Dear Aspiring Entrepreneur,
I’ve always found you to be very admirable.
For one, you are very optimistic.
Being optimistic despite the odds is a very good trait. It shows you have resilience, and have the ability to keep on smiling even when things seem to be against you.
Look at the odds of being an entrepreneur — it’s not as high as people think. And yet, you dream of still having your own business:
Yup, the odds are really not at your favor.
So yes, it would be logical to assume that being an entrepreneur means that you are optimistic. Because you believe in yourself enough to succeed when others do not.
Personally, I am an entrepreneur.
I’m living the dream.
Our small business consists of seven regular employees and more than a handful of distribution channels. If you go around the mall, you might see one of our stores and buy one of our items.
But while I am an optimist, my business forces me to be a realist.
If I am positive all the time, I will hope for better sales tomorrow without doing anything today.
This is a trap. A deadly one.
Because as a businesswoman, I know I have to act today to change my fate tomorrow.
“Ma’m, we have to think positive,” my area supervisor reminded me.
Thinking positive — ahhh, if you have a business, thinking positive is not enough.
So I told her, “Yes, I have to think positive that’s why I’m in business. But you have to wake yourself up to reality if you want your business to last.”
The reality is harsh for a person who is in business.
Rain or shine, I still have to pay my bills. Unlike working for other people, I still have to worry about my company’s income and expenses on a regular basis.
Honest to goodness, I spent the better part of yesterday questioning myself and wondering if we can generate enough revenue to pay our bills.
As we are in retail, more than half of my expenses are fixed costs and in mall rents. I have to pay my people’s salary every 15th and 30th even if business is not doing well.
Compared it to the time I was working for a bank. Wow, at that time, though life can be as stressful, when it comes to paying the bills, I never really had to care for a thing.
Honestly, I cared only for my own work.
I cared about coming to work on time, doing a great job and wait for my salary to be deposited to my bank account.
Those were the good ol’ days.
But as an entrepreneur, these worry-free days — at least when it comes to being personally responsible for paying for all the bills — are over.
People often admire entrepreneurs for their success.
Do you know why we can be successful?
Because we are afraid.
We are afraid that if we don’t push ourselves, our company will go out of business. Because if we cannot balance our revenues and expenses, we cannot pay the people who depend on us. And we are afraid to tell other people that we failed.
That is why, as an optimistic realist, I will spend the rest of the month pushing my people to sell more instead of leaving it up to my people the hope of an even better day.
“There is no luck in business,” I would always tell my people. “Only action to change your fate.”
Two, it is not completely true that being an entrepreneur would mean more freedom to spend your time however you want.
A lot of people are envious of entrepreneurs because they get to leave work whatever time they want.
This is partly true —- For example, I managed to visit a sick ninong at the hospital at 5pm yesterday without asking approval from my boss. I wouldn’t have the same type of luxury if I worked for someone else.
My people can’t leave to buy snacks without informing others first.
So yes, it is partially true that you have the freedom to choose how you spend your time if you worked for yourself.
However, it is not true that these “escapes” don’t come at a cost.
There are no back-ups as the entrepreneur. There are still many things that you yourself would still have to finish.
Hence, because I was gone for the afternoon, I have to finish my backlog of balancing the checkbook later that evening. Someone still has to do it, and that someone is me.
Taking work off does not mean that you can afford for the work to be unfinished. Instead, it only means that the work gets delayed and would invade my personal time.
That is why, when we watched 50 Shades of Gray, I was nudging my husband about the unrealistic portrayal of a 27-year old billionaire who still manages to free up his schedule to see Ms. Anastasia Steele!
“Uhhhh… how does he even have the time to leave his business?” I asked my husband.
Actually, I was more jealous that Christian Grey could leave his business for a good while without the business self-imploding than the good sex that Anastasia Steele was having.
Ahhhhh…. the things you never read from Entrepreneur magazine. 🙂
This Friday for example, we would be taking off for an overnight in Balesin resort. My husband’s sister is in town and the family creeds us to join them (family orders).
Don’t get me wrong —- I would love the chance for a nice R&R. Goodness knows, we deserve it.
But while the old me would jump at a chance for a free vacation, the new entrepreneur me groans that the vacation would cause us to stay away from our business for 2 days. 🙁
“That would mean that I would be in calls with our people throughout our vacation,” I said. “And I would be worried about sales throughout the weekend.”
Such is the life of an entrepreneur.
Compare it to my Shanghainese friend who is here for Chinese New Year.
“How many days off do you have?” I meekly asked her. She currently works in corporate strategy for a large pharmaceutical company in Shanghai.
“Oh, I only have 15 days,” she said. “Not that much.”
“My husband who works for a Finnish company has 25 days off per year,” she added.
Nope aspiring entrepreneur, 25 days off away from your business is still a luxury you most likely cannot afford until your team is in place and your business is stable.
Bye bye long vacations.
For us, that would probably come in a few years time. Le sigh…
Lastly, I actually get little respect from peers.
Blame it on my friends having great jobs in huge companies. Most of my friends work in World Bank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, BOA Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital, McKinsey, Amazon, LinkedIn, Unilever, P&G, Johnson&Johnson, and other leading companies.
Compared to the companies they worked for, my company… well, nothing much to brag about right?
When I first heard of my husband’s company, I cannot help but give him a blank stare. Seriously, I’ve never even heard of it!
When I heard of my parents-in-law company, I scratched my head. Never heard of it either!
Such is the life of an entrepreneur.
Most of the time, nobody’s heard yet of your company!
So when I meet people, they will politely nod their head after asking me what I did. And then they would change the topic.
It can be a bit deflating to the ego that people have never even heard of your company.
Sure, that probably means that you need to do more marketing, and yes we are actually working on that part, but hell, it’s still a bit depressing when people are not as excited as you are about your company and your products!
Compare it to telling people that you work for McKinsey Consulting. Eyes would light up, and the immediate respect would be there. If you worked for McKinsey, that means you have the skills and the intellect to make it to their rigorous selection process.
Yes my friends, there is a difference.
Regardless, after bashing entrepreneurship — and yes, I can courageously do so because I am an entrepreneur — I cannot imagine myself being anywhere else.
Because for one, this is my fate.
I married into an entrepreneurship lifestyle. The business is ours by marriage. And if I want to continue to be happily married to my husband, this is the life I would have to live.
Plus it doesn’t help that I’ve been raised by two optimistic entrepreneurs who brainwashed me into thinking that there is no better option than managing your own business.
Two, because at the end of the day, this realist is still the ultimate optimist.
In the end, I still believe in our business. I believe in our products, and I believe in our strategy. We feel that we can grow our business through sheer force of will, and there is a future in our business. And yes, we are willing to put our money where our mouth is.
And lastly, I like to make a difference.
Whenever I hire someone new, I feel I am making a difference. Every person I hire, I always wonder if I can sustain his/her livelihood for the rest of his life.
Every time I sell my item, I imagine somebody else would be happy to receive such nice gift.
Every time someone actually knows who we are, I cannot help but feel a little bit proud, knowing fully well we have a direct hand in its success.
So is entrepreneurship for you?
Only you can answer that for yourself.
All I can say is, dive with your eyes wide open.
And then swim… swim as hard as you can.