A friend who studied entrepreneurship recently started his own company. After being on the sidelines and writing about entrepreneurs for years he decided to leave the academic world and venture out on his own. Two weeks ago we were having dinner and he asked me a simple question: how do you make sure you don’t go crazy as an entrepreneur?
He found out that being an entrepreneur is a lot harder than he expected. Dealing with partners, slipping deadlines, user expectations, market forces and everything else that makes being an entrepreneur, ahem, exciting was more intense and stressful than he thought it would be.
The question was amusing but also warranted a serious answer so I thought about it for a few minutes and then gave him the following tips.
1: Don’t ask yourself: how do other people do this?
A lot of starting entrepreneurs want to find out how other people do certain things. We try to emulate famous entrepreneurs and we want to know how things are done. Don’t do that. Your competitive edge is that you do things differently. Large companies are filled with people emulating their managers. That is not what you want to do as an entrepreneur.
2: Stick to the basics
Doing business is simple; if you can buy (produce, find, invent) something today and sell it for more tomorrow, so you make some money, then you are doing well. The rest is all secondary. Don’t waste time on stuff that makes you look good but doesn’t help the company. Networking event? Skip it and do some more sales instead.
3: Your main focus should be the well-being of your company
When you have to make tough decisions always think about the future of the company. It is easy to focus on your partners’ goals, your own dreams and what your employees or investors want from you. Focus on the company instead. What is good for it? What steps need to be taken to make it healthy? When in doubt, ask your company.
4: Learn to love conflicts
Conflict is an integral part of doing business. If you go out of your way to avoid conflict you will go crazy. If you have to pick between two suppliers, the one you turn down will be disappointed and get angry. They might shout and scream and explain how unfair this is and how much time they’ve spent on this deal. Just take the pain. Your goal is not to be everybody’s friend. Your goal is to do business and make decisions that benefit your company.
5: Learn to trust your gut
The most important decisions are made based on gut instinct. Something feels right, and then we come up with reasons afterwards. Create an atmosphere where people can trust their instincts and your ability to make the right decisions. If you don’t, you will waste too much time inventing reasons for stuff you just know is right.
It is easy to go crazy, burn out or lose yourself as an entrepreneur. There are no set rules. Everyday, there are new problems for which you’ll need to come up with solutions, and there is no manual to help you perform your job better. If it was easy more people would do it. So focus on the basics and trust your gut.
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