It’s something we’ve all probably thought about: quitting the desk job and starting your own business.
It sounds crazy. It sounds impossible. It sounds like a dream – something nice to fawn about over the evening glass of Pinot.
But honestly, it’s not as far fetched as you might think.
In 2010 alone, 565,000 new business were started… each month. You read that right. That’s about 7 million new businesses for that year. That’s 7 million people taking their dream and pushing it to become reality.
True, some of these businesses fail. Some don’t, but the founders find themselves working 70-hour weeks, with little time for themselves.
It’s long, it’s grueling, and it’s damn hard.
And take my word for it. At 25, I’ve started over a half dozen businesses. This is after I attended a top university for Political Science (note, I wasn’t a business major). My friends and family, while supportive, often inquire about my mental health and well-being. And I’m honest about it: sometimes I can feel fried.
But even so, pushing yourself at your own ventures is rewarding. I can’t get enough of it. I continue to find myself inspired to start new projects. I crave the struggle, and I thrive on the challenge. Most of all, though, I seek refuge in the inherent freedom of the notion. It’s hard to imagine working a 9 to 5 that doesn’t somehow empower my own ventures (for the record, I work for a software company in addition to operating a handful of businesses).
So how do you know if you’re equipped for a lifestyle like this? Chances are, it’s a matter of mentality, as I’ve found that most key skills can always be learned. I consider these the 5 ‘red flags for success’ if you’re thinking about starting your own business:
1. You’re Hungry
Take note: if you’re altering your life path, then you better be hungry. You better be ambitious.
There’s a certain idiom that always stuck out to me since I was a kid: Shoot for the stars, and even if you fall, you’ll land on the clouds. It sounds a bit fluffy, but to a kid who came from a well-below-poverty-line, single parent household, living on mac and cheese and Top Ramen, it’s something I clung on to. The processed noodle-foods weren’t filling me up each night. The microwavable burritos I munched on while I transferred from the 165 to the 761 just didn’t cut it.
These experiences taught me a valuable lesson: if I am going to dream, dream big. If I fail, I can bet I’ll still end up somewhere greater than not dreaming at all.
That’s the ambition that drove me. And whether you source your ambition from some fanciful saying and unsatisfying meals or from something else, you can bet you need it – in whatever form – when you’re starting your own business.
Action Item #1: Are you hungry?
- In a doc or on a piece of paper, write out your top 5 goals right now. They can be anything.
- Out of those 5 goals, identify those that relate to a business or entrepreneurial endeavor
- Explore that goal, or goals. Answer the following: What about it makes it interesting? What drives you in this area? Why do you think this is a good business idea?
- Save this paper and continue to the next list.
2. You’re Passionate
Businesses operate on a specific type of fuel: passion. It can be a passion for wedding planning, engineering, gardening… you name it. Whatever it is, you’ve got to love what you do in order to do great work. And it’s great work that will grow a great business.
Before you buy that domain name, apply for the small business loan, or pitch the idea to potential business partners, ask yourself if you’ve got the DESIRE to do it in the first place.
Action Item #2: Do you have passion?
- Make a list of the things you love to do for fun or find great interest in.
- Which of these things relate to your business idea?
3. You’re not afraid of failure
I’ve failed dozens and dozens and dozens of times. I’ve tried… a lot… before I reached anything representative of “success.” In fact, prior to receiving a full-ride scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles, I was rejected. It was an appeal that got me in, and eventually, that convinced the school I deserved free education.
This is going to be true with your entrepreneurial endeavors. And you’ve got to welcome it.
Be prepared for failure, learn from it, and don’t fear it. Failure is an opportunity for growth, and it’s been my greatest teacher.
Action Item #3: Can you admit failure and learn from it?
- Make a list of your five greatest failures.
- Write down next to each failure, what you learned from it.
4. You’re Willing (And Able)
Working for yourself will take a ton of time. This time will come from your evenings, from your weekends, from your “free-time” or R&R. If you’re already working a 40 hour week, be prepared to focus another 10-20 hours a week in the surrounding hours working for your dream.
And this is a big qualifier: if you don’t have then time, now might not be the time to start your business.
Being willing gets you 50% there, and being able is what carries you over the finish line.
Action Item #4: Is commitment a problem?
- Write out your normal schedule.
- Calculate the time you spend commuting, working, eating and sleeping.
- How much time remains each day? How much each week?
- Tip: Add 5 hours to your total “used” time. This allows for buffer time, for traffic, problems, and life.
5. You’re Confident
Okay, so you’ve got hunger, passion, humility, and the ability to commit… now, are you confident?
One of the biggest hurdles, for me, was getting my confidence up. As a kid, I had big “Coke can” glasses, freckles (still do), and braces. I played videos games constantly, didn’t have many friends, and the girls I did hang out with helped me learn the definition of the “friend zone.”
It wasn’t a confidence boosting time in life, and it stuck with me a bit.
But what I learned was that while I lacked confidence, what I had in these other categories showed me that I actually had an inherent bravery inside myself. Naturally, I dare to dream and I’m optimistic. I knew I wanted more, I pushed for it, and I could laugh at my own shortcomings (and plentiful they are).
Understanding and reflecting on this gave me the confidence I needed as a man to push forward, sometimes just on a gut feeling. There are situations I’ve been through now, as an adult, that would have crippled the young me. But with confidence, I showed myself that I can and will achieve things if I set my mind to them. Sometimes it takes a long time, but believing in yourself is the greatest strength, and it will help you succeed faster that doubt.
Action Item #5: Do you believe in yourself?
- Make a list of the things you do great – anything you naturally excel at.
- Ask yourself, have you ever experience worry in a situation, but everything turned out to be okay?
- On a separate piece of paper, write 3-5 words that inspire fear in yourself. For my childhood self, it might have “appearance” or “social status.” Crumble that paper, and burn it safely.
Are you ready to start your own business?
Look down at your paper(s) and reflect on these exercises. What have you learned about yourself? Go back to each action item list, and answer the main question asked in each title. What does your list look like?