So you started your business. Your dreams came true. You’re an entrepreneur. You broke free from the shackles of the 9-to-5. You’re in charge of your destiny. There’s just one problem. You feel utterly, totally lost.
I’m a New Entrepreneur But I Have No Idea What I’m Doing
Sure, having your own business is great, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the tasks you’ve got to do, most of which you’ve never done before. You had never realized how hard it is to hire people, manage employees, market a business, compete with other businesses with more resources and experience, and face negative customer feedback, among other uncomfortable situations.
In short, you just don’t know what to do, where to go, or who to call.
It calls to mind that old saying, “Be careful with what you wish for, because it might come true.”
If all you ever wanted is to start your business and now you feel like a total impostor, then worry not, because that’s a very common problem among first-time entrepreneurs. We all say, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” And that’s OK!
Today you’ll learn five ways to take back the reins of your business, find your focus and purpose, and continue with the same excitement you had when you started. From there, you can evolve as an entrepreneur and keep crushing it.
Let’s jump right into it.
1. Remember Your Purpose
You wake up, you go to your coworking space, you open the computer, and you start working.
You pick up the phone and speak to a supplier, you answer customer emails, you negotiate with a business partner, and you discuss new ideas with your employees.
The day ends before you know it, and the next day, you’re back to square one.
You may not want to admit it, but if you think about it, you’re running in your very own rat race. Instead of working for a corporate executive, you work for your employees, your customers, and your investors (if you have any).
Worse yet, you’re working your ass off without the assurance of a healthy paycheck at the end of the month, while in the process you sacrifice your health, your time, your family, and much more.
What’s the point of making this many sacrifices for a reward that’s so stressful?
One simple reason: You want to make a dent in the world. To change it, improve it, and leave it a little bit better than when you were born in it.
The stress of running your business, however, will often make you lose sight of the reason why you started it in the first place. When everything you’re fighting for gets too hard, remember your purpose.
Your purpose is what’s behind everything you do, whether you’re aware of this or not.
Regardless of your current situation, the clearer your purpose is, the easier all the insurmountable personal and business challenges you face will be.
Simon Sinek explains this at length in his bestselling book Start with Why:
Knowing your WHY is not the only way to be successful, but it is the only way to maintain a lasting success and have a greater blend of innovation and flexibility. When a WHY goes fuzzy, it becomes much more difficult to maintain the growth, loyalty and inspiration that helped drive the original success.
You need to remember your “why”—your purpose—to keep your business alive and thriving. As Sinek explains in his book, there are three levels behind your purpose:
- First, you start with the why, the purpose, the reason
- Then, you have the how, the way you do things, the manifestation of your purpose
- Finally, you have the what, the specific actions you take to reach your why
Before you can know what to do and how to do it—the products you sell, the type of service you offer, etc.—you need to have your why shining within your mind every day. If you feel lost in your business, there’s a high likelihood you’ve forgotten your purpose. Take time to remember it.
Did you ever write a document explaining what you wanted to achieve before you started your business? Do you have a video where you are pitching your business idea? Can you ask people you know what you told them back then, before you started your business?
Ignite your original purpose, the raw energy behind all successful entrepreneurs, and you’ll be able to sustain any challenge you face.
Need business help? A trusted mentor can help.
2. Ask for Help
Sometimes the best solution is the easiest one.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the challenges you face, ask for help.
There’s no need to be afraid of asking someone more experienced than you, a business mentor, if you will, to help you figure out the best way to solve a problem. If you ask nicely enough, they’ll help you.
That’s exactly what Alex Turnbull, founder and CEO of GrooveHQ, thinks:
Independent if you are on your way to success or failure, you will encounter challenges. The good news is — you are not alone. There are many other entrepreneurs who know exactly what it’s like to feel lost. Find them, invest time in building relationships with them, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that “you don’t get what you don’t ask for”.
Whether you have no idea how to approach a specific business problem, you are trying to bring a change to your company or you are looking for an investor, make big asks of the people who can help you.
You’ll be surprised by how many people say yes.
To get started with asking for help, first define the problem. Having a crystal-clear idea of your problem will make everything much easier down the line. Make your problem concise and specific.
Then, look at your current network, whether in LinkedIn, Facebook, or your old-fashioned phone contacts (the famous “Rolodex”) to check for people who are more experienced than you when it comes to the problem at hand.
