I’m a big believer in entrepreneurship. It’s an abiding passion of mine to encourage other women to take the plunge and start their own businesses; the benefits are myriad, giving you more control over your financial future and more social capital than almost anything else in modern America. Empowering women is my number-one mission, and women’s entrepreneurship is the best route to self-empowerment and social change that I know of, giving women the ability to excel on their own terms instead of being trapped in the limbo of a toxic and prohibitive work environment.
But starting a business isn’t easy, and requires buckets of hard work and preparation. There’s no easy path, no get-rich-quick scheme that will make your business thrive other than you. And while lots of people are going to give you practical advice for starting a business – how you want to incorporate, building your business plan, finding your niche – I want to say something to all the women out there that’s a little different: what do you, as a person, need to have in order to start a thriving business?
A Responsible Fear
It may sound counterintuitive; getting your confidence up is always a big part of any package of advice for people starting businesses. There’s lessons on how to “fake it till you make it,” because confidence in you inspires confidence on the part of investors and clients. However, the fear of failure is an important motivator; as is the fear of irrelevance, or of simply not fulfilling your dreams. These are healthy fears that encourage both responsibility and risk-taking, keeping you perpetually on your toes instead of getting complacent or resting on your laurels. The right kind (and amount) of fear can motivate you to locate new opportunities, seek out new strategies and dig deep for that extra bit of energy needed to continually strive for more and raise the bar.
The vital importance of a vision that aligns with reality can’t be overstated; while overnight, runaway sensations do happen – your Ubers, your Twitters – in most cases, a successful business takes time to grow, and will occupy most of your time (what you don’t see in overnight success stories is the years of hard work it actually took to get there). You probably won’t hit a million dollars in revenue in your first year. You probably will spend some nights sleeping on your office floor. Your team probably won’t gel as well as you expect it to, and you’ll have unexpected competition. There are a million different wrinkles you could encounter, and having a realistic idea of what your first five years are going to be like can and will both help you be more productive and avoid burnout. Burnout can ruin you, but having a realistic set of expectations can help you avoid it by showing you that you’re on the right path to meeting your goals.
Short and Long-term Goals
Speaking of goals, realistic performance expectations are one thing, but let’s not forget that you didn’t start this business because you had realistic expectations; you started it because you wanted it to become wildly successful. Far too often, entrepreneurs fail to connect the dots between their dreams and their business model, letting their long-term ambitions drive their decisions without any sense of a middle ground. It’s the error of mistaking your reach for your grasp, and overextending yourself. When I started TransPerfect, and still to this day, I set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly (and beyond) goals for myself, providing concrete, achievable steps all in service of a grander, meaningful dream. Start with small, iterative steps that you can reasonably expect to be able to achieve within a short time-span and are component with the larger goals you have for your company (what we might as well call “wishes” if there’s no clear plan to get there). Look into adopting the SMART Goals framework as your own; it forces you to think through your plans in concrete ways and will quickly expose wishful thinking for what it is.
A Support Network
Starting a business might feel like the hard part, but that’s because you haven’t experienced the day-to-day slog of it yet. Running your own company means nonstop stress: managing your finances, managing your employees, keeping your clients happy, ensuring quality of work, healthily maintaining and growing the company’s value, intelligently investing in the company’s future, worrying where your next client is going to come from – it can be a lot, and it’s not something you can simply leave at the office. For this exact reason, depression is the great unspoken affliction of entrepreneurs.
You can help avoid or manage stress overload by making sure you have a network of friends, loved ones, and (importantly) colleagues you can connect with and lean on when things get difficult. We all know that confidence is the name of the game when you’re running the show, which means it can feel impossible to let your guard down and show vulnerability; this is especially true for women, who may feel the need to overcompensate in response to sexist assumptions. But the thing is that vulnerability is not the same thing as weakness, and having people with whom you can take off your armor and from whom you can both seek and receive comfort is a vital part of keeping your head above the water rather than sinking below it. This will be especially true in those first five years, which will constantly challenge and ask more of you.
By making sure these five areas are filled, you’re filling your toolbox with the right equipment to help your business succeed. Keep your eyes forward, but never lose sight of what’s right at your feet. Going into a new venture mentally prepared and thoroughly thought through with a healthy understanding of what it will take is probably the biggest key toward reaching your goals; after that, it’s all follow-through.