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What Not to Do When Starting Your Own Business

facebookingPhoto courtesy of Small_Realm

You’ve come to the conclusion that a traditional nine-to-five job in an office building somewhere in Corporate America just isn’t for you.

What now?

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and thriving in the new millennium, especially among Americans aged 18-35. Reports from the 2012 business year show that 84% of start-up company owners predicted that their business would become profitable in the next twelve months. The question is - what will it take to make this prediction ring true?

In general, entrepreneurs are creative-types with spirited personalities – full of ideas and vigor. However, no matter how great your idea is, you always need a solid plan to make it into a viable business concept. And keep in mind:

“In order to succeed you must fail, so that you know what not to do the next time.”  ~Anthony J. D’Angelo

Granted, there are a select few who somehow hit it out of the park on their first attempt, but the vast majority of business owner wannabes must face the reality that they’ll probably fail quite a few times before they find success.

From the wisdom of several (now successful) business owners who’ve gone before us, comes a list of potential land mines to steer clear of when launching your very own start-up.

  1. Excessive virtual socializing – The most successful entrepreneurs are very good at tuning out distractions and focusing on what they need to accomplish. It’s easy to get sidetracked by all of the fun things on your laptop rather than putting in the hard work it will take to get your business off the ground. Spend less time Facebooking and more time taking actionable steps toward opening your company.
  2. All talk and no action – When you’re excited about a project, it’s natural to want to shout it from the rooftops, but don’t stop there. Telling everyone about your big idea is a good way to hold yourself accountable, but half of the people you tell probably think you’re going to fail. Prove them wrong by coming up with a business plan that includes specific short-term and long-term goals. Then put that plan into action.
  3. Go solo and reap all the glory - Almost every entrepreneur can benefit from a business partner, assistant or intern (and later when you can afford them, employees). Without a partner or mentor, you risk early burn out and confusion. You’ll have to share the spotlight, but your chances of success are much higher when you have someone to collaborate with.
  4. Wish-wash applesauce – Many businesses fail because their founder is too indecisive. As an entrepreneur, you’ll often be the one pulling the trigger on important issues, and if you constantly keep the safety on, you’ll never produce any ideas that go anywhere.
  5. Trying to do it all at once – Some of the most successful small business owners say they realized early on that success just doesn’t happen overnight. Multi-tasking can spread you too thin, causing your work quality to suffer. Keep your mind open to new ideas, and be ready to move forward when it’s time, but don’t move faster than your feet can carry you.
  6. Walking with the dinosaurs – As a business owner in today’s technologically savvy world, you’ll need to be up-to-date on all things electronic. Businesses just don’t run on paper anymore, and you’ll need to adapt to the virtual world if you plan to succeed.
  7. Excusing yourself – It’s time to stop complaining about all of the things “holding you back.” Those entrepreneurs who spend all day whining about the fiscal cliff are the ones who aren’t going to build a successful company.
  8. Going big or going home - Ever hear the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?” The same concept applies to business. Instead of relying on a few big customers, spend more time focusing on a wide variety of clients. That way, losing one or two won’t mean the end of your start-up.

Unfortunately, you’ll never be able to avoid all mistakes when you begin a new venture, but it is possible to minimize the number of bad moves you make and the effect they’ll have on your livelihood and happiness. Do your research before making any big decisions, and be prepared to learn from any mistakes that just can’t be avoided.

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Do You Have What it Takes to Work from Home?

Photo courtesy of Megan Ann

These days, more people are leading a more independent work life because many start-ups and even some older and larger corporations are allowing a number of their employees to work out of their homes for part of the work week. Some companies have even gone a step further by adopting some form of virtual office structure – which allows them to save money on rent and utilities while maintaining a flourishing business.

For entrepreneurs and freelance workers like myself, working from home means less hours away from family (I have a zero minute commute, each way), virtually no wear and tear on a vehicle, possibly maintaining only one family car, and flexible hours. Rearranging my schedule can happen when I need to, even if it means working into the wee hours of the morning. I can then immediately slide right into bed – because it’s fifteen feet away.

In case I’ve made it sound like a life of luxury and leisure, let me reassure you that working from home presents plenty of challenges. Most of us in the working world today grew up thinking that eventually we’d be working anywhere but inside our own homes, so it’s a different way of thinking about employment. Besides making changes to your mental image of what a work day looks like, anyone considering self-employment or telecommuting will also have to prepare themselves for a whole new way of working.

Firstly, there are no distractions in a home office, and yet there are a million, depending on your point of view. There won’t be any coworkers sidling up to chat with you every morning at 10 AM on the dot.  However, with a simple flick of the eye, your laundry pile’s in view, and, “What would it hurt to throw in one load?” That line of thinking can lead you to a spotless house…and no paycheck to show for it.

Working from home requires that you set your own boundaries and take your own breaks. Your best bet is to set up a home office and close the door while you’re working, to stay focused on your daily tasks. Since the only water cooler excitement occuring at your home involves trying out your new Brita filter, set specific times to stop working for a few minutes. Do some yoga or other exercise during these breaks.  You’ll need to get your blood flowing throughout the day, just as you would if you worked in a traditional office setting.

