Entrepreneurs always dream their business will skyrocket to success. Yet, when it happens, the experience is often bittersweet.
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It's a period of highs and lows, elation and exhaustion—with little time for reflection. And if you weren't prepared to run a business, but seized an unexpected opportunity, sudden success can quickly lead to overwhelm. The time to prepare is now. Here's how.
No. 1: Build the right team.
Don't stretch yourself too thin trying to handle every aspect of your business. At some point, you need to let go of at least some control to grow the company. Set aside time to assess your strengths and weaknesses, then hire people who have skills you don't.
"You need to scale the team as the business scales," said Jon Burgstone, founding faculty chair and adjunct professor at UC Berkeley's Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology. "You can bring on a partner or employees that complement you. Bring someone you trust into the business, then you can divide and conquer."
No. 2: Search for mentors.
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You'll want to find role models who have been there, done that—so you can reach out for advice to business challenges.
"Any entrepreneurial venture is a roller coaster," Burgstone said. "Assemble your own personal board of advisors, a group of mentors who you can rely on for very technical information, business advice and emotional support. You'll need it."
Entrepreneurs often fall prey to many of the same pitfalls. The right mentors can help you sidestep those business minefields — and avoid a lot of unnecessary angst.
"Look for mentors who have been in your [type of] business, and been through something very similar," said Susan Urquhart-Brown, author of "The Accidental Entrepreneur: 50 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Starting a Business."
No. 3: Monitor cash flow.
Don't be lulled into a false sense of financial security. Keep a close eye on cash flow, which is a measure of your company's health.
"When money is coming in, entrepreneurs are often not so busy watching expenses or unexpected expenses," said Urquhart-Brown, also a small business coach in Oakland, Calif.
Remember, it's just as important to track what you're spending as what you're earning.
"You might be selling a lot of product, but you still need to pay your suppliers and purchase inventory," Burgstone said.
Bring in trusted financial advisors, and review the numbers on a consistent basis.
No. 4: Silence your inner critic.
Accidental entrepreneurs are especially prone to persistent self-criticism, said Urquhart-Brown. Maybe you have a great business idea, but don't have the same experience or education as other business owners. That's when, she said, your inner critic can emerge, serving up doubting thoughts like: I don't know if I can do this. I'm flying by the seat of my pants. I don't want people to know what I don't know.
And so it goes.
"Your inner critic feeds into the feeling of overwhelm," Urquhart-Brown said.
Even if you do everything right in your entrepreneurial venture, you'll face challenges along the way. It's how you handle them that matters most.
"When you are the company, every success and every failure feels intensely personal," Burgstone said. "It can be very emotionally tumultuous. You need to build a good personal support system to help you through those highs and lows."
Turn to family members and trusted loved ones to help you keep your business, and your life, in perspective.
No. 5: Breathe.
Working around the clock with no break in sight, can lead straight to burnout. At some point, you have to force yourself to step away from the stressful environment to regroup and recharge.
"Every week, carve out a chunk of time and don't allow yourself to think about the business," Burgstone said. "Find ways to serve others. It will help you take your mind off of what you're worrying about."
And commit to checking in with yourself at different periods throughout each year — to reflect on where you are and where you want to be.
"Ask yourself what life do you want to be leading," Burgstone said. "Those business successes, are they contributing to or detracting from your life? If they're detracting, see what adjustments you can make to the life you want to live."
Shifting your focus to family and other loved ones also helps keep life in perspective.
"Connect with them," Burgstone said, "and stay deeply connected through this crazy roller-coaster ride."