I often get invited to speak publicly about the roller coaster journey surrounding Little Soap Company, and like the Kitchen Table Talent talk for The Country Living 2014 Spring Show, the audience consists of those with a keen interest to start or build their own businesses. Afterwards comments always include “you’re soooo lucky,” or “I’d love to work at home all day”, and “if only I could get out of the rat race.” Things that actually couldn’t be further from the truth and often make me wonder if I am doing a disservice by unintentionally painting a rosier picture than at times it is?!
For one, luck has NOTHING to do with it. Working from home is as much a blessing as it can be a curse, oh and as for the rat race, while different, I would say it’s actually faster…
Tricky for someone whose glass is perpetually half full, but perhaps it’s time I pointed out a few of the hard truths – limiting them to my personal big three:-
1. It’s incredibly lonely – the hardest thing I have had to grapple, made worse living in the middle of nowhere. When everything is invested – time, money, passion and creativity – your business can border on obsession. You can become terribly insular and this affects those closest to you. On top, if you work from home you rarely, if ever, leave the office – at least from a mental standpoint. At times frustration’s added as you feel as though only you truly get the bigger picture. Some will only take you seriously once you gain significant traction which to them is most likely money based (outlets/customers, press, awards, funding etc.) and denote success in the entrepreneurial world – however, by the time you are at that stage the support is most probably there and the loneliness factor less so. Chicken and egg..
2. It’s relentless – You are everything to everyone. You need to be resilient and determined, have huge amounts of belief, passion and time – every day, every hour you seldom switch off. These ‘virtues’ all absorb your energy. Most jobs, you can leave the work behind when you go home to enjoy your family, friends or hobbies. The workload can be intense, especially during the early stages when there is no one to lean on – you’re without the support of a major business or brand behind you which means you have to work 10 times harder and 10 times longer to barely make ends meet. You are the sole CEO, CFO, HR, sales team, marketing guru, IT dept, office manager, and cleaner. With all these roles, there’s rarely a moment that you feel your work is “done” for the day. There’s always something more you could be doing, like researching new markets, writing press releases, blogs, contacting new media, cold calling new sales outlets, developing new products, retaining current accounts and the list goes on. The work/life balance is an incredibly difficult balance to strike when you often work over 15 hours a day, without mentioning that weekends don’t feel like weekends as the work is never ending.
3. It’s stressful. If you think meeting a boss’s deadlines or demands are tough, try meeting your own, especially if you are a perfectionist and when your personal savings are on the line, with deadlines, cash flow nightmares, targets and projections to meet. Then on top of the usual day to day to do list perhaps you receive a shipment of damaged bottles that you needed to get filled that week to meet a delivery. 40,000 boxes have accidentally been printed on in black ink, not the usual brown vegetable dye. Or the computer gets a virus, you get told you have to change your brand name, the TV filming you’ve spent days preparing for is suddenly cancelled due to script changing last minute or a major supermarket has a glitch and charges you double on all your retro sales owing you thousands which all impacts on your cash-flow for a new product in development. As an entrepreneur, these types of situations happen on a regular basis. The truth is that you never know what’s around the corner and it can be extremely frustrating when you’ve planned to spend a day on product development, or growth only to find out that you have to spend it on the phone sorting something unexpected out.
So, with all this isolation, responsibility, stress, pressure and workload, why, then, would anyone subject themselves to it…?
You see it can’t be all doom and gloom as I’m yet to jack it all in and take the shelf stacking job I often lament after amid the darker days… I wouldn’t trade my current situation for any other option, and I’m eternally thankful to be able to do what I truly love and feel I am trying to make a tiny bit of difference on the supermarket shelves…
The answer is simple: the positives outweigh the negatives:-
1. Creatively you can call the shots. I struggled in my past life being stifled by stuffy board directors, being told I was thinking too much outside the box, being constantly reined back in. Many entrepreneurs are driven by the need to build something great, help other people, or creating a legacy of something that will be around long after you’re gone.
2. It’s flexible. I’ve never been able to work in a conventional 9-to-5 environment. Working for yourself may mean more hours, but you can do so on your own terms. You can start work at 5am if you wake early and stop when you need some fresh air to walk the dogs or go for a run. You can work of an evening and do lunch with a friend the next day. You can work from home or an office or on holiday and nobody knows (or cares). When you’re the boss, you call the shots, and the new freedom is exhilarating.
3. It’s rewarding. On top, of the freedom aspect (creatively/time wise and being your own boss) there is something to be said too for the sense of security that comes along with being in full control of your work. When you’re successful, you reap the emotional rewards – financial too and it depends what drives you as to which you get the kick from the most. There’s no better feeling than seeing a product you’ve worked hard to develop on the shelves, the pain of new line forms, chasing non existent buyers, the admin hell of connecting EDI systems for ordering, the timelines, the packaging issues are all forgotten; then comes the feedback – when customers, strangers up and down the country write to say your product has made a difference in their lives. And of course, turning a profit and knowing your business is financially stable are extremely rewarding when you know you created it. From scratch. Often winging it, and at times scraping very close to rock bottom but keeping your eye on the bigger picture.
As far as I am aware, this rounded sense of fulfillment is difficult to duplicate in most other career paths…
So more work, less pay (and play!) and an unrivaled amount of instability with almost every odd against you in your quest for success. But, as scary as this sounds, creating Little Soap Company has been the best thing I have ever done, just one thing I should underline more when I speak though is perhaps this: creating your own business will be the best, but also the hardest thing you will ever do….