No one said being an entrepreneur is easy. When the reward is yours, so is the risk, and the decision to start your own business brings this (sometimes sobering) reality to the forefront of your consciousness at every step of the way.
As I’ve said before, as an entrepreneur you are sitting at the helm of the ship, because you built the ship you’re standing on. There is no degree of separation and no cushy, corporate layers to hide behind — you are the big player. The environment you experience as an entrepreneur is one in which you are hyper-aware of every movement, whether that be a smooth shift in the right direction or an impending sh*t storm (because yes, those will definitely come). Trust me when I say this dynamic isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you have the stomach for it, entrepreneurship can be one of the most rewarding journeys of your life.
With that said, there must be something in the coffee here in Toronto, because the societal embrace of this shift from the safe confines of corporate giants into the uncharted territory of entrepreneurship seems to be more prevalent than ever before. Regardless of generational timing (it’s not just the millennials), people are taking the leap. Of course, you can only be so prepared, and you likely won’t internalize some of the most pivotal lessons regarding entrepreneurship until you’re already in the game.
So, for those of you mulling over the idea of starting your own business (but aren’t entirely sure of what to expect), we’ve spoken to some Toronto entrepreneurs to give you their hard-learned lessons and advice.
1. Say Goodbye to the 9 to 5 Lifestyle
As an entrepreneur, your professional efforts continue far beyond any 9-5 timeframe. You aren’t contributing to anyone else’s vision, you’re building your own, and that is a 24/7 job (literally). You need to be relentlessly committed to the process of creating, growing and maintaining a business. This requires not just having an idea of a process or something that might work, but truly loving that process. Sure, it’s easy to make grandiose statements about what you would like to happen, what outcome could occur if everything goes as planned (hint: it won’t), but it’s much harder to remain true to those statements and that process despite the set-backs that are likely to impinge on your expected momentum.
Because at the end of the day, your plans simply don’t mean anything without the execution of meticulous, daily process and mindfulness that will support their eventual culmination.
Asi Shoshan and Gidon Gabbay, Owners of Big Hit Kickboxing Studio(s):
Asi: Starting a business is like starting a project, only the project never ends. Anyone interested in becoming an Entrepreneur needs to understand the major risk that comes with the potential reward. The risk is, contrary to popular belief, not the market, nor the product, or even the financial ability to raise funds. The risk is actually primarily tied to the entrepreneur’s willingness to sacrifice for the company. Time dedicated to family, friends, weekends and vacations isn’t easy to give up, and this is where the divide begins between the Entreprepenuers and the ‘Wantrepreneurs’. Entrepreneurship is not a title given, it is driven within and earned by sacrificing present time for future time. Time required for building and developing the company’s biggest assets, its talent, and the infrastructure that can support constant room for growth.
There will be years of growing pains, challenges, failures and times where giving up may seem like the only viable option. Your character will be tested and your biggest challenge will, quite honestly, become yourself. Ultimately, you have to take risks, never look back and enjoy the ride.
Gidon: The word entrepreneur means risk taker, and just like Asi said, the big risk you take is missing out on friends, family and social aspects of life, to really get what you want or to really give what your business truly deserves and needs to succeed. No one will understand unless they’ve cried and bled like you have, for their business and vision.
Our favourite quote: “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t. So that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”
2. Always Stay True to Your Vision
It’s not just about the market and trends, the team, or the details of execution — it’s about your vision at it’s core. The vision makes up the whole of your business; it’s the soul, and the heartbeat, of everything you aim to accomplish. Always stay true to that.
Julie Harrish, Owner of 6ix Cycle Spin Studio:
You can please everyone or you can change the world, but you cannot do both. Literally everyone you cross paths with will have an opinion on what you should do or could do, to make things better. Some of these suggestions will align with your vision, and others won’t. Remember why you started, what you truly set out to accomplish, and what your goals are (both as you begin and as they evolve). That’s what will keep you on the right path.
3. Being Your Boss Doesn’t Come Without (Increased) Responsibility:
Being your own boss, making your own schedule and minding your own deadlines, projects and execution plans, that’s the dream right? For a lot of us, absolutely (myself included). However, it is important to recognize that with increased freedom, comes increased responsibility. As an entrepreneur, you have to be accountable of everything that you do (and everything your team does).
You can’t just talk about the professional grind, you have to genuinely love it — both the highs and the lows and the short-term sacrifices for long-term gain, while always keeping the bigger picture in mind. Ask yourself, what is your capacity for uncertainty, for those less than glamorous moments and a seemingly endless barrage of late nights and even earlier mornings? Because you will, without any doubt, be tested more than you ever have been before.
Julie: I’m not going to lie to you, this is the hardest you will ever work in your life, period. Having come from a demanding career in oil and gas, I was looking forward to the days of working for myself. Sure, I knew it would be a lot of work, but I wasn’t fully prepared for what that meant. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but coming from working offshore in Africa on a 24/7 schedule I never imagined that owning a business could entail working even harder than that… but here we are. I love it, but like most entrepreneurs will tell you, this kind of hustle isn’t for everyone.
4. Things Rarely Go According to Plan
In my line of work, I’ve now had the pleasure to connect with a number of entrepreneurs and small business owners. As we’ve discussed their respective journeys and continuous growth plans, one thing has revealed itself as a universal truth within the realm of entrepreneurship: You need a plan, but you can’t live or die by it. Your plan and your process will act as the critical backbone to your business, but it won’t be an exact roadmap. Why? Because things almost never (and I mean never) go according to plan. Whether it’s construction delays, issues with the creation of a core team, trouble with permits, inspections or city regulations, there will be no shortage of unforeseen challenges that could bring your entire vision to a halt, if you let them. You have to continuously make amends for unexpected revelations and obstacles, without ever breaking your stride.
My advice? Hold your plan and process close to your heart, let it bring order and format to everything that you do, but don’t allow yourself to become so intimately attached to that plan that you derail at any sign of chaos. Because honestly, chaos is simply a part of the ride and your success will largely be defined by your ability to react, stay calm/focused, communicate effectively and adapt quicker than the competition.
5. Invest in Your Business Plan
Natalie James, Owner of Vent Blow Dry Bar: Start with a well researched business plan and be sure to ask yourself the tough questions. Often people don’t want to focus on the negative, but in doing this it forces you to look at your potential weaknesses and devise strategies to successfully navigate them. Problems will not doubt arise (delays, setbacks and more), but having a well thought out plan will help to get through them. A well researched plan will not only help you to secure financing, but it will also help to keep you on track to ensure your vision is never compromised.
Last but not least, stay true to your vision. Sometimes with delays and increased costs (which are both inevitable) it may feel tempting to look into alternative options that stray from your core vision… don’t fall into that trap! Stay the course, and stay true to the vision that inspired you to take this path.