Anymore, starting a small business is nearly synonymous with the American Dream. From the perks of never having to answer to a boss to spending each day’s efforts to bring your own passion to life, being a successful small-business owner is — to many people — the pinnacle of achievement. That being said, it’s also a risky proposition that, when undertaken with scant wisdom and foresight, can make your life miserable. If you’re looking into starting a small business, give yourself the gift of hindsight: Here are six things your future self wants you to know ahead of time.
1. Assume You’ll Need Backup
Regardless of the funding you’ve secured to keep yourself and your business afloat during the early months and years of spending more money than you’re making, it’s wise to secure backup. Whether you get a credit card for your small business, take out a line of emergency credit with your bank, or continually court venture capitalists, do something that ensures you have access to extra money when you need it.
2. Keep Accurate Records From Day One
Because you don’t know what the future holds for you or your company, keeping accurate and detailed accounting records regarding is essential. While the work of getting a new business up and off the ground can make recordkeeping feel like a secondary or tertiary concern, as your company grows, takes on partners, heads into a new tax status territory, or is acquired by a larger business, accurate recordkeeping will make those changes much easier. Especially since in some cases, those accurate and detailed records are what will allow you to grow at all.
3. Perfect Shouldn’t Be a Goal
Operating a small business is hard work, and if you get mired in meaningless details, you and your chances of success will falter. Because of this reality, get rid of any preconceived notions regarding perfection. Plenty will slip through the cracks, and sometimes, your best efforts will fall massively short. It’s ok. The goal of small-business ownership isn’t perfection. Some days just keeping your head above water is the goal. Other days, the goal will be recognizing shortcomings in order to shore them up for fixing later. If you set your standards too high too soon, you’ll never last long enough to actually reach them.
4. The Hard Work Never Ends
Many entrepreneurs and small-business owners assume that at some point they’re going to be able to sit back, relax, and marvel as their little ship pilots itself. Sadly, the opposite is often true. Your little ship — if all goes well — is likely to get bigger and more complex, which will actually require an increasing amount of savvy on the part of the one piloting it. If you’re going into business for yourself because you want to work less, you should consider a different path. The hard work is unlikely to end. It will just change forms as you succeed, grow, and transition. The most you can hope for is that you’ll get to take breaks from the work now and again.
5. You’re Going to Need Help
Whether it’s being willing to take on a partner down the road, acknowledging that as soon as you’re in the black it’s going to mean you need to hire more employees, or realizing that you really shouldn’t keep doing your taxes yourself, you need to come to terms with the fact that you can’t go it alone. Small-business owners and entrepreneurs tend to be confident, productive people, and it can be hard for people like that to recognize when they need help. Avoid the pitfalls of an overly DIY approach by courting help from the get-go. It will make you more productive in the long run.
6. Balance Is a Practice
Balancing your work and your life isn’t something you can do in five years when the business is on solid ground. As Annie Dillard wisely wrote, “How we live our days is how we live our lives.” Balance, therefore, must be an integrated and daily practice of yours, or it will remain elusive throughout your life. Set boundaries you won’t deviate except in true emergencies, and define what those emergencies are. A new business can eat up relationships and personal health. While hard work is essential to your success, if you want a life that isn’t just the life you have at work, you’re going to have to practice it daily.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. While the ins and outs of what you’ll wish you’d known before you tackle small-business ownership are impossible to tell, ascribing to these six tips will assist you mightily on your road to success.