One of the first things that hits you when starting a business is the sheer quantity of work that you need to organise. Nothing, not university, not even the most vaunted work experience placement can quite prepare you for what lies ahead.
Not only are there all the usual ways in which you imagine a business can sap your time, such as client relations, investment scouting and enough tax related paperwork to keep your average accountant busy until he evolves an extra typing finger, but there are the hidden potholes that can finish your aspirations quicker than you can say VAT filing.
Added to the in-tray is the entertaining, but time consuming, race to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology and social networking. In some fields not tweeting makes you a twit. You have to keep your profile up, boost it and nurture it, until it reaches the point at which people talk about it without your constant attention. Even then you have to keep going, reaching out to more and more potential clients and investors.
Some aspects really can be like raising a small, unpredictable child. You cannot neglect to pay attention to the language and typography on your website, neglect to monitor how markets are developing, how perceptions of your product may change (even seasonally). You have to juggle these opportunities and potential problems, because the alternative is failure.
Even when you get home at the end of the day your phone is there on the arm of your chair; it is your eyes and your ears, it is your link whether you want to be connected, or, as is often the case, not. There are the 9pm calls that fracture evenings, the make or break emails that arrive in the candlelight of a restaurant visit leaving you typing away while your soup gets ever colder.
You have to become adept at prioritizing everything, almost from the off. If funds are limited you have to know who to pay and who to leave waiting. The cultivating of relationships is important for just this reason, because clients and investors alike must trust you, your team and your company, but in the blizzard of essential tasks, or the calm of an evening off, these can slip through the cracks, leaving you high and dry just when you greatly need a favour.
Juggling, then, is a skill not to be underestimated. It isn’t only a matter of keeping everything going, but of judging when and where to give-up time and energy; two resources that are far more limited than many would have you believe.
There are ways to organise, but you can never organise the mayhem away. The first thing you must sacrifice is everything. You must be prepared to view your free time as part of the same business life-support-system as the hours you spend in the office.
Working backwards, from the things you hate doing to those that you love is a good rule. It is human nature to want to work on new innovations, or the progression of ideas, on the creative aspects that stimulate the mind, the big ideas that could shape the future.
But you can’t chase aspirations at the expense of reality. Things must be airtight; without the nitty-gritty, without the boring cables, the suspension bridge comes down; its beauty and innovation alone can do nothing to keep it up. Likewise that five-year plan; that incredible new product or idea will remain firmly on the paper if in five years the dreams have sunk without a trace.
Replacing the questionable pragmatism of dreams with realistic ambitions and viewing the balance between desires and reality is paramount. Not just with plans but spending too. Flashy offices often have to wait, as it is always more beneficial spending money on polishing those areas of the business that your clientele actually come into contact with.
Better to polish the website than furnish yourself with a new computer, for example. No one knows from which machine, or indeed from where, you might be emailing. Modern technology can allow you to present a professional front whilst sat at home in your jogging bottoms on a Sunday, invasive and helpful at once.
Dedication, organisation, desire and an ability to handle pressure are indispensable. Opportunities rarely wander into your path; you have to work for them. A good quote from an American Football coach states: "When you want to succeed as badly as you want to breath, then you'll be successful". The world is saturated with ideas and to get to the head of the pack you have to do everything, not just the flashy aesthetics, almost faultlessly.
You must learn to juggle, and juggle deftly, your time, a smorgasbord of ever-accumulating tasks and balance of your human urges to chase your dreams and the opposing cold realities. And, perhaps most difficult of all, your personal life. One thing is for certain: business never sleeps.
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