Before joining Spend Matters, I founded and managed two businesses, for over 25 years. My first foray was in design, advertising and printing, and the second was construction and general contracting. But regardless of one's chosen sector, establishing and running your own shop is simultaneously exhilarating, rewarding, perpetually challenging, exhausting and -- my topic today -- unimaginably stressful.
You might be thinking, "Stressful?... what could possibly be more stressful than working over 60 hours/week within an imposed structure in which I variably feel over loaded, under appreciated, and deserving of more money? Sure, having my own business would be stressful, but the freedom to pursue my passion, hire whom I wish, design the management structure, and create my own destiny would more than compensate for the stress." Likely so with sufficient capital, personal cash reserve, vision, creativity, confidence and the boundless energy needed to bind it all together. But if you deny the inevitable stress that accompanies entrepreneurship, your business plan and pro forma balance sheets will prove woefully inadequate psychologically.
Inc. Magazine recently published The Psychological Price of Entreprenuership, a valuable and insightful article that focuses on real life experience and also contains sufficiently discouraging data for would-be future business owners. Some of the facts are well known: "Three out of four venture-backed start-ups fail, according to research by Shikhar Ghosh, a Harvard Business School lecturer. Ghosh also found that more than 95 percent of start-ups fall short of their initial projections." Additionally, "entrepreneurs often juggle many roles and face countless setbacks--lost customers, disputes with partners, increased competition, staffing problems--all while struggling to make payroll. 'There are traumatic events all the way along the line,' says psychiatrist and former entrepreneur Michael A. Freeman, who is researching mental health and entrepreneurship. Complicating matters, new entrepreneurs often make themselves less resilient by neglecting their health. They eat too much or too little. They don't get enough sleep. They fail to exercise. 'You can get into a start-up mode, where you push yourself and abuse your body,' Freeman says. 'That can trigger mood vulnerability.'"
Successful entrepreneurs are driven, optimistic, and analytical, and they hold themselves to phenomenally high standards. Ironically, these traits can also portend a deeper downside when things fail to go as planned -- and they always do. If your considering a start-up, now is the time to conduct an extremely personal inventory of your psychological well being. Take the time to honestly assess your capacity to endure chronic disappointment with employees, customers, and suppliers and know, at all times, that you will always be more motivated and passionate about your venture than those around you -- and this may include family as well. I suggest eschewing motivational counseling in favor of consulting a good psychologist to assist with your personal assessment in advance of launch if you feel uncertain of your capacity to healthfully cope with uncertainty. This is not a pre-requisite, but well worth the cost in advance.
The Inc. article also states that while "launching a company will always be a wild ride, full of ups and downs, there are things entrepreneurs can do to help keep their lives from spiraling out of control .... Most important, make time for your loved ones, suggests Freeman. 'Don't let your business squeeze out your connections with human beings," he says... The consequences can rock not only your bank account but also your stress levels. So set a limit for how much of your own money you're prepared to invest. And don't let friends and family kick in more than they can afford to lose."
I must also add that pursuing your own business can be one of the most rewarding sources of fulfillment and personal growth possible if you're able not to allow the business to fully define who you are, maintain flexibility and a healthy lifestyle, and readily leverage all external resources and support in a timely fashion.