If you ask any business owner why they decided to go out on their own, often the answer they give is freedom. Freedom to make their schedule, freedom to choose the type of work they want to do, and freedom to run their business the way they like it. However, while a select few find that freedom right away, most business owners find out that the freedom they were looking for is rather fleeting. Instead of answering to just one boss, new business owners now have dozens of bosses vying for their time and attention, each with their idiosyncrasies and needs. Some don’t fully understand all the bookkeeping and taxes that need to be paid and filed when they start, leading to sloppy record-keeping and trouble from the IRS. Many don’t adequately calculate the overhead involved in running a business, which means fewer profits than they anticipated being able to live off. And lower yields mean finding themselves booked 6-7 days a week just to make ends meet. If you are not careful, you could easily find yourself in one or all these situations, bringing stress, anxiety, and burnout.
What can you do to make sure that YOU are the one who runs your company and not the other way around?
1) Anticipate the ups and downs of business. Usually, the business owners who struggle with the ebbs and flows of running a business are people who jumped into the pool’s deep end without first taking a swim class. It’s true; there’s something to be said about putting yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to succeed. However, that “burning the boats” mentality can wear on you, and it can force you to implement habits and coping mechanisms that may take years to overcome. It also feeds into a cycle of panic and bad business decisions that can quickly put your company in a financial hole. Instead, consider easing your business into being your primary source of income. Assume there WILL be lows that you will need to prepare for. Some have a spouse with a job they can rely on while the business goes through its first growth periods. Others take on a part-time job that will pay for the necessities, while the window cleaning business gets off the ground, allowing it becomes steadier and more reliable before it becomes their primary source of income. Whatever you decide to do, it will not be easy. But anticipating the uncertainty will keep you from making rash or emotional decisions and avoid becoming rattled when the lows do come. That puts you in the best place for success as your reputation grows and you start to see the first signs that your business will endure.
2) Educate yourself. There is no way for you to know everything you need to know as a new business owner. How much should your business be making in its first year? When should you hire your first employee? How much of your budget should go to advertising? Yes, you can “wing it” and hope you find the answers through an inefficient and expensive trial and error program. Or you can educate yourself! Many Facebook groups and organizations offer business coaching to help you learn how to get organized in the office and nail down your branding. National conventions for window cleaners offer short business courses on how to run an efficient company and expose you to software and/or services that can bump your company up to the next level. But really, the best way to get tailored business education is to find a mentor who can help you with advice and be there for you as you mature as a business owner. Mentors offer advice from the point of view of someone who has been in your situation and overcome the same challenges you face. Ultimately, you will have to decide what is best for your situation. However, a mentor can give you priceless wisdom in an age of cheap gimmicks. Whatever methods you take advantage of, make an effort to learn from the experience of others. It will alleviate much of the pressure you face as a business owner.
3) Stop running the business as if you were the employee. I remember when I first started and how I felt obligated to say yes to everything. Change out this light bulb on a high ceiling? Sure thing. Swap out batteries on that smoke alarm? You got it. Work on a Sunday morning because they have an event at their home that evening and forgot to call you last week? Consider it done. Those things make for happy customers, but continually bending over backwards for clients has unintended consequences. For instance, one time, when I put new batteries in a smoke alarm for a customer as a favor, I got a call from the customer Saturday morning informing me that the smoke alarm was beeping incessantly, and I had probably put the battery in incorrectly. So, guess who had to take a 40-minute Saturday morning drive to figure out how to get a strange smoke alarm to stop beeping? Yeah, this guy. The point is that you are the boss. Turning down work is okay because you don’t want to work on the weekends. It’s ok to tell clients you won’t do work out of your area of expertise. It’s ok to raise prices on a customer when you realize that you aren’t making enough on the job for it to be worth your time. By taking control of what you will or won’t do, you are reclaiming your right as a business owner to manage the risk and sacrifice you are willing to take.
Regaining control over your company in both what you do and how you run it has priceless benefits. It allows you to put important things first, such as reserving time to spend with your family, tending to your physical and mental health, and reserving energy for the hobbies or passions that you wish to pursue. You don’t have to let your business run you and your health into the ground. Remember that the reason you started your business in the first place, that beautiful, precious freedom, is still there for the taking. Just be shrewd, do the work, and be the boss.