Are you aspiring to become an entrepreneur and run your own business someday?
If so, what have you been doing to prepare for the challenges that come with running a business and the skills required to be a successful entrepreneur?
The recent recession has accelerated the professional growth for many who now lack the opportunity to join a promising organization as interns or juniors. The creative folks have persevered and identified progressive opportunities worth exploring to generate some revenue and possibly land a full-time career in entrepreneurship.
Since college is rarely helpful to entrepreneurs, I would always bet on self-learning through startup communities, business podcasts, biographies of successful entrepreneurs and CEOs, other business and management books as your main resources.
This includes the book I authored in 2019, 126 Steps to Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur: The Entrepreneurship Fad and the Dark Side of Going Solo. I specifically dedicated my time and effort to outline my journey and the most common misconceptions when starting a business – as the boasted stories of the TechCrunches and Mashables of the world seem to portray the vivid success of billionaire business owners while discarding the millions of failed attempts to launch something on your own.
And yet, if you’re eager to start, what’s the best way to acquire the skills and resources before you pivot?
4 Starter Alternatives for Aspiring Young Entrepreneurs
Experience is something that you need prior to starting up your company.
Building a business entails a lot of requirements unrelated to your core skill set, such as: building a company, accounting, legal, marketing, sales, networking, defining pricing, establishing customer persona, creating the right business plan, etc.
However, if you are currently nowhere near starting your own business, I’ll propose 4 different alternatives for aspiring young entrepreneurs.
1. Save Capital
Savings could help you bootstrap your business safely without debt. It will also extend your survivor period before forming a profitable business.
And it would let you test different concepts that may help – hiring extra staff, investing in marketing, sponsoring a trade show, or traveling to a strategic conference abroad.
A popular and straight-forward way is progressing in your day job, growing a network, and building a career. Not only will it facilitate your professional development, but it will also allow you to allocate a portion of your salary to an entrepreneurship fund.
If there are other side activities that you could do (such as freelance after hours), this would help as well and teach you some essentials of sales, project management, and planning.
2. Join a Startup
Working for a small startup will help you get the grip of working in a small, bootstrapped business.
Small teams are tasked to do a lot of things outside of their main job. You would probably have direct access to the CEO and the top management, attend planning and product management discussions, or even help with ideas and implementing side activities for the business.
This experience may be instrumental in running your own business – not to mention that early employees have a stab at a co-founding position in the startup.
3. Sandbox Trial
Most aspiring young entrepreneurs are overly fearless that starting from scratch can be very tempting for them.
If you want to start with a safe trial, consider bootstrapping a small, limited business that doesn’t require a significant investment.
A good option is aiming for a venture that has a realistic potential to generate a salary for you and grow over time.
It could be consulting, a lifestyle business, creating a course, drop shipping, or writing a book. You can run this venture after hours if you want to keep your day job. Or, take a break for 6 months and see if you can build it from the ground, full-time.
A smaller startup requires less time and limited investment. It still incorporates most of the day-to-day activities you have to focus on – sales, marketing, building partnerships, talking to clients, managing finances, scaling a venture, tracking data, and optimizing business processes.
There’s a chance that the small trial may grow to a business that becomes your primary source of revenue. In that case, you can either branch out and expand your target audience, or use the savings to fund a larger startup.
4. Jump In
Heading straight in may still work out.
Normally, you need to balance the business experience with your industry background. Being inexperienced in both halves would leave you unprepared and slow down your growth – or eventually, close your shop if you can’t scale your business fast enough.
With the right preparation and some practical experience – and finding a co-founder that would help – this may still work out.
How I Started as an Entrepreneur
Some of the investors on Shark Tank have mentioned that their kids were excited about the show as well and students at schools now try to innovate and come up with solutions to different problems.
We’ve seen that in practice while working on a project for UNESCO which was helping out students in 4 different countries (two in Africa, one in Asia and one in Europe) who were submitting proposals for problems they had in their day-to-day or at school and alternative solutions to those.
Some were brilliant and funded right away – even having a small impact, they turned out to be genuine and practical for the whole school, later on implemented in other schools nationwide.
I’ve also started my first endeavors at an early age – back in middle school. I was providing computer maintenance services (both hardware, and reinstalls/fixing Windows problems) that were converted to packages including home repair solutions, packaged installers for automated updates, and so on.
Furthermore, I went on writing for several outlets – mainly weekly newsletters or technical news. That gave me the opportunity to meet some experienced entrepreneurs who were looking for help and I was eager to spend the time to join their teams for free (and later on compensated with a consulting fee or a monthly retainer).
Fast-forward a few years, I’m running a team of 50, work closely on business strategy and growth with several clients that we serve, in a different consulting advisory, manage a couple of small startups, consult a dozen business owners in the US and Western Europe, mentor several people (which recently emerged into a group mentorship program), write for several outlets, spend some time on Quora learning from other entrepreneurs, and constantly look for the next idea that we can validate, implement, and launch.
It’s hard to identify the true entrepreneurs among a myriad of “wantrepreneurs” out there – so let’s cover the main difference.
“Wantrepreneurs” vs Successful Entrepreneurs
Execute and Iterate.
The main difference I see between “wantrepreneurs” and successful “entrepreneurs” is going live.
