The words “being a broke entrepreneur” are tough to say. As I’m typing this out, a gut-wrenching feeling comes over me. Reminders of grueling anxiety, heightened confusion, and desperation, rush back easily. I think of days being unbelievably distracted. Too much to do, too little time, and not a clue on what to tackle first. Discouraging days, followed by afternoons of incredible excitement, and then repeating all over again at random. Going out on your own, as many of you will attest, is rough. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and watch, critique, judge, and point fingers, but playing the game and grinding day by day as your business starts at ground zero, is incredibly difficult.
One of the most challenging things that most entrepreneurs encounter is loss of financial security. Certainly at inception, this is a common peril. Sacrificing comfort, security, and consistency of a paycheck is a pill not swallowed easily. When I left my corporate job initially, I thought I understood the impacts. To summarize the 6-12 months that followed – ouch! Initially swept up in the “this is something I’ve got to do” mentality, the reality sinks in that giving up the paycheck is hard to do. My wife and I were pretty darn near close to broke, and that’s before we had our baby. Financial instability clouded my vision, distracted me, kept me up at night, and left me dazed and confused at times. But, like most things in life, there are lessons to be learned in the midst of difficulty. The 4 most important lessons I’ve learned from being a broke entrepreneur have been helpful moving me forward.
- Lends Perspective – Working in a corporate job grants us many luxuries, that we commonly call necessities. Health insurance, 401k, term life polices, low deductibles, routine paychecks, and more. All good things. It also provides comfort in terms of career security and even personal identity for many. With some of those luxuries stripped away, I realized how raw starting a business really is, and what gets taken for granted under the banner of a large company. Company names gave me an identity, at least at times. It’s instant credibility and reputation. Heck, GE is running an ad campaign with this logic. The perspective that I gained was tremendous in many ways. More appreciation for things easily taken for granted. A respect for those other self-starters. An understanding of how truly hard it is to start and succeed as an entrepreneur. Maybe greatest of all was thankfulness for what I did have versus dwelling on what I did not.
- Strengthens Work Ethic – Being 100% self-dependent for the progress of your startup produces an accountability and efficiency with the work you do. While any successful venture draws on the work of multiple individuals or teams, when you are starting out, the responsibility lies with you to divide the workload. Decide where you do and do not need help and set a plan of accomplishing the tasks. That “sink or swim” mentality is incredibly more intense in the survivalist life of a startup.
- Exposes Weakness – Our flaws tend to hide when we’re absorbed in a large environment. Our job roles can at times keep us confined to a particular set of skill sets and even a lack of skill sets. Programmed to conduct our jobs and stay within the lines and framework of our prescribed duties, we typically are not able to see our shortcomings or opportunities for personal development. Starting a company is raw, and you’re either all-in, or out. There is no job role, until you create one. This is a vulnerable spot to be, but it forces self-awareness. Self-awareness is critical.
- Reinforces Motivation – A young business or entrepreneur for that matter, will never survive if they’re unable to find their source of strength. Contrary to popular culture starting a business is rarely an overnight success, but a long fought battle. Stamina is king. If you don’t know what motivates you, you’re going to drown. When things become difficult, your motivation gives you the strength to persist, period.
These are pivotal moments when you (and I) can look back at a time that was excruciatingly difficult and come away with lessons to encourage you moving forward. As difficult as it is to admit, I am thankful that I spent time in the “very broke” stage of life, and survived to tell the tale. In my opinion if you don’t learn anything from a struggle, you’ve lost.
NOTE: Thanks for checking in! I no longer keep this blog up to date on a routine basis. While I will occasionally write updates here, it is not regular. I have switched all publications over to our new venture, Fuel Your Mission, focused on equipping individuals with tools to succeed in their careers and businesses. Be sure to follow us over there to stay up to date!