When I was at high school, my parents ran their own business – a small chain of gift stores. They worked seven days a week, dividing their time between four outlets that never seemed to quite break even. When they finally resigned themselves to the inevitable and sold the family home to pay off the debts, I vowed I’d never be self-employed.
Because of their experience, I became frightened of risk. I focused on being self-sufficient, always employed with a regular income.
Then, I unexpectedly lost my job aged 30. I was pregnant at the time.
That’s when I realised even the comforts of a salaried job has its own risks – especially if you get too comfortable.
With the loss of my job, I also lost my confidence as I vanished into a sleep-deprived bubble of nappies and breast-feeding. As any parent knows, having a child means embarking on a journey of lifelong worry. We create, (as much as we can), a world around that child that minimises physical and financial risk.
Fear, worry and lack of confidence – not great ingredients for a business venture. But the mortgage still needed to be paid.
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Just over a decade later, I have my own thriving business – despite my childhood vow. It’s sometimes scary because I also have employees now and I know I am responsible for their financial security too. Every decision I make carries a risk – for me and for them – and I’ll be first to admit I’ve made a few mistakes along the way.
So here are a five things I’ve learned:
1 . Trust your instincts – but don’t rush into decisions
I’ve talked myself into some dodgy ideas because they solved a short-term problem. The reality is, they ended up causing me long-term headaches. Hiring staff comes to mind– they are without doubt my biggest business expense, and while I trust my instincts on ability and ‘fit’, I know now that I need time to run the numbers to make sure it’s a good call before bringing in someone new. A ‘cooling-in’ period helps too.
2. Keep an eye on the cash flow
We all know it’s the biggest cause of small business failure and I saw that first-hand with my parents. That’s why I’ve built my business slowly. I’ve invested plenty of time and sleep and energy into it – but never any cash.
I’ve also learned the hard way that if you want to get paid on time you need to be persistent. When it comes to invoicing, early and often is my new rule.
3. You can’t do it all on your own
Quite frankly, it’s not fun and it’s exhausting. One of my better decisions was bringing in a business coach when I hit a wall. This was a turning point for me because she taught me to have confidence in accepting small but increasing amounts of risk by bringing in a few people to help me get it all done.
That doesn’t have to mean bringing in staff, but it might mean outsourcing the stuff you’re not good at or don’t have time for.
4. Don’t kill yourself seeking ‘balance’
There’s another risk with running your own business, and that’s the stress it can add to relationships and family life.
I’m going to say it outright: work/life balance is a myth. If you want to keep your business humming, you need accept it will blend into the corners of your home life.
And I think that’s OK – as long as you are completely present when it really matters. That’s why I’ve become adept at meeting deadlines from a doctor’s waiting room or a parked car at footy training – but when we go on family holidays, I leave the laptop at home.
5. Say yes to things that scare you
I now understand that success comes from taking calculated risks. If you get caught up in the busy-ness of doing everything, you avoid doing the things that felt emotionally (or financially) too risky.
For me, that includes investing in people and running training workshops. A few years later, I can’t imagine my business without both these things.
So here is the one thing I know to be true in life. No matter how hard you work, you may not always succeed. Putting your full effort means taking a risk. But if you want anything in life, it’s a risk you need to accept. You need to learn how to live with risk.