Practical Ecommerce

Thinking of starting a business? Think again!

I’ve been running my own small business for over a decade and I often speak with people who are thinking about starting their own business. Listening to their expectations usually results in my shaking my head later and thinking, “They have no idea what they’re getting themselves into!”

Running your own business is no fairy tale. It’s just about the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It can be simultaneously frustrating and rewarding. It can provide the highest highs and immeasurable lows. One day, it can validate your struggles and you can feel on top of the world. The next, it can make you wonder how you could have ever been so wretchedly stupid.

Buckle up. It’s a wild ride.

Your business will probably fail. You’ll probably either give up or run out of money before your business has a chance of succeeding. To avoid the latter requires creativity. The former requires a thick skin, iron will, and endless determination.

Being your own boss is no picnic. As it turns out, your boss is kind of a jerk. He makes you think about the business nearly every waking minute of the day.

Your business plan is probably worthless. Going through the exercise of creating a business plan is a great way to ensure that you’ve thought about aspects of the operation that you may have overlooked during the “back of the napkin” stage, but thinking that anything will actually turn out the way you’ve “planned” is ludicrous. Be flexible.

Equity is everything. If you need money, go to a bank. Only exchange equity for something that you cannot get any other way. Thinking that a partner will make starting a new business easier is wishful thinking. As a new business, your only ally against established businesses is your ability to pivot and move quickly. With partners, every decision requires debate and is an enormous time suck. You must find validation of your ideas from within.

Only fools think anything is foolproof. Everything will go wrong. Just be prepared for when it does.

Making more money is not a good motivation for starting a business. Money doesn’t equal happiness or fulfillment. It’s difficult to be successful doing something you hate. That being said, the purpose of a business is to make moneyas it’s the only thing that separates a business from a charity. Welcome to the paradox!

Business = problems. You’d better love the “good” parts of your business, because you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the crapola (see next point).

You’ll have far less time than you ever imagined. Salesman who start their own business in order to keep 100% of the commission are often surprised to find out that they suddenly have no time to devote to selling. You cannot fathom the amount of time that it takes to run the business.

Find the solution that still works after you assume the worst. For retailers trying to decide how much inventory to purchase, I always say, “You can’t go broke selling out of an item.” Forget about the money you “left on the table”. Be happy you left the table with ANY money at all. My grandfather always told me to “save the crying for a loss.”

Keep your emotions out of business. Emotionally-based decisions tend to turn out poorly. Always think with your brain (and by extension, your gut), but not your heart.

You’re not as smart as you think you are. Check your ego at the door. The best idea should always win. Try to surround yourself with employees who are better (at their area of expertise) than you are. Listen to them and allow them to prove themselves, but always trust yourself and your gut. You’re the only one with skin in the game.

Understand the motivations of others. You must always figure out what motivates your competition, your suppliers, and your employees. Once you understand what’s important to them, you can negotiate successfully.

Being smart doesn’t equal success. The difference in aptitude between the owner of a failed business and a successful one would be hard to discern. Their efforts, however, are a different story. Your will to succeed is far more important than your current knowledge of a business or your so-called intelligence. Many successful business owners knew very little about many aspects of their business when they started. They figured out the details along the way because of their dogged determination to succeed.


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  1. TomC July 31, 2013 Reply

    With all due respect …. this piece comes across much more as a "here are reasons why you shouldn’t start a small business – because I don’t want the competition" than it does a heart-in-the-right-place list of "be careful" warnings.

    Of course there are always going to be winners and non-winners in the business game. That’s how it is, how it always has been and how it always will be. Nevertheless, the reality of the possibility of "non-success" is NOT a reason not to TRY.

    There’s a saying I am very fond of . . . "Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will."

    So instead of putting up a list of "why you shouldn’t" and/or "why you will likely fail," how about including – with each "warning" – some relative realties of how such CAN be dealt with and overcome …. as MILLIONS have successfully done for 100+ years?

  2. Jamie Salvatori July 31, 2013 Reply

    TomC – If this article would ever stop someone from starting a business, then that person probably would have failed anyway. You’re going to face a lot more adversity in the business world than this blog post.

    I believe that I’m trying to be very helpful by exposing people who haven’t run a business for what they can expect.

    I also think I do outline exactly how one can overcome many of the difficulties of running a business. For instance, "Keep your emotions out of business" is a tip that I don’t believe requires much more explanation.

    "Find the solution that still works after you assume the worst" is a fantastic tip that one can apply to most any business situation.

    For instance, if you’re trying to decide whether or not to run an expensive marketing campaign, think about the worst case scenario. Let’s assume all the books tell you that a decent PPC campaign should yield a 2% conversion rate. You determine that your break-even point is 1.5% CR. I would RUN from that campaign. Instead, structure it so that your break-even point is a 0.25% conversion rate.

  3. Richard Stubbings August 3, 2013 Reply

    Nice article. Whilst there are probably hundreds of other tips and comments that could be raised, I think the biggest one you have missed is cashflow. Far too many viable businesses have fallen on this hurdle. It’s often not until you run a business that you realise how frustrating this can be. You have a profitable business, you have money due in NEXT MONTH, but you cannot pay the bills this month and the suppliers refuse to re-stock you.

  4. Jamie Salvatori August 6, 2013 Reply

    Richard – You’re absolutely right! Thank you for mentioning that.

    I constantly see lists of the top 10 or top 21 KPI (key performance indicators) and rarely is "bank account balance" listed as one of them!

  5. Tim Collins August 6, 2013 Reply

    My #1 Caveat?
    No wives. girlfriends, husband or boyfriends allowed in the day-to-day or decision process. By all means you need their support – but never their interference.