I’ve had a wild ride the last 5 years. I’ve been sued. I’ve been shaken. I’ve been incredibly fulfilled and I’ve been achingly close to throwing the towel in. I’ve felt pure joy and white hot fear, on hourly rotations, most days. In truth: I’m really tired.
Because running your own business is much more than just a “hustle”. Sure, it’s a calling, it’s a vision, it’s a purpose. But it’s also missed birthdays and first-to-leave at dinner parties. It’s working Sundays and eating endless vol-au-vents in the name of networking, when you really want to be watching Love Island in your PJs. It’s knowing that the fear that the words “Pay Day” have. Other people’s livelihoods. Other people’s dreams. Other people’s careers. There’s a lot that rests on a founder’s shoulders – and I know why founder burnout is such an epidemic.
Business is really tough, Brexit and Boris aside. Business takes motivation, self-belief and a remarkable ability to get up, dust yourself off, and get back on the horse. As Brene Brown says: “vulnerability takes courage”. To make yourself a founder, is to make yourself vulnerable. To the volatility of the economy, to changes in the wind, to trends, fires and hires. Stripping back the comfort of a PAYE slip, annual leave and maternity cover, and to put yourself in the frontline of self-employment is an act of vulnerability – one which takes a lot of courage. But it’s a journey I wouldn’t change for the world; because the reward and sense of fulfilment you get from making your dreams a reality is like nothing else.
Founders, I salute you. It’s not always easy out here, and we must remember to look up occasionally and smile into the distance. One thing I found when I launched About Time, was a real lack of accessible first-hand advice for other entrepreneurs. All the events we’ve put on in the last few years (over 100!), have been geared towards helping the next generation of entrepreneurs come through smoothly. So here’s some advice I share on a few things I’ve learnt over the last few years, I hope they are useful to you:
- If you’re able to, pay people before the 30 days is due. It’s just a really nice thing to do. Money = respect. If your cash flow allows, pay before ahead of time.
- Don’t outsource the most important parts of your business. If design is at the heart of your business, try to hire someone in-house, even part-time. Similarly with social media. Don’t let the lifeblood of your business be run by someone else; an agency will never care for your baby in the same way.
- The most important product of any business is YOU. Look after yourself, your mental and physical health. Go for walks, see friends, disconnect on weekends. Be wary of founder burnout.
- Find other people running their own business. It’s a lonely road out there – find other people to join your journey. Join a co-working space or members club. Go to work events. Make yourself a support network that understands the realities of running your own business.
- Hire for culture, train for skill. Fundamentally, it helps if you vibe with your employees. People can always be trained up; what you’re looking for is passion, energy and enthusiasm with new hires.
- Don’t do too much scrappy work. It’s tempting when you first start out, to take any money that comes your way. But too many low-paid jobs, and you find yourself spread too thin – and underperforming. Try to invest time and energy into the bigger stuff and reap a greater reward in the long term.
- Go for coffee with people when you don’t want anything from them. Seriously.
- Invest in your work relationships as you would your friendships. Work relationships need effort, as much as personal ones do. Show up for the people around you, including professionally.
- Never hire an SEO company. They are rubbish. Just do it yourself by producing actually good content. There’s no hack for that.
- On Friday night, switch your phone onto Airplane mode, put your cosiest socks on and eat lots of bread and butter. Your creativity suffers if you’re constantly on high-alert. Switch off. Break bread with someone you love. Breathe. And come back on Monday ready to take on another storm.