You aren’t crazy—there are good reasons why starting a business feels hard. Like any big change in life like getting married or having a baby, entrpreneurship has its ups and downs.
Once you get over the initial rush of your launch, certain that everything is going to go according to plan, you run into some snags. Your website developer disappears with your site half done. A sure-thing client cancels his project. Your Mom wants her dining room back and you have to start to pay for office space.
Martha Beck, O Magazine columnist and author of Finding Your Own North Star, has a very useful framework for describing the cycle of change experienced by new entrepreneurs. I explain it at least once a week to reassure my clients that “nothing is going right and it feels like the universe is conspiring against you, but you are not insane for thinking of starting a business, and once you get through this rough patch, things really will get better.” See if you can identify which square of change you are currently in according to Beck’s framework:
Square One: Death and Rebirth
Characteristics: This first stage of change happens when you consciously choose to move from employee to entrepreneur. Nothing is familiar anymore, and you grasp to both feel normal and explain your new work identity to others.
Mantra: I don’t know what the hell is going on, and that’s okay.
Recommendation: Stay focused inward, on your own insights and creativity. Exercise, eat right and stay grounded. Don’t worry about figuring everything out at this stage, just pay attention to how you feel, and stay open to possibility.
Square Two: Dreaming and Scheming
Description: Once you get more comfortable with your shift in identity, you begin to brainstorm a bunch of different business ideas and scenarios. The sky is the limit as you imagine yourself as a software genius, media tycoon, or rich inventor.
Mantra: There are no rules, and that’s okay.
Recommendation: Don’t edit your imagination. Run wild and think up new ideas for products and services. Don’t worry if they don’t make sense, or that no one you have ever known has ever been successful at it. The important thing is to brainstorm as many possible ideas as you can and gather lots of data from different sources.
Square Three: The Hero’s Saga
Description: You whittle down your big list of business ideas to one that appears to be viable. You launch the business. Everything goes wrong. People criticize you. You question your sanity.
Mantra: This is much worse than I expected, and that’s okay
Recommendation: Don’t get flustered. Expect that things will go wrong. Do not beat yourself up when they do. Focus on tweaking, learning from mistakes, and moving forward. Surround yourself with smart people and good support.
Square Four: The Promised Land
Description: When you get through the awful growing pains of Square Three, business will stabilize. You will have paying clients, make a profit, and get the right team in place.
Mantra: Everything is changing, and that’s okay.
Recommendation: Enjoy it while you can! Save your money, clean up your systems, and be smart about growth. Sooner or later, you will either be forced through the cycle again—or will go through it willingly.
For an in-depth, multimedia overview of the change cycle that entrepreneurs go through, click here.
Pamela Slim is a business coach and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur (Portfolio, May, 2009). Her blog is here.