By Justin Zastrow, CEO of Smart Armor.
There are many things I've come to learn as an entrepreneur. Simply put, it's not for the weak. I remember a younger and more naive version of myself and what I thought being a business owner meant. After many failures and some successes, I've learned along the way what it really means to be an entrepreneur.
Becoming an entrepreneur is perhaps one of the hardest things I've ever gone through. Of course there are days that are easier, but being responsible -- not only for your own paycheck but for your employees' -- is difficult. Even "days off" are challenging because there's this never-ending guilt of feeling like you could be working. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
It doesn't pay well.
I think many of us can (reluctantly) admit that we were unrealistic when it came to our business plan and model. It's important to work hard toward these financial goals, but know that when starting a business, you should plan on everything taking twice as long and costing twice as much.
Nothing goes according to plan.
If there is one piece of advice I can give anyone going into business, it's this: Prepare to be unprepared. No matter how many spreadsheets, project plans and meetings about plans you make, chances are the plan will change 100 times -- and even then you're more than likely going to operate on a more reactive basis instead of proactive. This is okay, take a breath and continue to conquer.
You will argue with your business partners and team.
This can be very frustrating and if your business is anything like mine, your team members may also be your closest friends. If this is the case, try your best to always separate the two relationships. Don't take things personally and remain respectful, even when you disagree. It will make all the difference.
I was (am) so naive.
When I hear people talk about starting their own business because of the freedom it will give them and that "the 9-to-5" just wasn't for them and how great being your own boss is, I can't help but want to laugh. Sure, you may not have to work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but that's only because you are working every waking second. And being your own boss is fun until you realize just how hard it is to tell yourself what to do -- and then hold yourself accountable.
I'm not actually a boss.
Speaking of being your own boss, this was perhaps the biggest letdown of them all. Yes, I get to call the shots and make choices that I wouldn't have as an employee, but it's not as "sexy" as it sounds. As a boss, you get to pay bills, pay a boatload in payroll/business taxes, take a beating from any unhappy client and be responsible for people's paychecks. At times, it can be an unbearable amount of pressure. I am fortunate to have a business partner with whom I share 50 percent of the stress, but not every entrepreneur does.
There are no weekends.
You can work really hard at maintaining a work-life balance, but many business owners don't ever truly stop working. You may go a whole Sunday without answering an email once in a while, but still be checking emails at least once an hour to make sure everything is alright. Anyone who works in a startup especially can understand this.
It's okay to be proud.
I spent the better part of last year being humble about what I've done and now I can say this: Staying humble is for the birds. I hear the same comment all the time: "Oh, I could never run my own business. I don't know how you do it." I used to think that people were crazy. This was cake for the first few months -- or the "honeymoon stage" of entrepreneurship. But fast forward to having employees, big clients and huge partnerships and now I know that I'm the crazy one. It is extremely hard work and not everyone has it in them. I do, and if you do too, go us! Give yourself credit where credit is due.
It's all been worth it.
Don't let all my complaining fool you: I would not change a single thing about my experience being an entrepreneur. The last few years of owning businesses have taught me more than my college years and earlier career working for others, and being an entrepreneur is the only thing I will ever do. It might not always mean operating my current business, but as new entrepreneurs may find, being a business owner is like an addiction -- one I have no intention of quitting.
Justin Zastrow is CEO of Smart Armor, which links app-driven, wireless-locking technology to secure your belongings and simplify your life.