Entrepreneurship has taken a bit of a beating lately. We’ve had some poor economic indicators and reports released, we’ve had academics and successful businesspeople doubting whether entrepreneurship is really a viable option, we’ve had some ‘business-unfriendly’ legislation bandied about…
This piece is not going to be some soapbox rally cry to entrepreneurs, though. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been an entrepreneur since my teens, and I’ll be one until I kick the proverbial bucket, but in the interests of hopefully answering some lingering questions for all the would-be business owners out there, I thought I’d take a very open, very honest look at a snapshot of this last week. One of the questions I get asked the most is: “What is it really like to be an entrepreneur?”
To answer this, I thought I’d give an hour-by-hour breakdown of two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) from this past week.
[A quick disclaimer: These were slightly busier days that usual, and I’m involved with a number of businesses, whereas most businesspeople are usually just laser-focused on one enterprise.]
Tuesday, 11am: Wake up.
11:30am-1pm: Have breakfast, and answer student queries on the online discussion forums for the business and finance courses I teach for GetSmarter.
1pm-2pm: Answer emails and make/return phone calls.
2pm-3:30pm: Mark student assignments.
3:30-3:45: Break for a quick walk on the balcony, and a between-meal snack (I’m constantly fuelling myself to keep going, and swear by a couple of handfuls of peanuts & raisins and a protein shake mid-afternoon).
3:45-5pm: Finish marking allotment of assignments.
5pm-6pm: Have lunch, and read the newspaper cover to cover.
6pm-7pm: Answer emails and pop onto the discussion forums to look for any urgent queries.
7pm-9pm: Dinner nearby with one of my business partners, Chris, and some friends.
9pm-11pm: Riding bicycles around the back streets near the Cape Town stadium with Chris while the Bon Jovi concert was on. For a new business of mine, Island Life, we ran a marketing campaign where we stuck realistic-looking pink ‘fines’ on people’s driver’s windows. The payoff line in the ‘offence’ blocks was “Get stressed for a minute there? You probably need an island holiday…” with our contact details shown just underneath.
11pm-1am: On the discussion forums answering lengthier posts, and bashing out a couple more emails.
1am-2am: Showering and getting ready for bed.
Wednesday, 11am: Wake up.
11:30am-1pm: Have breakfast, and answer questions on the forums.
1pm-1:30pm: Head to the depot for my limousine company, Chariot Limousines, and pick up a battery from my battery guys on the way there.
1:30pm-2pm: Prep one of our vehicles, and see off a driver who’s doing a drive later that evening.
2pm-2:30pm: Replacing batteries and tinkering with one of our other vehicles, before taking it for a quick test-run.
2:30-5:30pm: At our office for another business, Camissa Bicycles. Emails to a couple of customers, talking some marketing and strategy with my partner Jon, putting in a (successful) phone to a potential location for a new bicycle rental business we’re pivoting into, and contacting some of my investors regarding finance for a shipment of kids bikes that we’re bringing in after having recently secured the local distribution licence.
5:30pm-6:30pm: Stuck in concert traffic (thanks, Justin Bieber).
6:30-7:30pm. Lunch, and a read-through of the newspaper.
7:30-9pm: Emails, discussion forums, and some low-level market research online for some ideas we’ve had.
9pm-11pm: After wolfing down a quick supper at home, out on our bicycles again, to go and stick some more ‘fines’ on people’s windows. (We just couldn’t not take advantage of the fact there were two huge artists at the stadium on subsequent nights)
11pm-12am: A quick celebratory beer on the balcony with Chris while concert traffic dies down.
12am-1am: Showering and getting ready for bed.
1am: In bed, bushed.
A couple of observations and lessons for others out there:
Work with your body clock, not against it. The first thing that people will probably notice from the above is that I’m pretty nocturnal by nature. (Believe it or not, I’ve actually dialled it back a bit, compared to going to bed at 4/5am). I’ve simply identified what time of day I’m at my best, and my body just doesn’t function in the early morning. I often do my best work between 10pm and 1/2am (it’s 1am as I’m writing this, for example), and it doesn’t hurt that the phone doesn’t ring at this time of night. Find what time of day you’re operating at your peak, and keep your most important work for then.
Keep fuelled up: I don’t really suffer from the usual blood sugar fluctuations that characterise the average person’s late-afternoon slump, for example, as I’m a stickler for eating at least something small every 2-3 hours. I have snacks stashed everywhere (at home, at the office, in my car). To do the same, focus on healthy nuts, fruit (natural or dried) and a bit of dairy (yoghurts are great), and you’ll maintain your work rate better than you’d believe possible.
Be prepared to get your hands dirty. I’m not suggesting contract killing as a career here - just know that, as an entrepreneur, there will be times when you need to get stuck into the nitty-gritty. Case in point, I was literally de-greasing my hands after tinkering with vehicles, so that I could use my laptop for emails afterwards. If there’s no-one else to do it, it will fall on your shoulders – and don’t expect your people to do things that you’re not prepared to do (you don’t actually have to do them – that’s why their jobs are their jobs - but you should be prepared to if needs be).
Email is a tool, not your master. I only check my emails two to three times a day, and answer them in batches. I don’t have any notifications that ping, and I don’t allow myself to get distracted by them. Trust me, if you’re on email twice/thrice a day, people will never have to wait more than a couple of hours to hear from you, and they won’t complain. If it’s crazy-urgent, they’ll learn to phone. I also always make sure to get some high-value work done before I open my emails for the first time in any given day. Recognise electronic communication for what is – a tool to make you more efficient, not less so.
And then, before you think that all entrepreneurs work 14 hours a day every day, know that I took the next day at ‘half-pace’. I even spent two hours mid-afternoon catching up on some Game of Thrones – can you do that in your office? That’s the ultimate beauty of running your own business: It’s the ultimate results-oriented work environment – you’re the only one that dictates what needs to get done and when it needs to be done by, so if you’ve clocked all the tasks you’ve set for yourself, you get to do what you want to do with the free time afterwards…