When we talk about starting your own business, there are a lot of costs involved: Employee costs, the cost of funding (capital), the cost of marketing, and the cost of monthly expenses. But why do we never talk about the biggest and perhaps most crucial cost – the emotional cost? Imagine if we could express how much “emotional capital” we have in the bank in numerical terms. The amount of endurance, the amount of positivity, the amount of joy, the amount of physical wellness we have left. New entrepreneurs run out of both financial- and emotional capital.
Let’s be honest for a minute. The problem is that we don’t talk about the fact that we run out of emotional capital. It is a taboo topic in a world where every second Instagram or LinkedIn post shows an entrepreneur who is successful (or so it seems). It is easier to hide this ’empty emotional bank account’ from the world. Failure is arguably our biggest fear. In a world where success (real or not) is thrown in our faces on social media and television, why would we want to share our failure?
The areas in which we feel real pain can be summarised as follow:
The Cost of being Numero Uno, Really Alone.
If you worked for a boss in the past, you had three things that you probably took for granted – a guaranteed salary, peers and co-workers. You arrived in the office every day, mingled with people, were introduced to countless more people, enjoyed lunch and happy hours, complained about your boss, and most of the time enjoyed being able to sympathise with co-workers that are in the same situation as you.
Being a founder of a startup is like being the new neighbour on the block, yet no one ever really comes knocking on your door with freshly baked cookies. It is a genuinely lonely feeling. No longer do you have peers or co-workers. And now, you are the boss, and you can’t complain about the boss anymore. Staff meetings are primarily between you, yourself and the voices in your head. And when you do manage to go home, after endless hours of burning the midnight oil, things don’t get any better. Your better half may not fully understand the battle you are going through. Your family and friends still can’t understand why you left a stable job, gave up a career and are heading down this path of being a lone wolf entrepreneur.
If you are honest with yourself, the chances are that the emotional cost of being an entrepreneur (alone) will, or have already taken its toll on most of your relationships.
The Cost of Playing the Long Game. Waiting. More Waiting. And Yet More Waiting.
When you started this dream business, it felt amazing. You were full of energy having almost found that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You are free. You are your own boss. You can do what you want. The money will roll in! Every single task you completed felt like significant progress – “Yay! I registered a website domain! Whoopee, my website is up and running. Hooray, I got my first call”.
These first wins came quickly, and you were on cloud nine! But then this period wore off. These weren’t a bunch of wins day in and day out. It is a bunch of waiting for wins and praying for wins. That little devil on your shoulder is telling you that you can’t be sure that there will be any more wins. That first client that signed with you was excellent, but goodness me, it took a while for that second client to sign up. And where in the world will you find the third?
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and months into quarters and still, every morning you wake up believing that the breakthrough, that real victory is just around the corner. And apart from your bank account that is running on empty, your emotional account is nearing zero as well. Never in a million years would you have ever thought how absurdly long this journey would take.
You probably knew that a starting new business was going to be fast-paced, but no one ever told you that fast-paced wasn’t synonymous with rapid growth and quick gains. Fast-paced was just another term for constant late nights and a truckload of work. Your expectations were probably wrongly set to start with. It doesn’t take five months to reach success. It takes years if not decades to grow a business. Be honest with yourself. Are you in it for the short-haul or the long game? Perhaps it is time to realign your expectations with reality and facts.
Middle of the Month Salticrax. Going Broke and its True Cost.
Playing the long game will require emotional stamina that you may be able to gather but you may not be able to have control over the financial stamina. When the clouds disappear, and that cloud nine feeling wears off, and you are sitting at 1 a.m. with three browser tabs open. One highlighting your bank account balance which is freefalling to zero. The second your credit card balance which is nearing its limit. And the third shows full-time positions advertised on LinkedIn, inviting you to go back to the corporate world perhaps.
You’re past the point of convincing your better half or family members from whom you borrowed money that “we’re investing in the future!” and onto the point of “I have no idea how we are going to keep the lights on soon”. Although, you don’t have to answer that question as Eskom will answer it for you with its regular load shedding.
What exacerbates this emotional cost is that it never seems like anyone else is facing the same problem. I find it laughable and sad at the same time that there are entrepreneurs out there that portrays a picture to the world that it is easy to get rich (e.g. posts of a new entrepreneur standing next to new Range Rover saying that I have finally made it). In my opinion, if you started the business to get rich you should probably close your doors right away. That should never be your goal.
You need to think of your business (startup) as a means to an end. The eventual end is a startup that will one day leave a small legacy you can be proud off with enough food on the table, but the means right now are doing anything to keep the lights on until that day comes. Sometimes that means another part-time job. Other times that means living below your means.
Why Don’t We Get Real?
We need to stop pretending that we are superheroes that can build a new business from nothing with no real serious toll along the way. Relationships perfect. Finances amazing. Stress levels low.
Success doesn’t come for free. It wasn’t easy. Whatever you think of the person/people you aspire to be, the chances are that they spent 100x more in emotional capital than the risk they took in funding the business with personal capital.
We need to start the conversation that is not limited to the topics contained herein. The emotional cost to an entrepreneur is perhaps the single most important topic we don’t talk about.