Running your own business isn’t easy. It’s a life-changing commitment that requires a great deal of your time. But the possible rewards can often vastly out-weigh the trials, troubles and tribulations you’ll encounter along the way.
Before embarking on this perilous and exciting journey, you must first perform a very honest appraisal of yourself by asking the following questions:
Are you able to work on your own?
Unless you’re in a partnership of some description, then you’re on your own. This can be hardest aspect to face for most people.
Almost every decision you make will be your own. There’s no passing the buck because the buck stops with you!
Are you stubborn and determined?
Either directly or indirectly, people are going to get in your way. They’re either competing head-on with you, or you’re dealing with people who’re making your life hard in some way.
In addition, you could be working towards fulfilling an agenda or part of a business strategy which is proving harder than you first imagined.
If you’re not both stubborn and determined, then failure is close at hand, unless you’ve got sheer blind luck on your side. But I wouldn’t put too much faith in some positive happenstance or oodles of good fortune coming your way — hope and luck aren’t anything like a plan.
There’s no substitute for getting your head down and working hard. So don’t ever plan around luck. Plan for failure but hope for the best. That way, you’ll encounter few surprises that you can’t deal with.
Do you believe you’ve got what it takes?
If you don’t believe completely in what you’re doing, how can you expect anyone else to?
You must exude desire, have an appetite for success and the will to succeed in the face of stiff and concerted opposition and competition.
Can you deal with stress?
Along the way, you’re going to have your patience tested to the limit. Be that from an awkward client, an obstructive supplier or a recalcitrant member of staff .. or even the computer in front of you when it’s on the blink!
For most, a daily diet of stress is something they simply cannot stomach, while others salivate at the prospect. Which one are you? If you’re the former, you’re going to struggle, while if you’re the latter, then you’re on the right path.
Can you remain focused?
What with stress, work pressures, company politics and sometimes out of sheer boredom, you will lose focus. How do you refocus? Can you refocus? Can you remain focused with all of those daily distractions around you?
From time to time, we all lose focus, but it’s how quickly we find that focus again and how long we hold onto it which is a key ingredient in avoiding needless and often costly business mistakes.
Are you a life learner?
Remember when you passed your driving test? Assuming that you did, that license entitles you to two things: to drive and to continue to learn to drive. As with life, your business and your role in your business is closely linked to living and learning.
To embrace success and avoid the yawning jaws of defeat, you must keep moving, and moving in a direction that distances you from your competitors. Renew your skills and maintain clear blue waters between your business competitors and yourself.
Don’t neglect your “Organic Knowledge”, which is all of your education and training, that sometimes, we just take for granted, and fail to see the true value of. Use your knowledge and experience to the full.
Are you pragmatist, optimist, pessimist or a realist?
From time to time, as your business evolves, you’ll be a bit of all four. Sometimes, you’ll be up in the air, jumping around with ideas and exploring new avenues and new business possibilities with the energy of a teenager.
However, there are times when you’ll sit there staring out of the window with a blank expression, wondering just what the hell you’re going to do next.
Then there’s the workman-like you. Unfazed by the heavy load, you plow on in a methodical, deliberate and efficient manner.
How you manage these phases is essential. However, each phase has a cautionary tale to tell:
Too much enthusiasm and optimism can steer you dangerously off course and force you to expend valuable energy, resources and time along the way.
Too many saturnine moments and you’ll find yourself in the Doldrums, not able to find the trade winds that are the life blood of your business.
Then having your head down, micromanaging every detail might have you running too close to shore and in danger of foundering, because you didn’t see the bigger picture coming towards you.
Strike a balance. Learn to deal with those things that perturb you and look to mix & match your tasks to avoid getting stuck in a rut.
Can you manage the tasks at hand?
It’s all good and well having work coming to your door, but unless you can manage those projects, keep track of where you are with them and where other people are too, then you may find some projects withering and wasting away, maybe even forcing you to lose a customer in the process.
The solution? Get a pen, a sheet of paper and make a list! List those things To Do. You might even rank them, give them some tactile weighting so that you know how important or how urgent those tasks are. You might even want to jot down the names of the people involved in those tasks, too.
Whatever your routine, the trick is to stick to it. If others are to participate, then find some standard way of managing those lists that everyone else can understand.
There’s no value in having the most amazing way of managing your day-to-day work load if no one else can understand what on Earth you’re going on about!
Can you be relied upon and trusted?
I imagine most people think that they can be trusted and relied upon, but that’s not always the case. Even if your intentions are good, your schedule, your personal life or even your colander-like memory can step in and wreak havoc.
When working for your customers, any excuse is usually no excuse at all. Let these guys down and they’ll find another supplier. Let your staff down and you could be doing interviews all week instead of working on the next big thing.
Stay focused, make a note of your promises and damn well keep them!
When you’re down, can you pick yourself up?
You might think I’ve talked about this before, but this is quite different.
Are you precious about what it is that you do? That’s to say: if someone criticizes your work, can you deal with that criticism?
If you cannot justify yourself and your work, then you’ve not thought things through as thoroughly as you should have.
If your client can give you one good reason why they think that you’re wrong, then you have to give them five excellent reasons why you know that you are right.
This isn’t really about compromising, this is about thinking beyond your needs, your own desires and sensibilities and being objective, focused and having a clarity of vision that will pay dividends over time.
Can you be a diplomat?
Losing your cool isn’t going to do you or your business any favours. Similarly, not observing the sometimes delicate political sensibilities of clients can cause friction.
As well as being a business person, you have to be a diplomat, one who’s prepared to discuss rather than dictate.
No, this isn’t about total capitulation. It’s about planning long-term, striking a balance and keeping the right people on your side.
Are you prepared to say no?
Sometimes, saying no to a client can seem like saying goodbye. Trust me, this isn’t the case.
However, simply saying no isn’t good enough, you must provide evidence of why you think your client has either got something wrong, or not seen what you’ve seen.
Make a good case for your argument and your client will respect you and learn to trust your judgment.
Can you survive the famine after the feast?
In lean times, you’re going to have to make do. At times like this, you need to be proactive rather than reactive and delve right into business development and draw in new work.
Go through your client list, think of what you were doing for them last, maybe there’s something that needs updating. Call those clients, ask them if everything is OK.
Find something that might be in need of a change or an update, supply a quote, a plan of action and work towards a meeting with them.
Plan for the hard times, set funds aside, look for trends and seasonality in what you do and be ready.
Can you go the distance?
In business, there is no finishing line. This is the long race.
You need stamina and the capacity to move beyond the “wall”, when you’re running on empty and the goal in sight seems to be moving away from you, or the outstretched arm of a competitor seems closer than your own.
Dig deep, get your breathing right, strike a rhythm and hold the pace.
Can you be professional?
Being a professional is about combining all of the above. Much like the best and most well-loved sports stars, professionalism doesn’t end when you’re not performing.
You are your business, and professionalism doesn’t stop just because you’re not in the office, or it’s outside business hours.
Are you scared?
You should be. Failure is much closer to you than success. Running a business is a huge undertaking, even more so when there are people relying on you for their livelihoods. Feed on the fear, repurpose that emotion into the stuff that fuels you.
What’s the name of your fear? Well, that’s easy! Fear has many names, most of which are the same names as your competitors.
However, you can make success your name, but only if you try hard enough!
This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “Are you ready to run your own business?“