Please note that I’m writing this at 2 am after an intense hyperfocus. So if some of it doesn’t make sense, you’ll have to make do.
I’m trying to make an effort to open up and speak more freely about not just the successes of SmashBear. I think it’s important to show the full picture of what it can look like to run your own business, especially in the early stages.
It’s important we have these open conversations so that we can recognize that these feelings are normal. There are so many amazing business owners out there sharing a realistic picture of what running a business actually looks like, so here are my 9 things that suck about being a small business owner.
Standard disclaimer: these are just my opinions and experiences.
TLDR: I’m broke, have very few friends, and very tired
1. I have 0 money
Despite working a full-time job alongside running a business, I never seem to have any ‘spare’ money. This is usually down to investing back into SmashBear, buying materials/stock, etc., but it’s so frustrating sometimes when you just want to see savings in your account, but the last big expense has just wiped you clean.
2. Things always cost more than you expect
Why is packaging so expensive? Book/graphic designers, editors, printing cost, shipping costs, market entrance fees, stock for the markets etc. Whatever you budget for, just expect to go over it
3. It’s lonely
While I’ve managed to build a lovely community, it’s hard to build anything but a friendly working relationship. Plus you other friends can’t relate to the struggles of running a business or understand why you’re spending all day inside when the weather’s in the 20’s. Yes, I would like to be down the beach, but I have to work.
4. You have 0 money
Yes, I’m repeating this point, but for a different reason. Most small businesses don’t turn over a profit until their 5th year. Until then you’ll be lucky to break even, which SmashBear has been doing consistently for a while now. But this also means that you won’t be able to pay yourself a wage. SmashBear’s 3 now, so I’m still looking at, at least another 2 years of working and not paying myself.
5. You have to know everything and be everywhere
Unless you’ve secured yourself a nice investment, odds are you’re going to be doing most, if not all of the work yourself. You’ll have to be an expert in accounting, sales, marketing, business management, leadership, branding, product development, project management, etc. The list goes on. You have to have at least a working knowledge of all aspects of your business and you need to be able to give your attention to them all of the time.
I usually feel like I’m just putting out fires but have 0 time to get proactive and anticipate issues before they arise.
6. It’s draining
You’re your own cheerleader. Your family and friends can support you, but the entirety of your business is your burden. A social media post doesn’t do as well as it should, a product launch goes wrong, customers are disappointed… the buck stops with you. Everything that goes wrong will be pointed out, and everything that goes right will be treated as ‘business as usual’.
You need to be able to pick yourself up after constant setbacks and push past them.
7. You put your life on hold
This may just be personal to me, but it feels like I’ve had to put my life on hold. Can’t take promotions at work as they’d be too time-consuming and also can’t deal with the extra mental load. Can’t save enough money for a deposit on a house, and because I can’t take a work promotion, the houses I could afford aren’t great anyway. Can’t get a newer car because the money goes back into SmashBear. Until SmashBear starts earning serious money, it feels like I’m stuck in place, watching everyone else go by. It doubly sucks as well because my partner is the best and supports me so much. He’s basically got enough for his deposit and now it feels like I’m holding him back too.
8. There is so much pressure to succeed
I started SmashBear during the pandemic and invested all of my savings into getting it off the ground. We’ve had some great successes and have built such an amazing team. But there is so much pressure for continued success. A lot of us are working alongside full-time jobs and university so that we can build a company that we will be proud to work for in the future.
The authors have entrusted me with their work. To get the manuscripts they’ve spent years on out to the market.
There’s the pressure I put on myself to prove I’ve not wasted 3 years of my life and all of my savings. The pressure to prove to everyone else the same thing. To prove to my partner that I didn’t waste 3 years of his life either. To prove to the amazing people who work with us that they have a future here.
9. Mental health care is so hard
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for over a decade now, and whilst it feels like SmashBear has given my life a sort of purpose, it’s also incredibly taxing on my mental health. As a chronic people pleaser, it’s doubly hard for me to not spiral into a pit of despair as soon as something goes wrong.
I’ve also recently become aware that I probably have ADHD (diagnosis pending), and working around that has been crazy intense.
I burn out constantly, sometimes taking over a week to respond to messages and emails because my brain is just in sleep mode. I’ve gotten better with it recently after some great talks with friends and family, but learning how to navigate running a business whilst being neurodivergent is something I didn’t really think about.
Plus, anyone with adhd knows that instant gratification is where the true dopamine is. And let me tell you, there is no instant gratification in running a business. It’s a marathon of immense proportions.
So yeah, I'm poor, tired, and in need of a nap. But would I have it any other way? ...maybe.