I had the itch. I had a great idea and the support of my wife. I had the hunger to write my own story. It was 2002 when someone from a division at my Fortune 50 employer whispered in my ear: “If you go out on your own, we'll hire you.” So I made the leap and started my own business in 2002. And it was great — until late 2007 when the sky started to fall. One by one, they took communication in-house, including that Fortune 50 client which made up 60 percent of my client portfolio.
Being an entrepreneur has many, many rewards: It feeds your passion, you don't have to answer to “The Man,” and you can insert a few coins into your piggy bank. In that sense, having your own business is also a drug: The highs and lows directly correlate to how the business is going. It's always on your mind and you are always thinking about the next big win, the next big growth move. That's how it was for me anyway.
I'm still connected to the business through marriage. My wife took it over. She even throws me an assignment here and there. She's a great boss too!!
I would never discourage anyone from venturing out on their own; but I can say, it takes a certain kind of individual to keep all the plates spinning in order to grow a business. It's also easy for people to develop misconceptions about how to succeed in business. So if you are thinking about venturing out on your own, here are 11 myths I'd suggest are a hindrance to people that are making the transition from employee to employee.
11 myths that stifle budding entrepreneurs
Myth No. 1 — A great idea is all you need.
This may be the biggest misconception about business. That's why it sits like a king (or queen) at the top, looking down on all the advice that follows. A great idea is only great until someone comes along with a better idea — and that window can close very quickly. It takes time to get a business established and off the ground. By the time you're up and running, a better idea may already have been incubated.
Myth No. 2 — You don't have time to network.
Networking may bring immediate gratification but not sales. Before you start throwing pasta at the wall to see what sticks, it's important to really understand your mission statement, value statement and customer personas. Having these in place will optimize your networking. I found that networking truly was a full-time job and that's why it's called business development. As a business owner, this will become your top-most priority in order to fill the sales funnel with real leads that can pay the invoices you send out.
Myth No. 3 — My employees will help bring in business.
Nobody cares about your business more than you. Unless you are specifically hiring business development people, don't expect the people you hire to land a client. They are not vested and are looking to complete the tasks at hand in order to get paid.
Myth No. 4 — I have to do it all myself.
Another myth of entrepreneurship is that you have to be the Jill and Jack of all trades. This quickly stretches you too thin. Outsource absolutely everything that doesn't need your touch or your vision. Yes, find someone else to reorder the toilet paper and write the company handbook.
Myth No. 5 — “Going all in” is how it's done.
Take your time when setting up your new venture. Initial out-of-pocket expenses will include legally establishing your business; buying basic office equipment including computer, software, printer; creating a web and social media presence; and purchasing an accounting software package. Your business team will include legal, tax and financial professionals.
Myth No. 6 — Your passion will win over prospects.
Passion is important because you are starting from square one, with little or no proven track record. Your passion will come through positively as you network and present opportunities to clients. But you can't overlook the importance of your business case, coupled with pricing and quality of work. Those are also keys to earning new business. Understanding your deliverables and the value you could bring to a prospect is what helps turn leads into paying customers.
Myth No. 7 — Cash flow shouldn't be a problem.
Big myth. Probably should have been ranked myth No. 2. Cash flow is always a problem. Your customers, especially if they are larger entities, will take forever to pay you. Why? Because they can. This is why a steady outside income from your partner is so important. If you don't have that, and you weren't born with a silver spoon in your mouth, cash flow will be nipping at your heels like the neighbor's feisty pooch.
Myth No. 8 — I'll be paid for my value and for the service I extend.
Clients will pay insofar as they have the money to pay. What I experienced in the service industry is that companies couldn't place an ROI value on my offerings. And I admit, I didn't identify that ROI and measure it very well. They have no problem paying a plumber or auto mechanic north of $100 per hour, but that value wasn't always placed on me for my experience and education. Not complaining. Just a fact, one I wish I'd understood when my business cards said “owner” on them.
Myth No. 9 — I've got a niche in the market with few competitors.
I was so happy to have a niche in the technology space and, more specifically, the wireless broadband space. I was with it when it launched and had a command of the technology and great relationships with the early adopters. But as the skunk works grew and their buyers grew, larger companies and investors recognized the potential and bought them outright. Vendors, like me, were left gazing at the stars.
Myth No. 10 — Corporate skills will help my business.
Corporations have great resources. They're also famous for building fiefdoms and barriers. Certainly, some of the training, technical expertise and knowledge gained in the corporate world can help your business, but don't expect to run your small business like a corporation. Actually, the more agile flexibility of a small business is a blessing.
Myth No. 11 — Clients will automatically know how to work with me.
Negative. One of the best things you can do is write an on-boarding document — two to three pages that you give to a new client during your first face-to-face meeting. In it, you'll cover your promises to the client, your values, invoicing process, guarantee policy, referral program, contact information during non-office hours, and any other details a new client should know. (Your business plan will outline some of these points and give you a great overall snapshot of how your business is going to succeed, the values you stand for, your customer marketing personas and goals.)
That's it. I could offer many more tips and myth busters, but most will revolve around these common themes. Know this: The hardest part of all when you're trying to decide whether to go into business for yourself or not is to dip your toe in the water and then take the plunge. If you've read this far, I think you are ready to take a refreshing dip in Lake Entrepreneur. Good luck!