By Mario Peshev, CEO of DevriX

Entrepreneurship is portrayed as the holy grail for rebels, hustlers and anyone aiming to escape from the 9-to-5 routine of working in a cubicle.

And while running your own business is exhilarating at first, only half of businesses that employ staff survive the first five years, according to Small Business Administration data. The struggle of successfully running your company while maintaining a regular stream of leads, managing finances and handling emergencies is a heavy burden -- and new entrepreneurs should be prepared for unexpected surprises.

Here are five of the most common myths about entrepreneurship that startup founders discover the hard way during their first year.

1. You are your own boss.

When I teach career or entrepreneurship classes, I frequently hear students discussing the freedom of running their own business as the ultimate dream perk. Stock photos of founders working from the beach and Instagram selfies by successful billionaires contribute to the appeal.

The bitter truth, however, shows something not easily captured in a beachside selfie: that running a business makes you far more dependent than working a day job. Entrepreneurs have to hustle hard, persuade leads, obey their clients in the early days, convince potential employees to buy into the idea, rely on partners and vendors to run operations, and have faith in their CPAs and lawyers.

2. Entrepreneurs work less.

Bouncing between successful sales calls, greeting your top management and attending TV interviews are just some of the common perks to which entrepreneurs are entitled -- in popular culture.

There are certain “lifestyle businesses” that truly can be optimized to run successfully within 15 to 30 hours a week. Often suitable for supplemental revenue or a solopreneur’s job replacement, they appear to be the exemplary lifestyle for which all entrepreneurs should strive. 

However, I’ve found that almost every founder goes through a rough period (often years at a time) of juggling all managerial activities while clocking 60 to 80 hours per week or more. Opportunities are pursued 24/7 -- quite different from signing off at 5 p.m. on a Friday and enjoying the weekend.

3. Work-life balance is easy.

Work-life balance was one of the leading reasons I left my full-time job back in the day. Avoiding traffic jams, starting late and taking a couple of hours off in the afternoon between my evening sessions were perks I relished, along with taking a Friday off here and there (even if I had to work on Sunday to compensate).

It’s true that you inherit some partial flexibility when you run a business yourself. However, you no longer work for a paycheck. Every moment you spend at work could:

  • Yield a new prospect.
  • Help a team member to move forward.
  • Prevent a crisis due to miscommunication.
  • Optimize processes for future initiatives.

Your time becomes an invaluable asset that you must treat responsibly. With every late morning or longer lunch break, you’re sacrificing an opportunity.

During the first few years, unless you’ve managed to build a rock-solid recurring revenue process that works, you likely jump between feast and famine, sweating to close a contract or being swamped in busy seasons with fewer resources. You’ll be lucky if you can allocate one day a weekend to yourself, family and friends.

4. You can aim for overnight success.

Digital startup magazines excel at showcasing young entrepreneurs closing funding rounds for hundreds of millions of dollars, but this represents a fraction of a percentage of all success stories. It’s highly connected to the backstory of the founder -- they may have a decade or more of industry expertise, or they may have started another business after several exits.

Being inspired by these false expectations is misleading and neglects to factor in the time and hard work that goes into a healthy business. Bottom line: For every “overnight success,” there’s a long string of small but significant actions that made it possible.

5. Your expertise will sell itself.

I’ve consulted dozens of business owners who founded companies after honing their hard skills. However, even if you are a great engineer, plumber, designer or architect, running a business won’t magically accelerate your skills and build an enormous pipeline of prospects waiting to work with you.

Niche expertise is different than understanding the semantics of operating a business. If you are passionate about starting your own business, take the time to study business management first. Don’t rely solely on your skill set to run a profitable business.

There are many reasons businesses fail, but the better prepared you are, the easier it is to survive the first year or two. Entrepreneurship is rewarding once you discover a profitable and scalable business model -- but you must grind hard until you make it.

Mario Peshev is CEO of DevriX and a business advisor for $5M - $100M SMEs and high-scale digital applications (100-500M monthly views).

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Published on: Mar 18, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.