I’ve been doing this whole entrepreneur thing for a bit, and while I’m probably approaching it differently to you (everyone has their own journey after all), there’s a few things I’ve learned that I feel might be universally true.
You will want to quit every other week
When you’re building something from scratch there’s a million things to figure out, and you don’t even know about many of them until you figure out the previous ones. It’s a bit like a game where you tackle bigger and bigger challenges and then you face the big boss when you’re ready.
Except that in real life you have to face big challenges before you feel ready. And sometimes there’s more than one at a time, and worse still: when you overcome them the next batch shows up.
It can feel very overwhelming and scary at times and as if you’re never going to overcome this. This is when you have to lean on other people for help, or step back for a bit and see if it’s really that bad.
This is also when you have to remember your why (check out some of my other articles about this) which will get you out of your pit of despair - eventually. And in the meantime it is just going to suck a bit.
It might also help to remember the next paragraph.
Your progress is not linear
It would be amazing if we could set out to do something, work on it consistently every day, moving closer to our goal step by step until we reach it. Perhaps there are people that can do this, I don’t know.
My reality is that I often feel like I’m running in circles for a while, feeling stuck on things for days or weeks, and like nothing I’m doing brings me closer to where I want to be. And then suddenly one day I accomplish more than I did in the previous month.
On the surface it might sound like it’s enough to only work one day a month then, but that time you spent thinking you are stuck, you were actually processing the problem and figuring out how to best approach it.
You feel like you're stuck for days or weeks only to one day suddenly make a giant leap when the idea brewed in your head long enough to move forward with it.
It is frustrating to go through this at first but once it happens enough times you start to see a pattern and can then relax and observe yourself in the creative process, without bashing yourself for not being productive and making progress.
This bring us to the next point:
You have to lean on others
As I already mentioned, there is a lot to learn and realistically you won’t have time for it all. It’s simply not feasible to be a one person band for longer than a few months (I wrote about it in the context of work already).
You very rarely get rewarded for the effort that you put in - it’s the results that matter most, so work primarily smart not hard. There’s always going to be more to do than you can handle so don’t be afraid to ask for help with things on your plate.
This applies to getting someone to help you with things outside of work (such as a friend helping with childcare or your partner doing most of the chores), but also - and that’s the most important part - with work projects.
These are famously difficult to outsource to someone else than to do them yourself, especially in the beginning, because we all have this idea that we can do it better. And this might well be true, but only if we have time to do it. It’s much more practical to get someone to help you out and deliver something which is 80% of what you’d do, than to stress yourself out because you still have to do that thing.
The same thing applies to things that you could have custom made rather than using an existing solution - in most cases, using a ready template is good enough for what you need, especially in the beginning when you’re still not even sure what you want.
A great example of this is building your website using one of the platforms that make it easy rather than trying to learn how to code it up and handle user signups and all the other features. This is where I made the right choice, which meant that I’m able to add more pages and complicated data myself without knowing much about web development at all.
You will be wrong a lot - get used to it
Nobody is right 100% of the time (despite what some people would want you to believe), and when you're doing new things your chances of getting things wrong drastically increase.
For someone with perfectionist tendencies like myself, it was a hard pill to swallow. I got much better when I internalised the fact that very few decisions are irreversible, and any decision is better than no decision.
Now whenever I'm faced with a new bit of work that I have to figure out, I just choose an option that vaguely seems to make sense and I will refine it later if needed.
Turns out that it usually is needed. When you decide on a direction and go with it, a few weeks down the line you get used to this new reality, learn to notice its shortcomings and can see what could be improved.
This is exactly what we’re after: very often you can’t make the best choice because you don’t have enough data to decide. So just go with anything to test your approach, gather data and adjust as needed.
Your quality bar is “this will do”
My latest challenge was ordering enamel pins for a game conference that Squarelets will be showcased at. I have no idea about enamel pins and what would look good and what wouldn't.
I did some research, the company I ordered them from was also very helpful with design guidance, but ultimately I won't know if the pins will look good until I hold them in my hand - at that point it will be too late to change them and they will have to do. I also don't know if people will like them. But there's just one way to find out.
I did my due diligence by printing the designs I wanted to turn into pins in a few sizes and playing around with the cutouts. That helped with avoiding some poor choices but it's still just a mock.
And don't even get me started on designing the backing cards for them. That's an entire challenge of its own, with what information to include, how big they should be etc. Let's also keep in mind that I'd love the designs to have some visual coherency.
The pins are only one part of what I want to prepare for the conference, and with no prior experience in showcasing what I make, especially on such a big scale, it’s inevitable that things will take more time and will probably go wrong here and there.
I have no choice but accept this, make choices and move on to the next thing - and then learn from the outcome of my choices.
All in all, being an entrepreneur is about navigating ambiguity and uncertainty without letting it get the best of you. Most of the time you don’t know what you’re doing and you’ll just have to accept it.
Social media will tell you that it’s all glamorous and easy but don’t fall for that - it’s a trap!