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Top three myths about running a small business

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After running a business for a few years, myself and my business partner started to look around for help to grow our business. Sadly, there’s no shortage of people telling you how you could be living a life of luxury if you just sign up to their life-changing program. How they will make you rich and you can have the life you deserve.

While I myself remained skeptical, my business partner was somewhat more optimistic and decided to give one of these programs a go. Needless to say, not much came out of it. We were neither richer or any closer to taking a well-deserved holiday, but he was $2k better off than we were. Go figure!

I now spend a lot of my time supporting and encouraging clients running their own businesses. Being a realist and knowing what is really required, I don’t pretend I can turn their lives around at high speed.

Running your own business is exciting, fun, exhausting and you’ll have sleepless nights. That I can guarantee. There’s nothing like the high of winning work and getting high praise and rewards for your efforts. But the path there is never as smooth as it’s made out to be in blogs and books. Nor will you find that if you just did things a different way, you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams. So I want to lay to rest some of the more ridiculous myths that do the rounds in the business startup world.

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Myth one: Anyone can start a business

Anyone can. But should they?

I regularly meet with people who are fired up and ready to ditch their job in order to create a business so they can run things their way (the better way). That’s great and I love people with fire in their belly and a clear idea of what they want to do. It’s just that they often haven’t thought about whether the market really wants what they have to offer.

They also haven’t thought about all the hats they need to wear in order to successfully run a business, as opposed to the job they do. Do you have the skills or the personality to deal with people, money and deadlines? Often all at the same time. Most clients we meet will struggle with one of those aspects at given points in their business journey. You need to be made of strong stuff to deal with the ups and downs. It really is a rollercoaster ride.

Myth two: You can work from the beach, four days a week, insert work/life balance model here

First, you would have to be bonkers to believe you can work on a beach unless you sand sculpt for a living. Second, why would you want to?

I’m skeptical of the notion that you can work from anywhere. Yes, maybe you can, but again, should you? Demands for our attention have bled way out of the 9-5 as we’re expected to be available all the time wherever we are. I like the beach to be a place of refuge, not an extension of my job.

Working the hours you want to work takes a great deal of organizing and an innate ability to say no. Many of us don’t excel in the latter. Most clients I meet want to work fewer hours and preferably not while they are on that much-coveted holiday. That’s the reality of running your own business.

Myth three: I can earn more money and sell my business to the highest bidder

It’s possible. Eventually. Mostly, I find that you’re earning a lot less before you start to earn more. That also depends entirely on your target market and how competitive the industry you’re working in is.

It takes time to build a business of value and million dollar success stories are thin on the ground. When you dig into them, you’ll find the owners often had to bootstrap for a good few years before the money started to roll in. You really have to be able to support yourself on a much lower salary than you’re used to and be prepared to redefine your idea of success.

As for selling your business, there are so many variables that go into making a business attractive to a buyer. Having a low salary to make the bottom line look good just doesn’t cut it. Your figures will get adjusted to factor in a proper market salary. There goes that awesome bottom line figure.

The problem with so much advice in the books and blogs is that it’s generic. A one size fits all approach just can’t be taken with every business. It’s why the guy I mentioned at the start of the article really had very little impact on our business. He didn’t get our industry, but he also clearly was making enough money to not have to care either.

I am upfront with the clients I meet about just how hard it can be to cut through in the creative industry and make yourself heard. There’s no easy way forward but I’ll do my darndest to help my clients get there. I aim to find realistic ways to deal with the ups and downs, manage hours and take a work-free holiday. I’ll aim to help them find ways to make their business more profitable and sustainable, which sometimes means making some tough decisions.

Whatever your business journey, get some good solid advice from people who know your industry well. Be wary of those that promise you the world with guaranteed results. The only person winning is them.

Written by Wendy Mather, business adviser director at Generate. A version of this article was originally posted on their Better Business blog.

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