Lessons From Two Years As An Entrepreneur

When I decided to work for myself, I’d just been laid off, was recovering from a traumatic divorce, and had just moved to a new state as a single mom. A few weeks later, the world closed down in the midst of a global pandemic. Which is to say it was chaotic. The only preparation I’d done was a decade of dreaming about dropping out of corporate life forever. I had no plans, just confidence in what I had to offer and an interesting network, so I started there.

Studies show that 20% of businesses no longer exist after the first year, 30% after the second. That’s a lot of baby businesses still plugging away out there. The lessons I learned my first year, things like finding support and figuring out how to manage my time, were such valuable fundamentals, I share them with my clients now. In year two, however, things got a little more nuanced.

Build the business you want to run

Around this time last year, I realized I’d tried a lot of different types of coaching and consulting business building — group and hybrid offers for scale, digital ads, courses, productizing — and there were things I knew I didn’t want to do or be after all that trying. This was phenomenally helpful in figuring out what to do next. I made a list titled “Things I’m Not” and posted it on my office wall. Whenever I felt myself getting lured into the sparkly promises of gurus who figured out The Way To Do Business, I’d check the list, and that was usually enough to bring me back into focus.

Having a great idea for a business is one thing, understanding what it will take to get it up and running and make it sustainable without totally hating it is another. And one person’s dream process is just as likely to be another’s nightmare. I’ve worked and networked with quite a few early stage entrepreneurs these past two years, and having a few abandoned products and strategies in those first couple of years was a reassuring theme. Sometimes you have to try something out to realize you hate it and never want to do, or even think about it, ever again.

It’s okay to break and heal while you build

All that learning while doing takes nerves of steel and the kind of humility you might not expect from a person with enough gumption to start a business in the first place. But being willing to lose money, to fail spectacularly, to boldly declare to everyone you know you’re about to try something unpredictable isn’t easy. And for a lot of people, working for themselves is as much about getting away from some bad stuff as it is building a dream. Breaking down and burning out can happen.

The first couple of months of my second year, I was so burned out from years of major life changes and a toxic workplace followed by a year of pandemic business launching, I stopped almost everything. I had a couple of clients booked, I was working with a consultant on a product idea, I wrote the occasional social media post and took a few calls and that was it. There was neither hustle nor grind. A more appropriate description might be a shuffle with the occasional lurch.

Resilience isn’t usually earned the easy way, instead it’s lessons learned through hard times. Burning out helped me with that “Things I’m Not” list I mentioned earlier. And that helped me understand what I really wanted to spend my precious energy on. And that helped me start to heal.

There are as many versions of success as there are people trying for it

I work with everyone from corporate senior leaders to multi-passionate creatives because I am or have been those, and many other things, in my career. And every person I’ve had the pleasure of working with has had a different vision of success. It’s not just creating a business to sell for millions or scale to serve thousands or grow to staff hundreds. It might be starting a business to pay for fun stuff, or become famous, or transition into a new industry, or make the most of a talent. Making money is always part of it, but almost never the only part and in every vision of success I’ve seen so far, the non-money parts are always unique.

And then there’s what’s actually available for success at any given time. When I’m career coaching, I talk about what I call The Venn Diagram of Hireability. There’s what you can do, what you want to do, and what there’s a market for. Success usually comes along when those three things are uniquely in balance for each of us.

I’ve heard rumors that the third year is when things really start clicking. And while I do have my eye on a few interesting things on the horizon, I can honestly say that making it through two years, these two years in particular, is an accomplishment I will always treasure. It could all change tomorrow and I’d always feel like I succeeded.

This article was originally published on LizaDube.com

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