I’m generally a very positive person to the point where people sometimes accuse me of seeing the world in rainbows and unicorns. But every once in a while, I get annoyed, and it’s often over the little things. Give me a crazy deadline that has to be met in two hours for some huge project, and I’m like MacGyver building an escape plan with gum and a toothpick. But for whatever reason, there are a few things that are like death by paper cuts to me as an entrepreneur. I’ll be all ready to talk about the learning and growing part of values driven enterprises on my next post. But sometimes, it’s important to share what you don’t love about doing what you love.
1) Explaining to someone what you do
I’m at a networking event, and the dreaded question just keeps coming up over and over again. “Sooooo, what do YOU do?” For some entrepreneurs this is straightforward- attorney, interior designer, construction. But maybe you’re building an app, or you’re a consultant, or you’re a values-driven entrepreneur who cares more about what your company can create as part of its mission. What do you say? Here are a few things I’ve tried
“I work for a company called Reliance Methods that...”
Chances are the person you’re talking to has never heard of your company. So they’ll ask a series of follow up questions until they just give you a blank stare and say something awesome like “oh”.
“I run my own company called Reliance Methods that…”
Lots of times people will look at you like “Suuuuree you run your own company” with implied air quotes that suggest entrepreneurism is just a euphemism for being unemployed.
“My company, Reliance Methods, does management consulting and talent placement, and we have clients like Walmart and Trammell Crow”.
This usually provides the most positive response, but it’s usually because they recognize your clients and still have no idea what you really do.
2) Keeping up with all the paperwork
I swear the postman is in an evil plot with my yet-to-be-revealed nemesis. Every other day there’s another piece of mail about something I need to do. Re-register your business legal status, resend the document that said nemesis already lost 3-4 times, attend this mandatory session only for small businesses.
The trees are holding nightly vigils for all their brethren slain at the hands of useless paperwork, while I could wallpaper my entire house with unopened envelopes. To be fair, the frequency with which I check my mail might be in part to blame (isn’t there something so contradictory about using snail mail for urgent paperwork? I know, I know it’s for security purposes). Still, you can imagine my frustration when I open my mail on Friday to find something that was due on Monday that I had only been sent on Wednesday.
And email is no better. Legitimate institutions should not be allowed to write their entire subject lines in all caps. Not unless they want their EXTEND YOUR MEMBERSHIP email to be deleted with the EXTEND YOUR MEMBER! emails.
3) Calling the help desks
The night before a huge client meeting, my laptop completed crapped out. Usually, I am able to dust off my skills to resolve my own tech issues but, under the duress of a deadline, my impatient internal CEO overtakes my calm internal tech geek and I wind up just frustrated with myself. After exhausting my abilities, I called the help desk for my computer and waited. And waited. And waited some more. After listening to the person on the other end go through their checklist of questions, he told me the worst thing you can ever hear when you’re having a technical issue. “I think you need to call the software folks. This seems like it’s not a hardware issue.” Click. Grrrrrr. What happened to my loaner laptop and the people whose job it was to meet SLAs and resolve my problem quickly? So I called the next help desk. And, after waiting even longer, was told the issue wasn’t their software. In search of another human to connect with I went to Best Buy and waited until the store almost closed only to be told my laptop was violated by a death virus that would require my laptop to be shipped somewhere for A WEEK!!!! WHAT??!!??
I miss the help desk I complained about when I worked for a large organization- at least it was just one desk. When I was part of a larger organization, I appreciated the support structures and people around me, but I didn’t anticipate what it would look like when they weren’t there and I had to fight the rest of the country—not just the rest of my company—for service. And it’s not just IT. From dealing with HR issues to getting legal and financial counsel I often feel like the unwanted orb in a dizzying round of “Wonderball.” It’s enough to make me go back and buy flowers for all the support people I used to take for granted. “Hello, 1-800-Flowers? Uhhh, yes I can hold.” Oh, never mind.
4) Finding good vendors
As an entrepreneur who’s in startup phase, your dreams and goals are so much bigger than your wallet. It isn’t surprising, then, that the big boys of whatever it is you need--marketing, legal, etc.-- aren’t going to touch you with a ten foot pole. Working with folks that are or used to be your size often means greater variability in quality, the unpredictability of which can be enough to unmoor the sanest of folks. You’re in a constant resource crunch- trying to balance what to do yourself to save money vs. what to outsource to save time. You probably started off trying to do some things yourself (“Oh, I’ll just make my own website. How hard can it be?”) until the feedback forced you to re-think that approach (“Hey, your website looks kind of bush league.”)
So you outsource it. You need it by tomorrow, obviously, but you’re trying not to be “that client” who emails and pesters and has unrealistic demands. But then you learn that the project is going to take two weeks, which puts you back at square one, as you could have done it yourself in two weeks. And now you really are “that client”--pestering, calling, emailing--but you know that pulling out now would only delay the process further. If you’re lucky (and I gratefully have been a few times), you find a high quality vendor who is passionate about the “little guys”. Otherwise, you probably want to pick a fight every time you open that vendor bill.
5) Giving pep talks… to yourself.
Being an entrepreneur sounds exciting and sexy. And the truth is that starting, running and keeping your business thriving is exciting. There are things about it that thrill and enlighten me everyday. It is also lonely, isolating and, at times, scary, to be an entrepreneur. So much of what you do is in your own head.
As an entrepreneur, you are probably slightly fanatical about whatever it is you are doing. You might also be fanatical about any number of other things-- outcomes, seeing change, creating impact, growing your business. And these things can’t happen everyday. Sometimes they don’t happen every month. And even when you know it’s not the case, it can sometimes feel like your purpose and your pursuit are just ever so slightly out of reach.
What you do, what you’re going to do, how you motivate yourself, much less those around you, all comes to being by your own focus and will. With no one around to say “Hey, chin up, you’re doing great!” or ”Keep it up—you’re getting there,” it’s the ultimate test of intrinsic motivation. What’s a values driven entrepreneur to do? I can tell you what I do. Camp Gladiator Boot Camp.
Here, among a group of sweaty, smelly bodies, I replenish the motivation well that I so dutifully draw from each day. The coaches might not be able to offer encouragement on a trickling revenue stream, but they can say “Great job on those crunches, Ty!”
And when they say my name I always get so pumped because, honestly, it’s nice to hear it outside of my own internal monologues. With each call, I’m like Super Mario jumping and running to collect gold coins for more lives. “Way to hustle, Ty!” (*ding*) “Great form on your burpees, Ty!” (*ding*)
And, sometimes, they offer up something so simple, intended to spur on one final lap. They don’t know, probably, just how much encouragement they’ve given when they shout out, with a slight smile, “Keep Going.”