Yes, today’s the day Ardea Coaching (in its new form, focused on digital strategy and analysis for small business owners) is a year old. My last day at my old job was July 4th. I took a weekend, and started my new self-employed life on the 7th. Happy birthday, Ardea!
According to stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (1994-2010, and summarized here), that means that roughly 22% of the other businesses that started last July 7th have shuttered. While being in the top 78% most successful business startups isn’t a terribly high bar, it’s certainly one I’d like to be above rather than below.
What have I learned as a (third- or fourth-time) one year old business?
First off, it’s always harder than you think. I mean, my previous job was counseling small business owners. I talked to multiple entrepreneurs every work day for nearly three years. I knew it was tough. I would say that in every group presentation I made for prospective startups. And yet, I still found it harder to actually do than I remembered.
I think this is because there are so many challenges on so many levels. Sure, there are the regular challenges that even those not in business experience, but entrepreneurs take on twice as many of, like “This isn’t what I ordered,” or “Oh, crap. When was this bill due?” Then there are the bigger, more strategic, business-problem solving kinds of challenges that non-entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about, like “Where am I going to find new customers?” or “What’s the best intranet software package for my business?” or “Is it going to be better in the short and/or long run to give pay raises or better benefits to my employees?” (I’m not struggling with that last one yet–still just me.)
But the kicker is the psychological level. As YouTube educator CGP Grey sometimes puts it in the two podcasts he does, you’ve got a “monkey brain” that you’re constantly trying to train…or at least control. Or at least distract long enough that you can get something done. Layer onto that the strain of having this constant battle between “I’m the master of my own life. I can do whatever I want because I own this place!” and the undercurrent of abject panic that if you don’t get the next project done–right now–you might miss a mortgage payment next month. Yes, I can choose to play Minecraft or Myst Online all morning on a weekday because there isn’t any boss to scold or fire me, but that decision carries with it all the internal mental and emotional bargaining between the Id and Superego that rivals trying to get to the gym or sticking to a diet. Plus actually trying to get to the gym and stick to your diet as well.
It’s crazy. And if you don’t think it is, then you are.
But there are cool benefits as well. Not only am I constantly learning, since my industry is one that surfs on the waves of technological innovation, but I’m also frequently learning about myself. I’m reminded over and over again that I can do things as easily as breathing that other people just can’t wrap their heads around. And, more humbling, that there are things other people seem to do effortlessly that I’m safer to not even try because I’m so bad.
But I’ve reached a point in this blog post where the part of my brain that’s prone to worry is getting a little panicked and thinking by writing more about my experiences has reached its effective cost/benefit point and if I keep doing it, I’ll just be wasting time that could be spent finding more clients, or making the slides for next week’s presentation, or… or… or…
It’s enough to drive one crazy. But thank goodness I’m self employed…