Continue this process by reaching out and asking for help. That could be an email, a phone call, or a coffee meetup. Since you want to go beyond the problem you’re facing and build a relationship with the individual you’re asking for help, maybe even becoming a mentee, you’ll want to try for a personal meeting. As Turnbull says:
Networking and, as a result, having people I could turn to for guidance has saved me more times than I can count. And even in the good times, those relationships have led to incredible opportunities.
- A relationship with another founder led to one of our key product partnerships
- A relationship with a mentor led to the introduction that launched our popular interview series
- A relationship with a smart advisor helped us commit 100% to being a remote team and stop dwelling on it after weeks of waffling back and forth and losing productivity
Building relationships is a long-term effort, but it’s the one that I would recommend to any entrepreneur.
When reaching out, you can use the following template:
It’s been a while since the last time we spoke.
I’m reaching out because right now I’m currently .
Because you have , I was wondering, would you want to have some coffee to discuss ?
If you’re interested, would work for you? If not, I’m available .
After you’ve received help from your advisor, follow up a few days later to inform them of your progress. This will help create a deeper connection, showing you’ve taken their advice seriously.
At the end of the day, you get what you ask for. If you ask for help, you will get it. And with that help, you can break through your problem and continue making progress towards your goals.
3. Don’t Burn Stages
When you’re just getting started, you want to grow as fast as possible. This is particularly true if you’ve landed venture capital funding (or any type of funding). You’ve got the money, so now it’s time to put it to good use.
You hire new people, invest heavily in advertising, and move to a bigger office, all with the hopes of making it big, fast.
After a while, however, you realize you are moving too fast, and much like Facebook, breaking too many things at once. Your business is spending money, but the investment doesn’t translate into real growth. You don’t know what’s going on; your investment should be paying off by now, and so far, that’s not the case.
The problem is that your new employees aren’t boosting your profit margins. Your advertising, your account manager tells you, is helping boost your “brand awareness” (as if that’s what you really care about) but not your profit margins. Your office is beautiful, full of perks your employees love, but it’s burning your funds faster than you expected.
It seems counterintuitive, but if you grow too fast without making deep changes in your business model, you will hit a wall that will eventually break your business.
Startup founders try to force progress by jumping ahead of the stage that they are currently in. That will ramp up their burn rate, while not making the business go any faster, and they will have to return back and complete the phase that they tried to skip.
By “going any faster,” he refers to the deep changes I mentioned previously. There are countless startups that grow as fast as possible with the hopes of profiting once they secure a majority piece of a large, profitable industry. Unfortunately, more often than not, such bets don’t pay off.
Whether it’s the better-funded competition, the lack of a well-defined value proposition, or the unexpected mediocre profits, these startups can’t make up for their initial burn rate with the profits they had expected.
Over and over, we see these kinds of “overgrowth” examples in the startup world. On the one hand, you’ve got the extreme cases of Theranos and the dot-com bubble startups such as Pets.com and Webvan that grew to massive market valuations even though they had nothing to show for it.
On the other, you’ve got the common case of companies that simply churn through too much money and get nowhere. Check out the list of 1,280 businesses that went through the famous Y Combinator accelerator since its inception, and among the wildly successful startups like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Instacart—all of which are worth over $100 billion—you will also find 158 companies that have closed their doors due to their inability to translate the early investments into real profit.
Even though “a startup is a company designed to grow fast,” as Paul Graham puts it, you want to make sure your investment (both money and time) translates into actual growth and not just vanity metrics.
Clarity of action comes from clarity of thought. Focus on the key metrics around your business, like:
- Cost of acquisition
- Revenue per user
- Total profit generated
- Lifetime value
These metrics are more precise and business-focused than metrics like the number of users acquired, sales generated, and employees hired.
Also, develop SMART goals. That is, goals that are:
- Achievable (or Attainable)
For example, instead of saying you want to “improve our revenue generated by mid-July,” you’d say, “improve our revenue 20% by 1st July 2019.”
The key metric used, the percentage, and the date combined make it “smart.”
Finally, make sure to keep an eye on your burn rate, as David Skok indicated above. If you’re going to spend money, either guarantee you’ll make more money than what you invest or that you know how to recoup it. It’s easy to get bogged down developing “awareness” and increasing “reach,” while overlooking the profit your investments are delivering.
Focus on the metrics that matter most, be specific with your goals, and check your burn rate, and you will never feel confused again.
4. Focus on One Thing
When you just start your business, you have to do everything yourself.
You’ve got to do the marketing. You’ve got to hire new people. You’ve got to do some of the accounting and customer/supplier management.
Focus? Forget it.
That’s an unsustainable situation, but one that you have to take when you’re getting started.
