to pass because you’re probably reinvesting your money in the business, with hopes it’ll pay off one day.

Grow!

As your business grows, you’ll feel a responsibility not only for your family, but for your employees’ families as well. And if there’s a business downturn, your salary is first to take the hit.

As you begin to attract customers, you’ll be on your way to success. This doesn’t mean that you can put your guard down, but it’s a great feeling knowing that you’re finally running on flat ground rather than uphill. You’ll constantly be on the lookout for ways to make your operation more productive and efficient. You’ll be keenly aware that it takes enormous effort to build an organization, but it’s so easy to lose it all. Every customer that you lose becomes a heart-wrenching experience. Once again, you’ll be constantly fighting against red tape, bureaucracy, office politics, people who take success for granted, and unfortunately, apathy. These are like high blood pressure –– they’re “silent killers” that can torpedo any great organization, even your own.

One day, it’ll hit you right between the eyes that you’ve built a thriving business. Congratulations, you’re the newest member of a very special club –– you’re a role model for the American Dream. You’ll reflect on all the sacrifices that you and your family made over the years and think that all the hard work makes crossing the finish line even more exhilarating.

Stand up and take a bow. Go ahead, take another bow. It’s time for you to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You should feel proud! You beat all the odds. You had a great idea, overcame all the obstacles, and made it happen. It took sacrifice, courage, skill, hard work, perseverance, and a touch of luck.

Unfortunately, sometimes it feels like you just finished a marathon and there are hecklers at the finish line. Naysayers may say, “It isn’t fair.” Or “What gives you the right to own a beautiful house, drive a nice car, and take cool vacations?” It’s hard for them to understand that you didn’t attain your wealth by winning the lottery, doing something unethical or illegal, or by inheriting your fortune. So, don’t apologize for your success. Your answer to them is simple: “I’ve earned it.” Congratulations!

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Comments

  1. Sweetie Berry says

    Nicely done Frank. One of the joys of business ownership for our family is the freedom to do what we consider “right” by our clients, despite the bottom line at times. Our experience has been that by keeping people first the profits simply follow. Basics matter!
    Best regards,
    Sweetie

  2. Leyane Jerejian says

    and I know you did it the hard way, but the only true way… Building a business based on honesty, integrity, and courage.

    This was a great peak inside Frank.

  3. Anita Campbell says

    I agree — when you start a business you’re entering a marathon, and the winners are those who pace themselves, stick it out, yet find the energy to do what needs to be done to get over the finish line. If you start out thinking you’re in a sprint, be prepared to watch your competitors pass you by as you stand on the sidelines.

    Of course, it doesn’t have to feel like the struggle that sounds. If you’re doing something you enjoy, as you point out from ole Confucius, you won’t view it as “work” and it won’t seem hard or unpleasant at all.

    Good post, Frank.

    – Anita

  4. David Nachman says

    Thank you for these keen insights. Having started a Law Firm from “scratch” in 1993 I can wholeheartedly agree with your observations. The most interesting thing about the “growing” business is the manner in which it evolves in unexpected ways based upon external forces (like the economy or the regulatory climate). When our Firm was started we were doing only immigration-related “benefits” work for organizations of all sizes across the U.S. Now, because of the government’s various immigration and visa enforcement initiatives (of late) we are (1) training employers throughout the U.S. about immigration laws; and (2) working with the DOL on investigations and audits; and (3) assisting companies to decrease Form I-9 liabilities. It is funny how you think you the business will take one direction and you end-up in another one!

  5. Rossana Weitekamp says

    This is a great “real world” view of owning your own business. I also like your mention of that invisible force that all successful entrepreneurs have: to power to keep going in spite of difficult times. That’s a very powerful force that makes/breaks every business.

  6. Sarah @RaisingCEOKids says

    Frank,

    You have written another winner here! Thank you for taking the time to vividly describe the marathon of creating business success. Thank you for the encouragement to not be embarrassed by our willingness to work as well as our choice to affirmatively say, “Yes, I created that!”

    Best to you in your continued success!

    Sarah Cook
    Founder of http://raisingCEOkids.com

  7. Frank Sonnenberg says

    Sweetie, Leyane, Anita, David, Rossana, Sarah, Dan

    Thanks so much for your comments. Much appreciated!

    As I read all of your comments It shows that you’ve lived through the joy and pain of starting a business. I’d summarize your comments as follows: If you keep people first then the profits will follow, build the business based on honesty and integrity, pace yourself because you’re running a marathon, remain nimble to a changing environment, keep going in spite of tough times, and make time to celebrate wins because you’ve earned it. You guys really get it :-)

    Have a wonderful day,

    Frank

  8. Judy Martin says

    Thrilled to have found your blog.
    The Marathon began a while back.. still pluggin away..
    Greatest lesson is learning how to manage the work life merge in it all. Navigating the stress while cultivating resilience and somehow producing efficiently. It’s an art to be mastered.

    @judymartin8

  9. Lori Ames says

    Read the piece because Judy Martin recommended it. Very nicely done. And you certainly cover all the issues and feelings. I started my business in the midst of my son’s traumatic illness because I was trying to maintain some type of normalcy for us all — and generate income (I had to quit my job of twenty+ years in order to be with him 24/7). So I run a dual marathon — entrepreneur and mom/caretaker. But every minute is worth it.

  10. Frank Sonnenberg says

    Judy / Lori

    Thanks so much for your thoughts.

    Judy, Your points are well taken. Some people think that working every moment of your life will lead to success. On the contrary, I’ve learned the importance of work hard, play hard and taking 5-minute vacations :-) Stress reduction and work life balance are key.

    Lori, You are to be truly commended for the hard work and sacrifice that you’ve endured. I’m so happy that you said, “Every minute is worth it.”

    Best,

    Frank

  11. Theresa Delgado says

    Frank,

    Great post. Reading it reminds me of a few stories of “10 year” overnight successes.

    Great job,
    Theresa

  12. Susan Mazza says

    Love your description of the journey of business ownership Frank. It is spot on!

    My 11 year old daughter said to me just a few weeks ago “why do you love to work so much when all my friends parents complain about their jobs”. My answer: because I I chose to make it that way.

    I felt that way when I had a job too though. What I didn’t have then was the freedom and personal power you gain from succeeding on my own terms.

  13. Terry Del Percio says

    You hit it on the mark, Frank. Owning your own business usually means that for a long time you become “chief cook and bottle-washer” as my mom used to say. It’s tough, long and grueling at times, but the rewards are great….mostly, for me, it’s about freedom to make your own decisions. Thanks for your insights, as always. ~Terry

  14. Frank Sonnenberg says

    Theresa / Susan / Terry

    Thanks so much for your thoughts.

    You are right on the mark. Freedom to control your destiny and make your own choices is a compelling reason to start a business. And, yes. . . . As the saying goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

    Have a wonderful day!

    Frank

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