A business has tons of requirements in order to grow and become successful.
You need to:
- Work on a great product or service
- Research your target market
- Build partnerships
- Do customer development
- Deal with financial plans
- Take into account legal aspects
Each of those areas branches into dozens of verticals covering different parts of the process.
Many beginner entrepreneurs get distracted by trying to incorporate as many of those at the same time. As a result, they end up doing nothing.
Between improving your product, writing documentation or marketing copy, reaching out to partners or prospects, attending events, crunching numbers – you often do none of the above.
Entrepreneurs need to focus and prepare an aggressive schedule that lets them work on one thing at a time, launch a draft, move to the next one, and follow milestones.
You don’t have to call 200 prospects for the whole week before moving to your product development. But you can call 20 today, spend 2 hours on your product, write a blog post, spend an hour distributing it, and repeat the next day.
Set some milestones and allocate your work quota for the week.
Success is achieved by taking one step at a time. Don’t make huge leaps as it’s neither sustainable nor easy. Being persistent and iterating week after week will gradually increase your traffic and bring some new business your way.
The Challenges in Bootstrapping a Business
Several people in my network have bootstrapped their business by hiring a manager while still maintaining a 9-to-5 job. Even more common is a couple of founders, one “funding” the project with a day job and the other one working tirelessly in the meantime.
I tried the outsourced management for about a year myself. It was intense, I still had to allocate time and fight fires after work (and one of my jobs was the 11am to 1am type), the progress was slower than needed but it worked out eventually.
You have to make several compromises and have an explicit agreement with your manager:
- The manager should be someone “internal”. They are not a coach, a consultant, a contractor or any other temp role. They are here to stay and should have a leading role afterwards.
- They still need a timeframe — a mandate of sorts. This is negotiable and could vary, but a manager has to take almost complete ownership and make short-term and long-term decisions. Understanding their role and duration is paramount, or will otherwise block the work.
- The pace will be slower. Or the direction will be inconsistent. If this isn’t the case, your manager is eligible for a CEO themselves.
- You will be involved with the business as much as possible. A 9-to-5 job is not an excuse, you can effectively spend 40 hours a week and more on the business should you choose to.
Is it easy? No. The stakes are high and so is the risk. Finding the right manager is quite challenging. It could be more expensive as well.
But given the right setup and selection process, it can work.
Growing Your Team, Growing Your Business
A friend with a 40-people strong company once said: growing from one to two people is doubling the size of your company.
The beginning is always tough. You need to work on finding your place in the industry, generating some income, and planning for recurring revenue. Planning a few months ahead can lead you to grow your team further, and have other experts with you to help you create more products and refine the services you offer to your customers.
After getting a few people on board, you usually have to start looking for other areas that are not directly related to your work. For instance, if you’re a developer and have two to three developers in your team already, you may start hiring designers and marketing people, or salesmen for reaching out to better clients. If you are an Internet marketer, you can hire a designer for better infographics, a developer to help you with marketing products, and so forth.
While those new hires will help you move forward and get on the next level, you have to dedicate part of your revenue for their salaries – and they usually don’t convert directly (their work matters, but a month of their work is not directly equal to 160 billable hours from your customers on a given rate).
Building the right business plan, connecting with the right customers, generating recurring revenue streams, growing your team, dealing with your legal and financial constraints, improving your product or branding, increasing your exposure can be just a few of the problems for a small business.
Make sure that you start with a mentor or a business advisor as early as possible, and don’t make too many wrong choices that would delay your growth or endanger your company’s future.
Entrepreneurship and Its Many Flavors
Entrepreneurship has many flavors and there are different personal profiles that may work in different scenarios. Great entrepreneurs are even able to turn unexpected traits into a successful weapon for building a successful business or several ventures in parallel.
Most entrepreneurs that I interact with are constantly jumping between different activities, talk to partners, clients and staff, innovate, read a lot, and develop their skills in different fields. Unlike full-time employees working on the same type of activities, entrepreneurship requires an in-depth understanding of the industries they profile in, marketing, sales, managing finances, product development, market economics, and development, and keep track on political changes, financial crises, growth opportunities, available opportunities to scale through hiring employees or implementing automated tools and whatnot.
It’s diverse. It’s exciting. It’s never-ending and it may seem insane on the outside. The stakes are high and strategic decisions are made on a daily basis – usually a ton of them.
You can be a millionaire one day and back to square one the next day. There’s a lot of crash and burn, and failure is inevitable. But smart entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes and always deviate and look for hidden opportunities that would keep the business afloat and allow for being around for another day or a week.
Safety and comfort aren’t on the table for a long period of time. Clients may be paying now and investors may be on the same page but the rapidly growing market always poses risks of replacement from people who spend longer hours, talk to more partners and persuade more clients.
Entrepreneurship is a 24/7 job and that’s how it goes for most folks out there. Some stability may be ensured after passing some milestones, but the more you scale, the more your expenses grow as well, and the easier it is to overlook things and focus on the wrong opportunities.
Luckily, there are ways around it – building the right team, working with reliable assistants, and providing outstanding services would cut you some slack and let you spend some time on sleep, family, or simply reminiscing and brainstorming. But adapting to evolving markets will always require drastic changes and innovation. And as an entrepreneur, it’s your job to be the go-to choice for your target market.