My Mom likes to cut articles out of the newspaper and send them to me. I don’t think that’s uncommon for her generation, nor is my situation very uncommon amongst my generation, I learned, from the lede of this New York Times article, titled “Entrepreneurs, Scaling Mt. Paperwork”:
Tepid economic growth has left many people out of work or underemployed. While some wait for a better job, or any job at all, to come along, others will try to create their own jobs from scratch by starting a business.
Now, I always figured I’d end up working for myself, but I didn’t necessarily think it would happen this fast, but hey, trying to start a business doing what I want to do is not only a huge privilege, it’s cheaper than grad school and I reckon I’ll learn a lot more.
The article mentioned above goes on to warn budding entrepreneurs of the perils of not getting your books set up correctly, and the need to find the right accountant. Which seems obvious to me, though I’m learning even the obvious things aren’t simple and even the simple things are time consuming.
So, fellow young person, before you somehow manage to acquire a loan and pour yourself into your life’s passion, here are a few simple things to keep in mind.
Time management is the most important skill. This, by far, has been the most difficult part about getting my venture off the ground. Figuring out what needs to be done now when there are seven things that seem equally urgent isn’t always intuitive. I’m finding that routines help, and while there is more work than hours in the day, being in the office from 9 until 5 is a good start. When things take longer than you think, especially tedious tasks, don’t panic and don’t half-ass it either. Get an intern! That’s what I’d like to do. Seriously though, time is money. Prioritize, organize and then hire someone to do the menial stuff.
Get as much advice as possible. This applies to writing your business plan, but as anyone who has tried to turn a little bit of money into a lot of money will tell you, every step of the way leads to more and more unforeseen questions. The good news is that someone has likely done what you’re trying to do, and most people are willing to help. I also think it might be a something of a fallacy of our generation to think we can Google something specialized or learn how to do something from a YouTube video. You’re better off leaving most of that stuff to the pros – and you don’t normally have to pay for it. We’ve been getting free accounting advice through our local Chamber of Commerce. It’s been incredibly helpful, because even with software that tries to hold your hand, accounting is hopelessly complicated. Add in the tax repercussions of selling online and getting help is crucial. Furthermore, bouncing ideas off other people is a lot more productive than making every decision unilaterally.
Be realistic. You need to make money. You need to have a plan, with numbers, showing how you’re going to do so. Benchmarks need to be set. If, at a certain point, the money doesn’t make sense, you have to know when to move on. If, after a reasonable amount of time you can’t afford to pay yourself minimum wage—you’ve got to suck it up and shut it down.
These are extremely general, I know, but you have to get the big picture stuff down before you can really hammer out the details. Starting a business isn’t like finding a job—you have to create your own lane, not fill a listing. It ain’t easy, but nothing worth it ever is. If you put in your due diligence and things still break bad, at least you’ve failed on your own terms (I tell myself) and after all, you can always blame the economy.