What Your 9-5 Can Teach You About Entrepreneurship
I’m not the type to tell you to quit your job immediately and chase your dreams. It’s just not practical. You can chase your dreams without the added drama and stress of trying to make ends meet when you have a job that already takes care of that.
Think of it this way:
If you want to learn to ride a bike, you don’t just think about it really hard and stand on the sidewalk - you save your money, you do your research, and even when you get the bike you spend a little time on training wheels under supervision before you ride off into the sunset.
So, that said, what can you pull from your experience at your day job? Quite a bit, but let’s start with three of my favorite takeaways.
1. How to Collaborate & Delegate Effectively
For those of us who went to business school or have researched anything about business,
Cost-Benefit Analysis is basically what makes our worlds go round. Haven’t heard of it? You’re still in the right place!
Basically it just means when making a business decision or working on a project we need to be conscious of what it will “cost us” and how we will “benefit” from it. This reflection can be very technical or very simple. Deciding that a project is not on brand for you or realizing it will take more time than you currently have in your schedule is a form of Cost-Benefit Analysis. Another form of Cost-Benefit Analysis would be looking at your return on investment into a new computer with all the bells and whistles over keeping your current problem-free desktop.
In an office environment, we can see this in action. It is not reasonable for the boss to do everything, so at some point he/she/they decided to go ahead and hire an assistant. It isn’t reasonable to have the assistant do IT, HR, Sales, and handle Customer Service, so the cost to pay these salaries to new employees gave the company the benefit of more efficient processes and systems.
So how can we use this lesson in our own business? Many entrepreneurs utilize accounting services, outside manufacturers, and outside service providers to enable them to focus on what they do best.
You have a booming online candle business. You hand pour, label, package, and promote each and every candle that you offer. You are purchasing ink for your printer, sticker paper for labels, and trying to keep up with your orders as best you can while still having to put in the hard work of creating the candles pour by pour.
One thing that would speed your process may be to order your labels in bulk from sites like Vistaprint or StickerMule. Collaborating with other professionals and delegating out that little part of your business means more time focusing on expanding your brand - plus, generally speaking, the quality from a professional printer is far superior to a home printer.
2. Time Management
As much as it pains me to say it, my Mom was right about something. A routine really helps you accomplish goals. In the case of an office environment (a functional one), you have deadlines, proposals, meetings for collaboration, etc. As an entrepreneur, time management is key and the transition from a structured environment to pajama clad work days can be difficult without that sense of routine. Timelines fly out the window as Mondays blur into Tuesdays which blur into entire weeks passing without a ton to show for it.
One thing that I learned from a less-than-stellar office situation was to keep track of each and every request and my turn around time for project completion. I had to keep my work in order because, though the boss didn't keep track of anything, whenever a question about the status of a project was asked, I needed answers and I needed them "yesterday."
So how did I accomplish this? A project log.
A Project Log doesn’t have to be all that fancy. I prefer a quick Excel or Google Sheets document with columns for the Project Title, Description, Additional Notes, Date Requested, Date Due, and Date Completed. Once something is complete, I shade out the row in a color and move to the next task.
It is perfect for an entrepreneur because there are times when there are rush requests, times when a project starts and stops, and even times when a project goes through so many revisions it just gets cancelled. By keeping track of your progress you are able to identify patterns, figure out how long it truly takes you to complete tasks - including those clerical tasks that are so often forgotten. Data entry, printing out labels, responding to emails, researching trade shows, inventory counts, receipts, you know, all the stuff you avoid until the last minute.
You are a freelance Graphic Designer and you have guesstimated that a project will take 5 hours to complete. The project has multiple revisions (because you forgot to put a limit in your contract with the client - another habit to pick up from the office) and you can look back and see that your conversations and meetings about the project, the time it took to revise the project all added up to over 8 hours of work. Should you add additional charges? Not if you want continued business!
Here’s the deal: You’ve learned a valuable lesson in pricing your projects as far as the time it takes to complete. Next time you have a similar project you’ll definitely know what to charge and what to break down in your contract so as to keep your project on track. Take the loss for now and grow from it!
If you neglected to establish firm rules for the scope of a project, it is not the client’s fault and they should not be penalized. Setting reasonable expectations is your responsibility and this is why contracts and agreements in writing are so important. Save them in files or save them on the cloud because these agreements can save you from any legal issues, client complaints, etc. in the long run. This also helps you remember the details and pricing you may have offered in the past so that you don’t undersell.
3. The Many Hats You Will Wear As An Entrepreneur
Heavy is the head that wears the crown(s)
So, you're working as hard as you can to build your best entrepreneurial life and you are already feeling burnt out. The worst part? You haven't even moved to full time so you're exhausted from your day-job and even more exhausted even lifting a finger to work on your own business.
This is a perfect example of something your day-job probably knows a bit about.
To make a business, there are essential positions and departments to make things run smoothly. No one would expect the accounting department to also greet customers any more than they would expect a salesperson to do the business taxes each year.
As an entrepreneur you are building a business - a business needs experts in various fields to create and distribute products and services. In the long run, realize that you can't do everything. Don't beat yourself up for mistakes that you may make along the way because, quite frankly, you are wearing every hat in your business that corporations delegate to different departments.
You are sales and marketing, you are PR, you are HR, you're the CEO, but you're also the production, shipping, customer care, and design team, and you are so much more.
One of the worst things to hear as an entrepreneur is something about how what you're working on is a good "hobby," or "sidegig." Statements like these are like a verbal pat on the head. No one wants to be pat on the head over the age of 2.5. The patronizing tones of how "cute" or "quaint" your "little business" are just so baffling and discouraging in my opinion. One of the many issues that we face as trailblazers is the fact that our tireless hours working on a dream that may or may not come to fruition are always subjected to opinion and chatter - as if we are not allowed to be tired from working 60 and 70 hour workweeks (40 hours at the day-job and every waking moment for the "cute hobby").
Make no mistake. You are every department in your business and your exhaustion stems from the consumption of content for every skill in the business realm. You are multitalented, multi-passionate, and are well on the way to figuring this business thing out. One of the best things you can do is to speak with your coworkers in various departments in addition to your midnight google binges to learn from their experiences. First hand accounts - even if the are horror stories - are great ways to learn more about the business world you're so desperate to be a part of.
I hope this is eyeopening for you and helps you appreciate this paid learning experience. These little changes in perspective have helped me through the ups and downs of hourly and salaried work.
Missed my last post with tips for in-person vendor events?
Check it out: How to Rock a Vendor Event with Digital Products