I was shaking uncontrollably.
There I was, standing on the side of the pool at the age of eight.
My swimming instructor was in the pool, calling for me to jump straight into the deep end. And she was losing patience with me.
“I can’t do it,” I muttered through chattering teeth. “I can’t swim.” Not only did I not know how to swim, but I was terrified of water.
So how could she expect me to jump in and swim to the other side of the pool?
As terror bounced around my brain, someone ran up behind me and shoved me into the water. I panicked and went under.
I flailed my arms and kicked my legs as if my life depended on it. Then it happened.
I began to tread water. I was not swimming laps but surviving.
No one expects you to jump in and immediately start swimming laps. It’s more likely you will jump in and flail your arms. Then you will begin to tread water.
This is the way to think about starting a business — jump in and learn to tread water — then you can learn to swim laps.
But first, you have to get in the pool. You have to start. And the best place to start is at why.
Why am I starting a business?
Taking the time to determine why you want to start your own business is worth the time and effort it takes.
The goal of asking why is to find the deepest and fullest answer to this question.
To accomplish this, we will use the 5 Whys.
The 5 Whys technique was formally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used to understand and optimize the manufacturing process within the Toyota Motor Corporation.
The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a problem by repeating the question, “Why?” Each answer forms the basis of the next question.
One Possible Outcome:
- Why am I starting a business? To make more money.
- Why do I want more money? The money will buy freedom for me and my family.
- Why do I want more freedom? I will be in control.
- Why do I want control? Being told what to do is unbearable.
- Why does this bother me? I want to be my own boss.
In this example, the real reason you want to start your own business is to be your own boss. This is a valid reason to start a business unless it isn’t your reason.
You need to determine if you truly want to start your own business — with all the headaches and stresses involved — or if you simply hate your boss.
If you simply hate your boss, then you are better off finding a new job.
On the other hand, if wanting to be in control of your own destiny is your true motivation, then starting your own business is the right move.
When we ask ourselves the 5 Whys, we can get to the essence of our reasoning, and from this place, we can make a more informed decision.
To be clear, I am here to help and encourage you to start your own business. But only when it’s the right time for you and your situation.
I want to push you to join the ranks of the Unemployable, yet sometimes you need to first take advantage of your situation.
Getting paid to learn about business
Wanting to start your own business because you don’t like your boss is a terrible plan, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
If you can’t work for someone else, you can’t work for yourself.
More often than not, businesses are started based on a skill set and experience gained while working a job. This is a good thing.
You have recently received your real estate license and you want to start a real estate agency.
So far so good. I admire your drive.
Which do you think is the smarter first step in starting a real estate agency?
- Rent an office and hire some agents.
- Get hired by a successful real estate agency.
In the first scenario, you are attempting to start a real estate agency without having been even a small part of a successful one. You don’t know what makes a real estate agency succeed or fail.
You are diving into the pool to swim laps before learning to tread water.
In the second scenario, you get an inside perspective on how a successful agency is run. Beginning with how new agents are hired, trained, and managed. And ending with you getting paid to learn how to run a real estate agency.
Yes, exactly. The second scenario is smarter. It enables you to learn from within, to gain confidence in your skills, and to see how a company should and should not be run.
Learning from within also allows you to learn if the market is viable or not. As Andres Zuleta from Boutique Japan explains:
I knew from my previous experience in the travel industry that my business model would work, provided I executed properly.
This is nothing but a mindset shift you need to make. Don’t think of your job as a dead end you need to get out of as soon as possible.
Instead, think of it as an education in how (and how not) to run a business, so you are ready when it’s time to jump in.
Start your business as a side hustle
Every day people around the world are starting side hustles — side gigs to earn extra money for rent, clothes, to help their families, and to travel.
The benefits of having a side hustle are two-fold:
- You will earn extra money.
- You will no longer feel stuck in a job that is not going anywhere — you will have options.
Starting a business costs money and can be mentally and physically taxing.
Starting your business while having a steady income from your day job will alleviate some of the stress — both financially and mentally.
Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.
Back in 2012, I didn’t run a business.
The year before, I had sold a small construction business, but I had yet to decide on my next move.
I promised myself my next business would be online and it would not take me away from my family for 10 to 14 hours a day.
Starting a business online is completely different than starting a construction company. I had a lot of just in time learning to accomplish and it would take me months to get up and rolling.
To supplement my income while figuring out how to start my own business online, I got a job performing energy audits on residential homes — working eight to ten hours per day away from my family — exactly what I didn’t want to be doing.
Every night after work, I had dinner with my family, played with my daughter, and then put her to bed — which usually involved a 30-minute nap for me.
Then I headed down to my office and worked until 2:00 a.m. Every night. This routine lasted for seven months before launching my first product online.
I missed parties with friends, didn’t play drums, and drank way too much coffee.
I had a plan, did the work, and changed my family’s life forever. By starting a side hustle and scaling it up to a full-time business, I did the work while earning an income from a job.
It was another ten months before I was able to quit my day job and move back into running a business full time. But I was back.
Extend your runway
Another benefit to starting your business as a side hustle is it enables you to lengthen the amount of time you have — to fail, learn, and eventually succeed.
Businesses typically fail for one of two reasons:
- Poor management.
- Running out of money.
Your runway is how long you can afford to run your business before you run out of money.
When you run out of money, you end up back where you started — at a job you can’t wait to quit. Let’s try to avoid this scenario.
Work on extending the length of your runway and you increase your chances of survival as an entrepreneur.
You can extend the length of your runway by saving money before going full time into your business, and by keeping your costs as low as possible — both personal and business.
Every additional financial burden you have when starting your business will directly shorten the length of your runway.
Remember the 5 Whys example, when we said that money buys us freedom. This is true to some extent.
Money stops us from making terrible decisions.
The pressure of needing money to cover expenses such as office space and payroll can push you into making impulsive decisions. Decisions with positive short-term cash flow results, but negative long-term business results.
This is not how you want to run your business.
Before taking the leap to full-time entrepreneur, work to build up some savings and increase the length of your runway before take off.
The choice is yours, don’t be late
Deciding if you should start your own business is an enormous decision with an endless list of factors unique to you and your present situation.
Just like learning to swim, you have to first learn to tread water.
Now you are the one standing on the side of the pool shaking. You don’t need to swim laps right away, you simply need to tread water.
If you wait too long to jump in, I may run up behind you and push you in. It’ll terrify you, but it may be the only way you get started.
Don’t expect to get everything (or anything) right the first time. Give yourself the time and space to learn what you need to start the business you are dreaming of.
Starting a business is not easy. In fact, it’s going to be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done.
But if the idea to build something out of nothing is calling to you, then it will be one of the most rewarding accomplishments you will tackle.
And damn worth every bit of blood, sweat, and tears.