The Secret Entrepreneur: Don’t idealise starting a business!

Media hype will sucker many into starting a business, but don't be fooled - making profit consumes you and 'freedom' has its downsides

One of the biggest shifts in the last 10 years has been the acceptance of ‘entrepreneur’ as a recognised, even aspirational position. When I first started out, running my own business was definitely not a mainstream choice.

These days, there’s a huge amount of support available for those starting out, and a lot of media encouragement for people to do so. I think this is fantastic. Without a doubt a very good thing.

What really bugs me though is that the mainstream press have got on board too – and not unsurprisingly – give totally the wrong impression of entrepreneurship. Every ‘overnight success’ they talk about has probably taken a decade or more. A lot of them couldn’t even be really classed as business success at all – if your definition involves making a cash profit, which mine certainly does.

Let’s get this straight. Running your own business is incredibly hard work. It’s stressful, demanding and it will absolutely take over your life, for at least a few years, if you want to build an enterprise that will make money, create employment and that you could eventually sell on (you may not want to sell, but being able to do so is what separates a real business from a job where you just happen to be the boss).

You may not get it right the first time around. Or the second. You’ll almost certainly lose a lot of money before you make some. You won’t care though as you’re committed to your idea and are convinced you can make it work. There’s a steep learning curve just to get on top of the red-tape you have to deal with – and deal with it you must, or it will haunt you later.

If you can’t read a balance sheet or a profit and loss statement you should learn how, find someone you trust who can, or give up immediately and work for someone else until you’ve figured it out. Running a business where you aren’t making a profit and have no idea of when you will or how you’ll (probably) get there isn’t fun. It’s not even really a business, you’re just giving cash away.

Once you get established, the hard work doesn’t end – you realise it’s only just beginning. Now you’ve got staff and premises and stock and monthly overheads bigger than your annual turnover a few years ago. People’s livelihoods depend on you making the right decisions – and your ego is on the line. The rewards go up but so do the stakes.

If this sounds like a nightmare to you, think very carefully about whether you really want to run your own business, or whether you’d rather just find a job somewhere interesting.

If this sounds like your idea of a great time – congratulations, you’re probably an entrepreneur.


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