Where are the days where you would walk into a coffee shop and in passing, the discussions you would overhear are about business ideas, the next big thing, etc.?
The past year, 2020, can in some circles only be described as the world possibly racing towards the end times. Now, discussions centre around load shedding, the incompetence of our government and SOEs, corruption, high unemployment rates, substandard education, whether to use WhatsApp or Telegram and of course, the COVID-19.
Where is the environment where entrepreneurs enthusiastically compile a business plan, apply for funding, and iron out the final tweaks before launching that new dream business?
Now, shopping malls have more empty stores than full, small businesses are closing their doors, and the level of daily worries (dare I say depression) among entrepreneurs are increasing as often as Eskom changes from load shedding stage 2 to 4 and back to 2 again. As SMEs, we are sitting with bated breath, waiting for the next Hard Lockdown. We yearn for the days when we can meet up with colleagues, and potential clients without wearing a mask.
Entrepreneurs follow their own minds and paths.
For some, the rise to success is a long, slow, painful process. For others, things seem to fall into place magically. Hey, it is not magic! It is perhaps only that the entrepreneur understands the importance of adapting to and learning from circumstances.
Depression and high levels of stress is, in my humble opinion, a massive problem among South African entrepreneurs. Isn’t it perhaps time that we did something about it? Do I have all the answers? No way!
But, I have learned and fine-tuned a few things over the past decade from my own entrepreneurial journey. Things that have helped me navigate difficult situations.
Below are some of the important lessons I’ve learned as a small business owner.
Hey! Entrepreneurs! It is OK to feel like you SUCK sometimes.
Personally, I am sick and tired of the endless “how-to guides” and “steps to become” articles and books out there staring seasoned and new entrepreneurs in the face.
What good is it to try and follow specific steps to success if you can’t even get yourself to stop stressing about where this week’s customers and cash will come from?!
It is time we face it.
When we look at other entrepreneurs (local and abroad), they all seem so happy on Instagram, and Facebook. We want what they have! So we fall into this cultural trap where we are continually chasing the next ‘like’ or ‘share’.
But, if you just started a business or are struggling as an entrepreneur, whoever told you that there are times when you feel so alone. You may be with other people where you just feel that you are a miserable failure and you suck!
Then you forget about those self-help books or social media posts of happy (entrepreneurs) people. All you want to do is throw your phone out the window while you sit at another traffic light because of load shedding. Why do you have your phone with you in the car … mmmm, where is the Bluetooth or hands-free (joke)?
Face it. The truth is, there will be days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, where you feel like nothing you’re doing, is working. Nothing you are doing is worth it.
If you can relate to Mr/Mrs Entrepreneur, I want to give some thoughts that have helped me.
- You need to realise that you aren’t alone: Even if you sit in the dark at seven at night because of load shedding. No, seriously, I wanted to write this blog post for years. I genuinely feel that this is one of the biggest things in the entrepreneurial journey: To realise that it is a normal part of the process to feel like a failure and that you totally suck. When it’s your job to create something from nothing or make something for someone else – difficulty and hurdles are integral to the journey and the very nature of working for yourself. Realising your dream is not an easy step-by-step guide you can follow. It will be (and it is) messy! Why aren’t there more entrepreneurs? Because it is not an easy option. Don’t let days of feeling “sorry for yourself” turn into weeks, or perhaps even into months. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Ask for guidance. Ask for help. Sometimes sharing your feelings with someone is all the encouragement you need.
- Mentors are better than one-off advisors: If someone gives you great advice, implement it and then, make an appointment to meet that person again. The more you meet, the more the advice will get smarter. The more the mentor will start to think about your unique circumstances or service or problem before and after meetings. And who knows, perhaps you have found a new tennis partner allowing you to take out your frustrations on a little yellow ball.
- Attitude is everything: If you think you can, you’re right. If you feel you can’t, you’re right. Good things take time, patience and perseverance. Focus on what you do want, not on what you don’t. Celebrate every small success, and you will have more success. Focus on everything that has gone right and find gratitude each day for every new accomplishment. It may (no, it will) take time, but it is on the way. And for the love of all that is beautiful, stop looking at Facebook and Instagram as your source of what it means to be successful. A Social Medial Post of a business owner posing in front of a new Land Rover writing a lengthy biography of how he/she has finally “made it” should not be your idol or someone you aspire to.
- Getting funding will take SO MUCH longer than you think: Who told you it will only take 2 weeks to get a R10 million loan? No, it won’t! Especially not in this current economic climate. In South Africa, however long you think it will take to get that investment, triple it. I don’t care who you think you know that sits on the board of some or other funding institution. There will always be red-tape, internal policies and mandates, various personalities and personal agendas that will either make or break your funding application.
- Show grace in all situations: We live in a cruel world. People hurt other people, whether they are business partners, family, investors, employees or suppliers. Absorb the pain that others inflicted on you in the past, learn from it, and don’t dwell on it. Always be gracious. Always deliver on your promises. Don’t chase easy money. Don’t steal of copy from your competitors and pass it off as your own work/idea. Don’t walk over someone else to reach your dream. Give, without expecting back. And watch that feeling of “suckiness” slowly disappear into the background.
If you can survive South Africa, you can survive anything. Bring on the load shedding! Bring on COVID-19! Bring on the corruption! Bring on whatever you want!
As an entrepreneur in SA, there will be setbacks, but remember, you are not alone. Keep all the challenges and fears you face in perspective. No matter how dark/bleak the situation. Remember, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.
If you find yourself without anyone to talk to, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to connect with fellow entrepreneurs and lend an ear when needed.