President Cyril Ramaphosa says he would like to see entrepreneurship taught in schools to develop a culture of self-employment from an early age.
While this is clearly the best solution to solving the unemployment crisis, one can only hope that the syllabus also teaches how to communicate effectively and deal with stress, as this is part of being an entrepreneur in a fast-paced world.
For most aspiring entrepreneurs the idea of flexible working hours, more money and the status of owning a business is enough motivation to leave the security of a job. It is also about the creativity to spot a gap in the market so your big idea makes money and ensures you are on the road to success.
But what ultimately defines the makings of a true entrepreneur is someone who realises that this road is often a bumpy one without the warning road signs to guide you.
It seems that everyone nowadays is starting a business, and according to social media platforms, it appears they are doing fine. However these picture-perfect facades are often just that.
There is no room for failure, anxiety or stress. Most entrepreneurs don’t share the hard day-to-day struggles of a lack of cash flow, uncertainty about the market offering and the lack of trusted advisers in a public forum. You certainly won’t read about the contract they just lost, or the staff they’ve retrenched, or the worries that keep them up at night, and sometimes the medication they need to take to keep it all together.
Behind the lure of smiling faces and amicable handshakes there are often high levels of anxiety that no-one sees. This is the dark side of entrepreneurship.
Without mentors and peer support an entrepreneur can easily feel extremely isolated, which can lead to burnout or depression
The path to building a business to a level where it makes a profit, and can hire staff and managers to run the company can be arduous and an emotionally and physically taxing process. A total 70%-80% of small businesses in SA fail within the first five years of existence and the lack of funding is often touted as the reason. But this isn’t the only reason.
What many entrepreneurs don’t admit is just how difficult it is to stay motivated to believe in what they are doing. As the entrepreneur you’re not only the idea generator, you’re required to be hands-on regarding accounting, legal, financial planning and business development.
Having the emotional and mental capacity to cope with the overwhelming responsibility of running a business is crucial. But it isn’t always that easy. In the early days of a business when one is wearing more than one hat, it requires longer hours at the office and at weekends, and less time with family and friends. Hobbies and exercise take a back seat and even sleep and diet become compromised.
For women entrepreneurs, there is the added stress of raising a family as well as parity in the workplace. The idea that women are inherently unlike men in terms of disposition, attitudes, and behaviours are still factors that influence how we navigate the world of work.
Without mentors and peer support an entrepreneur can easily feel extremely isolated, which can lead to burnout or depression.
So what are the solutions?
If businesses are to thrive, more emphasis should be placed on ways to empower entrepreneurs. Mentorship programmes and business coaches are great ways to surround oneself with experts who can offer guidance and support.
When I started my business in 1999, after several failed attempts, I wasn’t afraid to ask for support. I knew that as a woman in business I would have to align myself with people who had my back. I also maintained my belief in my business idea and sought advice from those more experienced than me. Partnerships are a great way to share the load, but it’s essential you find a partner who complements your skills and personality.
Another option is to join Entrepreneurs Organisation, a global peer-to-peer support network. This experience has been a game-changer for me. It’s a safe space to share my fears and uncertainties about not only my business but also my personal challenges. Being able to share the lows is where most of the value lies. When other members share similar experiences, you quickly realise you are not alone.
In popular culture, the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have highlighted the dark side of the often-touted glamorous entrepreneurial life with suicides rising by 30% since 1999 in the US.
Just knowing that others have experienced the same feelings of loneliness, self-doubt and lack of knowledge when running a business, or even the “impostor syndrome”, provides welcome support and a feeling of belonging.
• Finnis-Bedford is marketing & communications chair at the Entrepreneurs Organisation in Cape Town and CEO of locations agency Amazing Spaces