It’s easy to feel isolated from others when you don’t leave your house all day.  A few times a week, call up a friend who is free to talk for a few minutes.  Perhaps you’ll be Skype chatting with your in-office team as part of your job description, which will help you feel in the loop. Take a walk every day with a neighbor or have regular lunch dates with a family member who lives nearby. Finding small ways to stay connected to others is essential to your sanity and will ultimately make you more productive, too.

As much as possible, stick to a schedule that works for you. While you will probably be able to set your own hours, if there is no rhyme or reason to them, you’ll never settle into a routine. Routines allow us to form good habits, and good habits mean working more effectively.

In my opinion, the pros definitely outweigh the cons of working from home, but it’s a delicate balancing act that requires a certain level of restraint and self-control. If you possess neither of those two qualities, you might be better off clocking in at a job where someone else can set your boundaries for you. However, if you think you have what it takes, nothing’s stopping you from exploring a career that lets you work outside the box.

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How to Beat Burnout Before it Beats You

Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army
There are several professions that tend to have high rates of burnout, and in my lifetime I’ve been deeply ensconced in two of them. For seven years I taught elementary school, and I can tell you that teachers everywhere are dropping like flies. That job is tough.  People in professions that involve helping others are highly likely to burn out because of the amount of emotional attachment that develops, causing an incredible amount of mental strain.

I’m now considered an entrepreneur, in that I’ve started up my own business and I’m my own boss. Studies show that entrepreneurs are also more likely than most “typical” professionals to experience burnout. This is due to the fact that there is no limit to how much success we can attain, and because of that, we have a hard time turning down opportunities.  Before we know it, we’re exhausting ourselves by taking on more projects than we can reasonably handle.

If you’re making your living in a job that has the potential to evoke excessive amounts of stress, involves a high level of responsibility, or demands long hours, be proactive about avoiding burnout. If you’ve started to feel the first twinges of distress surrounding work, use the following list as a guide to avoid causing a major professional setback.

  • Pin point the source of any discontent and fix it. It’s not the job itself that will bring you down, but its interference with the things you love to do most – like spending time with family, working out, or getting a good night’s sleep every night. What do you wish you had time for?

  • Set boundaries for those above events to ensure that they will always come before work in order to refresh your energy and motivation.

  • Make sure you’re keeping it interesting! Even as an entrepreneur, if your projects all start to look the same, you’ll get bored fast. Pick and choose a variety of assignments, or simply make a change to your daily routine.

  • Pace yourself for the long haul and don’t expect miracles.
  • Take vacations! If you have a corporate job, USE your paid days off – don’t just bank them. If you’re self-employed, start setting things up so that your business can remain successful even when you take a few days off.

It’s extremely important to be able to recognize the early symptoms of burnout so that you can attain the level of success that you’re reaching for while remaining in good physical and mental health. Once burnout occurs, it can spell disaster and is quite difficult to reverse. Always keep that fire extinguisher nearby and at the ready, because if you don’t beat burnout first, it can most certainly beat you.

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Get Off the Sidelines and into the Game of Life


Photo courtesy of Rafael Amado Deras

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt this certain…stirring inside of me, urging me to think outside the box. I realized that I was destined to look for opportunities in unlikely places, and that I am just not the type of person who can be satisfied living life as a spectator. And so, eventually, I gave up my season tickets to the game of life and jumped on the field myself, ready to catch all of the solid opportunities that flew my way. It took me a little bit of practice to learn the difference between a homerun and a foul ball, but I think I finally have a handle on when to make the catch, and when to let it go.

Those who take action in life inevitebly end up ahead.  Sure, we may be called selfish, single-minded and dreamers, but the truth of the matter is, failure to take advantage of a good opportunity when it arises is the worst decision possible and will only leave you in the same rut for the rest of your life. Being ready to execute quickly while simultaneously weighing out the risks is a sign of someone who is destined to succeed.

The important thing to remember when presented with a potential new project is that not every opportunity is a good one.  Learning how and when to say no is an invaluable skill that will ensure that your successful ventures outweigh your failed attempts. This is not to say that you will never make some bad choices, or some less-than-ideal investments. As Edward Phelps said, “The man who makes no mistakes usually does not make anything at all.” I don’t know about you, but I would rather make some mistakes on my way to success than never making anything at all.

When an opportunity knocks, make sure that it fits in comfortably with your personal values and morals. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. Figure out your bottom line and know what you feel comfortable with. Be sure that the project aligns with your mission and the market image you wish to portray. An entrepreneur without a mission statement will ultimately lead his business off-track. Only say “yes” to opportunities that will create beneficial partnerships and reinforce your brand’s identity. And, most importantly, if you don’t find yourself presented with enough opportunitites to find success, step outside of that cardboard box, crumple it up, and make your own.

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