Once you start growing, however, you’ve got to focus your energies on the one big thing that drives your growth. You can’t continue doing everything—you’ll burn out.
According to John Lee Dumas, author of Entrepreneur on Fire:
What has always helped me in these situations is FOCUS: Following ONE course until success. Your ONE thing is your current MAJOR focus for your business, and throughout the span of your business you’ll have many of them.
That “one big thing” can be anything, whatever it is that helps your business grow. Usually, it’s the most obvious thing.
For example, if your business has many loyal customers, the one thing that’s driving your growth is your word-of-mouth, the customer experience, or the branding. One of those things would be the one you should focus on.
To help you find that “one thing,” Jerry Keller, author of the appropriately titled book “The ONE Thing,” recommends you to ask the focusing question. “What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier and unnecessary?”
Once you find that one thing, it will have a “domino effect” on your long-term progress. As Keller says, “success doesn’t happen all at once; sequential.” This is similar to what the Chinese philosopher Laozi said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Don’t get lost in the monumental goals you’ve defined for yourself and your business. Focus instead on the few tasks that propel you forward, however small they may be. If customer service is what truly matters for your business, then every chat, email, or phone conversation you have with a customer will be the most important thing you can do. Each one individually won’t have a big impact in your future growth, but all of them together will.
Experienced entrepreneurs often say “you can’t learn entrepreneurship.” A college degree won’t be of much use for the unprecedented situations you’ll face on a daily basis. You simply need to be ready to take on whatever life throws your way and adapt.
Within the startup community, this is called the “emotional rollercoaster.” One day you’re at the top of the world; the next one you’re about to go bankrupt.
How on earth can you live with so many uncertainties? The freedom of being your own boss isn’t of much use when you don’t know if your business will survive to see the next day.
No wonder entrepreneurs are stressed out. According to the Gallup Wellbeing Index, 45% of entrepreneurs report being stressed and 34% report being more likely to have “worried a lot.”
Before you go bonkers with all the pressure you’ve got in your shoulders, you need to learn to relax. After all, you’re the owner of the business, you technically only have to be as stressed as you want to be.
While the journey can feel daunting, it’s often surprising how much of that you get to control. *You* get to set the schedule, get to choose where and how to invest your time, get to choose what parts of your business to pay someone else to handle (finances or customer research or support or admin work or… if you choose… do all those things yourself because you have passion for them and are good at figuring stuff out).
Granted, getting off the ground and making enough money to support yourself and your business’ costs can be a challenge, but there are so many inexpensive ways to support a new startup that now is a wonderful time to take the plunge.
Realize you won’t end up sleeping in the streets if you fail and make mistakes. Sure, you may suffer, but it’s not as bad as you make it seem in your head.
One way you can face those inner demons that are making you doubt yourself is to meditate. Meditation has been proven many times over to reduce stress, help with anxiety issues, improve attention span, and much more.
You don’t need to go to a Buddhist temple or download five different meditation apps (although they can be helpful). Start by sitting down for five minutes and focusing on your breathing. Inhale and exhale, and pay attention to your body as you do so. When you feel your mind wander, simply take note of it and bring the focus back to the breath. It takes some practice, but that’s all you only need to get started.
Another way to relax is to take breaks from your computer, both throughout the day and every few weeks. In the former case, set a limit to how much you use it. Stop working at, let’s say, 8 p.m. every day, and avoid the computer until the following day at 8 a.m. Your eyes and mind will thank you for it.
In the latter case, you’ll need to take a few days off from your business. Take a weekend off and avoid focusing on your business at all. Leave the problem solving to your subconscious, which will continue to work on them while you relax.
Remember that if you fail, nothing will change. Life will continue. You will be OK.
Adapt to whatever comes your way. Learn to cope with challenges. It’s like Bruce Lee said, “Be like water, my friend.”
Relax, enjoy your business, your challenges, and your failures. One day you will look back and laugh about this.
Need business help? A trusted mentor can help.
Don’t Know What You’re Doing? It’s OK.
When you found this article, you were likely confused, lost, and a bit sad. You didn’t know what to do. You felt like you were an impostor, a lucky bastard who got it easy.
You’re not. If you’ve started a business, and especially if it’s at all profitable, you’re way beyond most people, even if it makes just a few thousand dollars a month.
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re much more prepared to go back to your business with renewed energy.
What’s the main reason you’re feeling lost? What business challenges are overwhelming you? Please, share your comments below; I’d love to see what you’re going through and how we can help you!