A few hard truths about being your own boss

It ain’t all roses

It’s a gorgeous afternoon. I can hear the birds chirping and see the neighborhood kids running around in the too-good-to-be-true weather outside. As for me, I’m just working the hours and minutes away. Yesterday was a 12-hour day and today will likely be the same. But I don’t want you to feel bad for me – I’m so glad I started my own business. This is the hustle and grind I signed up for! But being my own boss was a wake-up call for me, as it might be for you if you take the leap to start your own business.

Don’t get me wrong – starting your own business from the ground up is super-rewarding, but a lot of people will only tell you the good stuff. Heck, you probably follow the Instagram feeds of self-made millionaires and billionaires who make it look easy. It’s not. They work their asses off and then play hard to make it worth it.

If running your own business was easy, everybody would do it, says restaurateur Frank Viaro (right).

Rather than feeding you fluff about the amazingness that comes with being your own boss, I want to give you something real. You need to hear the truth about how challenging this working-for-yourself process can be. I know I appreciated the candor when a Phoenix restaurant owner and customer of mine, Frank Viaro, shared his advice with me:

“Prepare for the worst, because when things go wrong, boy do they go wrong! Every responsibility falls squarely on the owner’s shoulders – lack of training, messed up orders, attention to detail, you name it! You are always on the clock and there is no such thing as a day off, me time or vacations. You have to give all of you to your business, and let your determination to make your dream a success elevate you to be a successful entrepreneur. If it were easy, everybody would do it.”

Those are some hard truths. Here are a few others I’ve learned so far:

You need to be organized.

chalkboard checklistALERT! Staying organized is by far my biggest challenge and why many businesses fail from the start. Besides over-committing and filling my plate to the brim with projects (but who’s complaining, right?), I’m just plain horrible at getting my crap together. In fact, I submitted this post at midnight the day after it was due. Ugh.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

Luckily, things have improved with time. I’m getting better, and that’s all because I started creating lists and setting daily goals and priorities. Of course, every few hours something unexpected comes up or I receive a frantic call from an over-involved client. That’s when I take the time to regroup, revisit my list, and get back on track.

If you struggle with organizational issues, consider reading some personal development books for inspiration. I recommend the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

You need to be a part-time accountant.

money in jar with taxes written on itI’m horrible with numbers, so when I first realized I had to track everything – checks in, expenses out, income transferred, etc. – I knew I would have some hard work ahead of me. The finances can’t be an afterthought when you run a business. After having taxes automatically deducted from my paychecks for so many years, I wasn’t at all prepared for the amount of cash I needed to set aside for taxes. I thought I was rolling in the dough until my accountant suggested that I throw 35 to 40 percent of my earnings in a savings account just to be safe. Total heart attack moment! I guess the silver lining is that he promised there would be leftover cash to use as a “holiday bonus.”

You need to be in it for the long haul.

If you’re the type of person who likes instant gratification, don’t start your own business. It’s probably the most slow-starting (and humbling) thing you’ll ever do. Sure, you have full control over it, but you’re still only one person — how much can you really do in the beginning without killing yourself?

Basically, you just need to push up your sleeves and do the dirty work. You aren’t going to love every aspect of your business. Some parts will be downright boring, but you have to be just as willing to work on the small tasks as you are to work on the significant, fun stuff. I really believe that you’ve got to love what you do because that passion will make it easier to get through the rough patches and stay positive until you start seeing the results you want.

You’re going to want to give up.

Impatient, frustrated and fatigued, there have been a few times when I’ve thought about giving up. But I took a step back when those feelings started to overwhelm me, and I remembered that all-important advice from my mentors: When the going gets tough, you just need to focus on the end game. As Frank told me:

“This process will be the most gratifying thing you do. Don’t throw in the towel when things take a turn for the worst! There’s still a lot to look forward to and appreciate. Getting accolades in your industry, seeing people make money because of your business, and being mentioned in the same breath as some of your industry idols is what makes it all worth it.”

You’ll still hate your boss sometimes.

My boss is really awesome. She lets me wear my pajamas to work, catch some extra Z’s when I had a sleepless night, and listen to my music on full-blast. But she messes up. A lot. Like so much that I’m working overtime just to cover her screw-ups. There are days when I could wring her neck! But at least I know she’s trying. I have faith in her ability to learn and grow from her mistakes. Despite all of her shortcomings, she’s giving this entrepreneur thing all she’s got — and, at the end of the 12-hour day, I love her for that.

Genevieve Tuenge
Genevieve Tuenge is a writer, former small business owner and creative director. She's an avid supporter of local mom-and-pop shops, and has devoted much of her career to helping small businesses understand and access the tools and information they need to thrive online.