After the slow sultry summer months we seem suddenly to have rocketed into April, with its cool autumn weather, already. March was month number 4 of this particular stint of self-employment* and it was a month of mixed fortunes**. My marketing strategy is ambling along nicely and showing distinct signs of working the way I want it to. But some training I had lined up fell through at the last minute.
I find myself relishing the autonomy of being my own boss. I feel so free to do things my way and there are days when the future feels tantalising. But I would be lying if I didn’t also admit to there being days of tension… well… white knuckle terror is perhaps a more apt way to describe it. In March these were the days when I thought that my phone would never ring, that I had been deluding myself when I had done the market research and then the marketing. But the phone calls and emails and meetings did trickle in (thank you! marketing strategy) and work has been booked so nil desperandum.
Such is the rollercoaster of setting up a little business. I attend quite a few small business events, as much for my own professional development as to scope out the competition, expand my networks and keep abreast of trends. But what strikes me is the rhetoric surrounding startups – “it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do!” is what I repeatedly get told. A couple of people have even gone as far as to describe it as years of “hell”. Others have not hesitated to describe the setting up of a small business in terms of undergoing some awful ordeal. The StartupSmart website is currently running a series of (excellent and interesting) articles entitled “StartUps are Scary”.
Which they are. Don’t get me wrong – I am not inferring that starting up a business is anything but complex and challenging and a process that requires a huge amount of endurance and crazy braveness. But, even so, when I am standing in front of someone at a networking thingy and they interrupt me describing what I do to say “It’s VERY difficult you know – it’s the hardest thing you’ll EVER do!” a tiny treacherous voice inside me says “Well… it’s all relative, now, isn’t it?”
Because starting up a small business is not, actually the hardest thing I have ever done. It’s hard, to be sure, but so are a lot of other things. Walking into a workplace knowing you are going to be bullied by colleagues and a manager is hard. Recovering from clinical depression is hard. Living on social security allowance is hard. I found these to be harder than starting up a small business.
Some of the people who have shared their thoughts on the grind of starting up a business have been people who have just exited careers in executive management. They wax lyrical on the dreadfulness of their experiences, squinting into the distance like gunslingers, while I stare at their expensive ties and wonder how much it was they earnt at their last corporation. Maybe I am being unfair, but I am willing to bet that these guys have never had to start up a business while on the dole with absolutely no resources at all. I have. More than once. And that is hard.
Sounding like a smug little martyr am I? Something saves me from turning into a total self-referential prat. As part of what I currently do, I supply training services to some community based learning centres. At one place at which I train a high proportion of people who attend come from a refugee background. These are people who have literally fled war zones and / or made their way to this country in small rickety boats over the open sea. They come to my classes to learn small business or community development techniques with a view to managing their own enterprises. They are committed, positive, enthusiastic learners and I am floored by their vision and courage. I cannot look these people in the eye and say something like “Starting up a small business is the HARDEST thing you will EVER do.” Because that would be nonsense. If a small business fails in Australia it causes huge and devastating problems for its owners. But no one gets beaten up or shot by the Taliban or detained by the secret police as a result.
For me it is a gift to be around these people- it helps to put my own history and any past challenges I have faced into perspective. And now, when I think of the ‘hardness’ of setting up a small business I see it in terms of being on a spectrum of ‘life events’ and my experiences are nowhere near the scary end of this spectrum. To cope with my moments of fear during this past month I just told myself that if I was scared of not getting enough work then I had just better do some more bloody marketing. And I enjoy the marketing – it feels equally sensible and creative to do. It’s grounding and fun and after a while I forget to feel scared.
My challenge will be to hold onto a sense of perspective.
**To be honest, from my experience, every month of the first couple of years is a month of mixed fortunes.