A core component of the future is disruption. Industries, companies and careers are all vulnerable to disruption as technology advances more rapidly. One way to be more future-ready and protect a career from future of work disruptions is to start your own business.
As a result of a personal career disruption in 2020, I started a project that began as a nonprofit and now it is a consulting business. I was not alone: In 2020, 34 million people worked as independent contractors. In 2021, 51 million did, a record-breaking, 34-percent increase.
Fortunately for me, during the early stages, Amy Kardel, senior VP of workforce partnerships at CompTIA’s Creating IT Futures, generously agreed to meet up and listen to my ideas. But before we started, she said, “Wait! Have you ever started a business before? You do know it’s like having a baby, right?”
I smiled, nodded, and internally rolled my eyes. Cmon, exaggerate much?
However, Kardel, a serial entrepreneur, and mother of four was 100 percent correct. Here are five things I learned as Kardel’s metaphor continually came back to haunt me. They are lessons anyone launching a new self-employed career can learn from:
1. Seek real talk
Like pregnancy, starting a business generates excitement. The cheerleading is real! Friends truly are enthused…but it is nothing like it is in the movies. There is no founder’s owner manual, only a firehouse of free advice. It is confusing and lonely. Founders need to find the way to do the work. Like the mom friendships formed in children’s tender years, the community built around a founder is a godsend. My pitch deck has 57 versions, thanks to dozens of people picking it apart. Prepare to feel humbled as blind spots are exposed but . rely on your existing network to be real talk advisors. And seek expert help from our region’s many resources, like Startup Roundtable at Venture Cafe, the now-global Indy Hall, and the Bucks County-based Founders 30.
2. Plan self-care now
Founders set the vision, run operations, manage marketing and sales, ensure it is all legal, and try to be profitable. There is intentionally less sleep because you need more hours. There is accidentally less sleep because epiphanies and doubts wake you up. Eating and showering are sometimes forgotten. New moms can relate. Some days, meetings will begin with the other person asking, “Are you okay?” Founders get dark circles under their eyes and look disheveled. With any luck, a spouse or partner is aligned. If not? Add a major degree of difficulty, just like parenting.
With some luck and a lot of work, “raising the baby” is an intense struggle and the ride of a lifetime. Real success means the business will no longer need the founder. It might even become essential for the founder to let go of control to truly “love the baby.”
It is essential to take control of your days and hours. Ensure self-care is built in. Otherwise, it is easy to work around the clock. Personally, balance meant structuring my day with an early start, sometimes as early as 4 am because my brain is best upon waking. With better food choices and reduced alcohol consumption came more energy. I intensified the yoga practice and dedicated time each week to spirituality. Giving hours to self-care gave me more clarity and focus for building my business.
3. Get—and keep—the financial house in order
Like children, new businesses are expensive. Some mix of financial support is essential: healthy savings, good credit for borrowing, a partner with stable income, and maybe even wealthy family and friends. Women and founders of color are more likely to lack generational wealth and many founders of all types start their business while still employed. According to MBO Partners, this is especially true for Millennials and women. Steady income is a huge help in the early years of “loving the baby”. However, doing both a full-time job and a side hustle requires a habit of strong time management and the willingness to cut other things out of your schedule.
4. Trust the process(ing)
From 2016-2020, I worked for the City of Philadelphia. Truly, innovators and early adopters are more likely to struggle inside of legacy institutions. Culturally, most institutions are later on the adoption curve and the molasses pace of change frustrates people with an entrepreneurial mindset. Even when I absolutely knew the move from public servant to entrepreneur was the right one, transforming a self-identity was still hard.
Furthermore, trial and error takes courage: fail, learn, adjust and grow. Philly founder of Indy Hall, Alex Hillman, calls this the Fear of Beginning Again. HIllman writes extensively about the entrepreneur experience and teaches courses for small business owners. He will be on hand this Thursday at Headhouse Books discussing his book, The Tiny MBA.
In, Hillman’s 9 Rapid-Fire Lessons about the Fear of Success he nails other feelings. Lesson #1 is a sneaky one: If the path to success becomes more clear, a founder is now “on the hook” with more internal pressure to keep navigating the exhausting uncertainty. If a founder quits after they are confident it will work, they may never forgive themselves. Imagine a child has extraordinary and unique talents. Would a parent say, “Nah, not gonna be the next Serena. Travel tournaments all weekend? Ugh, forget it.”?
5. Envision the endgame
If all goes well, the child becomes more independent. And that baby business will hopefully grow to a 5, 25 or 125-employee operation, requiring cash flow and maybe acting like a teenager. Employees may think the founder is too old and out of touch. They may advise a re-branding because, um, those clothes. They may list phrases to never say in public. There might be resentments and reactionary directives: Could everyone just please get back to work?
While my business is not in this stage yet, parenting young adults and facing an empty nest seems like founder syndrome. With some luck and a lot of work, “raising the baby” is an intense struggle and the ride of a lifetime. Real success means the business will no longer need the founder. It might even become essential for the founder to let go of control to truly “love the baby.”
To learn more and meet other like minds, join Future Works Alliance Thursday evening, February 17th at Head House Books. Two local authors Alex Hillman and Orly Zeewy, both specialize in supporting entrepreneurs. They will each chat about, sell and sign their respective books. Space is limited. Read more and RSVP here.
Anne Gemmell is the founder of Future Works Alliance, a mission-driven consulting business that provides forward-thinking leaders with solutions to effectively address the challenges and seize opportunities in the future of work.
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Header photo by Daria Nepriakhina / Unsplash