I apologize. Seriously, I want to say I’m sorry to all you entrepreneurs out there for all the times I’ve told you just how easy it is to start a business. Now that I’ve actually started one, I realize it’s not quite as simple as I made it out to be.
Let me explain. I’m Rieva Lesonsky and during my 26 years working at Entrepreneur magazine I advised aspiring and existing business owners on all matters entrepreneurial. Finally, after years of fighting it, I, like so many of you, caught the entrepreneurial bug. I’ve started a marketing and communications business, SMB Connects, to help marketers identify, understand, and connect with entrepreneurs. One of my new gigs is to be editor-at-large at AllBusiness.com and I’ll be here every week sharing my thoughts, insights, and secrets with you.
Given that I’m an authority on small business and entrepreneurship, you might have expected me to sail through the startup phase — which brings me back to my mea culpa. I now realize that not all aspects of business startup are easy. The hardest part? Building the infrastructure. I am luckier than most and was able to sublet office space from friends of mine who had outgrown their office and needed to move into a bigger place. So they leased even more space than they needed and made room for my company. My partner in D.C. (we’re in southern California) took care of the incorporation and payroll paperwork and sent the computers he’d previously purchased.
So it fell to me to find a phone system, which (seriously) almost put me over the edge. I started out the way I recommend you all do. I asked friends and colleagues and I searched online. Sounds simple, right? But too much information and too little knowledge is a dangerous combination. I didn’t know enough to ask the right questions, or even understand the sales pitches that were thrown at me. To VoIP or not to VoIP? What about the fax? And the Internet lines? I was shocked at the price tag of buying a new system. I never thought that phones for five people could cost so much. The whole process was making me crazy.
And then fortuitously I went on vacation to Mexico (planned long before I decided to start a business) and actually left my computer at home. When I returned a week later, I found out my partner had made the phone decision while I was gone and chose the business bundle package from Cox Communications, the local cable company. Actually, I had considered calling Cox myself, since they are my cable provider and I am very pleased with their home services. But I made a classic startup mistake — I overthought. I convinced myself I needed to do more research and buy a “professional” phone system. In other words, I created my own nightmare.
Some people (mainly the ones who were trying to sell me their systems) were surprised I had “allowed” someone else to make a decision without consulting me. Not me; I wanted to hug the man. He, being an experienced entrepreneur, understood that simplicity is key. We got a package for our phones, Internet connections, and cable TV. We didn’t have to deal with a second company to provide the phone numbers or the direct fax line, which some of the other companies asked me to do. All I had to do was go to the store and buy five phones.
I learned a valuable lesson here. Before you go to one of those sites where you enter your needs and local vendors are sent your contact information, you better go to a site that helps you figure out what you really need and how much it’s going to cost you. Another solution is to find a friend or relative who understands the stuff you don’t and ask them to help you out.
Entrepreneurs generally know what they know, meaning you’re experts in your industry, but all too often you don’t know enough about the other aspects of business operation. But that’s the beauty of doing business in the Internet Age. Most of the information you need can be found at the end of a Google search. And in case you think these are the struggles of a new entrepreneur, my cousin just opened his second business (after owning the first for 17 years) and we recently commiserated about the same issues — phones, furniture, and technology.
I also struggled with the quiet. I’m the oldest of four and I thrive on chaos. I missed the camaraderie of bouncing ideas off co-workers, of catching up on weekend activities, even of discussing the final episode of “The Office.” (My California partners are joining me later this month.) I solved that by scheduling lots of lunch dates with friends and colleagues.
On the positive side (you’ll soon learn I am a bit of a Pollyanna and will usually supply the silver lining) there were aspects of my startup that were even easier than I had imagined. But you’ll have to come back next week to learn what they were, and how you too can benefit from my startup experience.