by Panos Panay
Starting a business is like joining the priesthood: It’s not something you do from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and leave behind when Friday evening rolls around. Being an entrepreneur is a full-time occupation.
Make that preoccupation. You eat, sleep and breathe your obsession.
And if you’re one of the lucky few whose business actually takes off and you’re at it for more than just a year or two, preparing yourself for the long game can make all the difference in the world. Your well-being, success, relationships, productivity and employees’ enjoyment and enthusiasm all depend on your ability to stay focused, refreshed and energized. This is even more important during the crucial early days of a startup.
While most business literature and courses focus on preparing entrepreneurs for all the “external” challenges they’ll face — go-to market strategy, product rollouts, team recruiting, fund raising, etc. — there’s very little attention paid to all of the internal struggles one faces when launching a business. But, much like a sport, what separates champions from the rest is the ability to focus on and master this “inner” game.
Starting a business just because you want to make loads of money will most likely lead to you quitting before you really get started. Chances are in the beginning you’ll make a lot less than what you did at the job you left behind. Nothing can be more challenging to your self-esteem than working harder than anyone you know while living as if you’re back in your college dorm. Unless you’re passionate about what you do, don’t even bother getting to the starting line. Passion is what will fuel you through the inevitable lean and tough times.
1. Take in bios
No matter what you think, you’re not the first one to embark on this journey. Many, many others have done it before you. Reading up on other successful entrepreneurs will not only give you ideas and inspiration, but will also help you understand that most of the challenges you’re facing are not unique. It’s nice to know you have company.
2. Nurture a hobby
Developing an outside interest that helps shift your mind away from work is not only a great way to refresh your creative juices, it can also help introduce you to future business partners. For me, those outlets have been daily exercise and following soccer. I cannot tell you how many business meetings I have where much of the time is spent talking with a prospective customer about soccer — it’s a great icebreaker. Having interests outside of what you do makes you much more social, well-rounded and interesting. People want to do business with people they like and enjoy. Cue growth.
3. Seek advice, not advisers
Everyone needs some outsider’s perspective when things get tough. Don’t obsess over having a prestigious board of advisers to add to your business plan. More often than not, all you’ll only their names. Instead, build an informal network of trusted insiders who care about you and whom you can confide your inner doubts and fears. And don’t fret over “credentials” — some of the best advice comes from parents, siblings, spouses and friends who know little about your business but somehow know how to cut right to the heart of the matter.
4. Enjoy the game
In the process of launching and building a business, you’ll inevitably have to learn and do things that are outside your comfort zone — putting together financial models, pitching to investors, attending networking events, courting new recruits, etc. Treat what you do as a game, because it is. Learn the rules; step back and observe the movements; analyze and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Unless you learn to enjoy every aspect of the process — even those things that keep you up at night — you’ll run out of steam all too soon.
Remember: Good things come to those who persist.
Panos Panay is a passionate entrepreneur and active startup mentor in the creative media space. As the founder of Sonicbids, he created the leading platform for bands to book gigs and market themselves online. He writes weekly about startups and entrepreneurship for blogs and publications such as Huffington Post, WSJ Accelerators and Fast Company; and guest lectures at universities including MIT Engineering, Boston University and Brown University.