Entrepreneurialism is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it

Firstly, I should declare that I’m not necessarily a Ronan Keating fan, I just shamelessly stole and adapted the words from his hit song, Life is a Rollercoaster.

Secondly, if an entrepreneur is defined as...

a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit

...then I am an entrepreneur, having spent the last five years running my coaching and consulting businesses.

Thirdly, if you can relate to the emotional rollercoaster that comes with trying to build a successful business, then this article is for you.

You see, I’ve learnt from talking with many entrepreneurial friends that the emotional rollercoaster is not unique to me.

And in this blog post I’ll share with you my thoughts and approach to overcome it - or to be more accurate, to manage it.

What is the emotional rollercoaster?

It’s the high, highs and the low, lows.

And it’s the fact that, as an entrepreneur, you experience these emotions in the same day. Or even the same hour!

But before we go any further, I need to set the record straight.

We all have ups and downs, failures and successes in our businesses. And it drives me crazy when so many people write about entrepreneurialism who clearly haven’t done it themselves. They write about well-known successful people, and how they all seemingly trod the exact same path:

  1. Start a business
  2. Turns out to be a massive failure and they lose everything - really, EVERYTHING
  3. Try again with all the knowledge of what didn’t work and grow a massively successful business overnight
  4. Live a millionaire lifestyle

It’s as if the only route to success is to first lose everything!

Let me give you an example, here are 5 article titles from a quick Google search:

  • 11 Inspiring People Who Lost It All and Came Back Stronger
  • 9 Entrepreneurs Who Made It, Lost It All and Made It All Back Again
  • How 5 Entrepreneurs Made Billions, Lost It And Made It Back Again
  • 21 Entrepreneurs Who Failed Big Before Becoming a Success
  • 3 Entrepreneurs Who Lost Before They Won

Well, I’m here to tell you that it simply isn’t necessary to lose it all.

I started my consulting business when losing it all was simply not an option. My son was 8 and my daughter 6. I had a mortgage to pay (still do!). Car and loan repayments to make. And a wife to support who was looking after the children and the home whilst also working part-time. My total savings at the time probably wouldn't have required a note!

So for me, failure - as in the catastrophic failure suggested in those articles above - was not an option. There was no Plan B, and there still isn’t.

Failure on a small scale

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t failed though. I’ve failed many, many times. From small failures, like completing a client report late, to big failures like a subcontractor who got thrown off site, a client demanded a significant refund, another client who never spoke to me again after I submitted my report, and a bank balance that got down to only £1,039 after making hundreds of thousands in consulting fees over the previous 2 years.

But there’s been successes too. Like the fact that this month spells the fifth year we’ve been in business. And some of my existing clients have been on-board since day one.

The business has grown. It’s shrunk. And it’s grown again.

I read an article recently in which Ariana Huffington said it best:

And that is so true. We need to have failure in our businesses to learn.

So catastrophic failure is not a mandatory requirement to being a successful entrepreneur. What is required, however, is resilience to the emotional rollercoaster.

Derek Halpern, marketing expert from Social Triggers, put it incredibly accurately in this diagram:

This resonated with me so much that I let out a sigh of relief when I first saw it. This is the true story of entrepreneurialism. And there’s no exaggeration to the fact that these feelings represent a single day.

A single day!

There really is no normal state to how you emotionally feel as an entrepreneur.

Managing the Entrepreneurial Emotional Rollercoaster

Here’s how I recommend you can manage the challenges of running your own business day-to-day, whether it’s a consulting business (my area of expertise) or something else.

  1. Get used to the emotional rollercoaster - We typically believe that once our businesses are much bigger, and we’re consistently bringing in multiple 7-figures in revenue, that somehow all the problems in our business lives will just disappear. I’m afraid this is a ‘Red pill’ moment and I’m going to have to break that illusion for you. The problems you have right now might disappear, but there’ll be others to take their place. Stop thinking that more money is a silver bullet. You’ll still be on the emotional rollercoaster. In reality it’s more scary because more people’s livelihoods are at the mercy of your decisions. So embrace it. Enjoy the highs, and learn to get over the lows quickly.
  2. Don’t waste time worrying - I tried the whole worrying thing once and it doesn’t work. Save yourself the bother. I once spent the whole night awake with worry and fear that my business was about to go bust. What did that night teach me? That worrying robs you of sleep, and that it offers nothing of value. So stop worrying. You can’t change the past, and there’s not much point conjuring up images in your head of catastrophic events that haven't happened. Focus on the now. Work out your top 3 tasks, and get on with them. Immediately. And remember, FEAR is simply an acronym for Future Events Appearing Real (I can’t remember which book I read that in, but it’s a great way to take the power out of fear)
  3. Fail all the time - We often see failure as this thing that must be avoided at all cost. The Apollo 13 mission is frequently cited as one time where failure really was not an option. Yet it was classified as a "successful failure" because of the experience gained in rescuing the crew. So, whilst not planned, failure was how they learned, and it’s how you should learn. Fail, and fail fast.
  4. Give yourself inspiration - If you're a solopreneur then you've often only got yourself to provide inspiration at times. I do approach this in two ways. First, I sit down and write out a few of the good things that have happened and things that I’ve already achieved. It’s good to remind yourself of what you’ve already been capable of accomplishing. (I've recently started journalling using DayOne which I highly recommend).  Second, I have created a mood board or vision board. This is nothing more than a series of pictures representing the things that you're working towards achieving. By using pictures it helps to visualise it. And this can help spur you on through the tough times. I’ve been doing this for about 3 years now and I can’t begin to tell you how well it has worked. It might simply be subconscious as the pictures are seen regularly - I have mine blu-tacked to the back of my study door so that I see it every time that I exit. I even have it as the wallpaper on my iPhone.
  5. Seek opinion and guidance only from those skilled to offer it - In times of crisis, it is right to seek the opinions of others. Just don’t take it all as advice. Even if the person sharing their knowledge has been through a similar scenario, use it to gather evidence, before deciding for yourself on what you must do.

What now?

Remember, failure is nothing more than learning.

Fail fast, and fail often.

And don't believe the urban legends that say you have to lose everything before you can succeed.

The emotional rollercoaster is here to stay. Don't let it control you. Learn to manage it.

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