The ups and downs of life as an entrepreneur

Here, Eugene O'Sullivan looks into exactly what to expect when embarking on your own venture.

There aren’t many people who don’t secretly harbour the desire to work for themselves, be their own boss, make the big decisions, and enjoy the freedom that entrepreneurship brings.

It’s easy to see the attraction; no enforced meetings, no colleagues, or at least only ones you find yourself, the chance to choose your own working hours and working location. And of course, there is that ultimate draw; the opportunity to prove that you can do it.

Anyone having set up on their own, however, knows that flexibility works both ways; how the ability to choose working hours can mean working every spare minute in the day, including on a smartphone at the dinner table. While the decisions rest on your shoulders, so does the responsibility. Can you take a week off – truly off – without worrying that a client’s urgent needs will go unmet, without a second-in-command to help them?

One of the aspects of going it alone that is hard to predict before taking the plunge is how much time admin will swallow up in the week. The reason behind this unknown is that, when you work for a company, you have no real concept of what the other departments do, and how long an apparently simple task can take.

If the computer has an off-day, IT sort it out. While they’re sorting it out, you can get on with something else. It’s tiresome, but it’s someone else’s problem. Yet all entrepreneurs will recognise the frozen computer, the hacked-account warning, the software update that freezes you out of the computer, the time-to-negotiate-a-new-mobile/antivirus software-contract situation that occurs at just the busiest time of the day/week/month.

Similarly, as an employee the wage that drops into your account each month just happens, with tax and National Insurance discreetly dealt with. Not so for the entrepreneur, for whom figures, tax deductibles, receipts, legalities, mileage calculations, and deadlines become a very significant thread that runs through the business. Yet it’s just one financial thread; such figures are only one aspect of the new experience of dealing with all monetary matters, from sourcing the best yet most reasonable suppliers (and how do you know they’re the best, most reasonable or reliable, without a procurement department?) to working out the bottom line and levels of profit (or even loss) – not to mention cash flow issues, particularly when starting out.

Your previous company will have had either a legal department or a law firm with a talented range of lawyers who know their tax, corporate, commercial, property and employment law like the back of their hand. Now, it’s just you, with all that law; how to form a limited company, how to hire or fire someone, how to negotiate a lease, or a contract for services. All these skills are not yours, unless you’re an entrepreneur-lawyer. They are not what your business is about.

A business that you love

And yet, any successful entrepreneur who has read this far will understand that all of the above is not only worth it, but it’s background. Granted, it’s background that can take up time, and money, but the flip side of the entrepreneur’s coin is that – hopefully – a job, career, business that you love is what you wake up to each day. And while you might wake up to it each day, instead of Monday to Friday, there remains the satisfaction that whatever is achieved that day is the result of your efforts. And if the day’s achievement is the result of you and a team; it’s your team, built around you, with your business’s needs as priority.

While it’s inevitable that family life will be compromised in some fashion: emails on (unpaid!) holiday, out-of-hours meetings, or even the effects of having to treat your partner as a some-time business partner, there are also opportunities to make family life better through working for yourself. Children’s school events, school runs, school holidays and even new babies can arguably be accommodated more easily without a boss to ask permission of and colleagues to ask favours from. Arguably, of course, because the pull of work can be so strong for some, that everything else falls by the wayside. This can particularly be the case when a business increases to such a size that it becomes all-encompassing.

Making the decisions for your business also means deciding how big to grow it or indeed whether to keep it small. The decisions will be based on circumstances (personal, market conditions, finances, ambition), but this freedom is something that can never be achieved when working for someone else. For some, it means the freedom to stay a one-man-band in a home office, for others it means taking on an apprentice, while some will strategically build a business that requires a significant staff and office space to house them.

Delegating the hard bits

Ahmed Al-Ansari of Morgan Pryce notes, ‘Ultimately, it’s vital to remember that you know your business best of all and are qualified to run it and take decisions regarding it; with everything else, there is always someone to help. Just as you’d be unlikely to invite your clients to a home-cooked meal, instead letting the local restaurant chefs work their magic, many of the day-to-day aspects of running a business can be delegated or outsourced.’

So while you may not be a lawyer, IT specialist, property agent, credit controller, secretary, trainer, recruitment consultant, PR/marketing expert, or accountant, those experts exist to make the road to a successful business that little bit smoother.

Here are some tips to help you along the road:

  • Before you set out: ensure you have some savings put aside. The amount will depend on the nature of your business and the size of your start-up. You may need money for IT items, office furniture and stationery, lawyers’ fees, training costs, software packages, membership fees and professional subscriptions. But as well as these, ensure you have enough to pay for day-to-day non-business essentials such as food, mortgage, fuel etc, ideally for several months, as it is likely cash flow will be an issue for some time. This will also give you time to build up a client base.
  • Get your marketing in order. Ensure you have a website ready to go before your business goes live, as well as business cards, leaflets, adverts, and anything else you think is relevant. More importantly, ask a marketing expert what they think is relevant. Websites can be simple enough to build these days, but you may want to consider hiring a website builder, who will be able to provide you with advice not only at the outset, but on an ongoing basis.
  • Try not to overdo the hours. It is too easy to become so involved in building and running a business that everything else: family life, social life, sports activities, even sleep, take a back seat. Either try to limit the hours you work per week, or, if you are a sole trader, establish a minimum and achievable amount you want to bring in per week or month, and try to work the hours required to do that.
  • Make time for networking. It’s inevitable that the nuts and bolts of running a business will take much time and attention, but try to get out and network. This ‘indirect’ work may not only bring you your biggest client, but it also gives you chance to get away from the desk and recharge your batteries.
  • Don’t forget the future by concentrating on the present. Rather than take out every penny of profit, reinvest into the business. In addition, as an entrepreneur there will no longer be someone putting money into a pension pot for you; this is now your sole responsibility. Ensure you put money aside, on the advice of a pensions adviser, for the day when you’re ready to take a break from running your own business.

Eugene O’Sullivan is director of Morgan Pryce

Further reading on starting a business

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