Starting-up: What no-one tells you about managing expectations.

self employment and managing expectations

It goes without saying that a large part of starting-up and running a successful business involves planning and with this comes a strong desire to see your carefully devised plans fall into place.

You obviously want to see your business grow and flourish, so you invest a huge amount of time and effort into getting it up and running.  But here’s the problem.

Your nearest and dearest assumes that you should have made some serious money by the end of your first six month’s to a year’s trading.

Friends assume that you can take unlimited time off and afford the same social life that their salaried positions provide.

A year or two later, you’re fed up of having to explain that you’re still at the stage where you have to plough every penny you make back into the business.

And to top it all, even you are beginning to feel disappointed that you haven’t made as much progress as you’d hoped.

Frustrating, isn’t it?


Conflicting expectations

The concept of expectation is, by its very nature, open to interpretation and we certainly can’t avoid it because how else can targets be set and goals achieved.

But the challenge when you work for yourself  is that you have to cope with a host of expectations from different sources.

There are your expectations based upon your research of the business itself, the facts and figures you arrived at when you first sat down to examine the viability of your idea, the ‘predictions’ and ‘forecasts’.  These are obviously, in part, affected by market forces.

There are the softer, perhaps more nebulous expectations of your closest family and friends, and then there are your own – your hopes, dreams, ideals and milestones.

What do you do when everyone else’s expectations seem to be so different to your own?


Reframe your own expectations

I think that the starting point is to ensure you manage your own expectations effectively.  Are they realistic?

Let’s take a look at some fundamental factors which are frequently downplayed or at times even overlooked:

  • If you’re starting up, have you thoroughly tested the viability of your idea?    Have you clearly identified your market?  How big is it and does it really need your idea?  Have you identified your customers?  Why will they buy from you?  Where will you find them?  How will you market your service or product to them?  How much will you charge? The list goes on!  It’s all too easy to get carried away with this wonderful idea for a business, but if you haven’t researched it properly before investing time and money into it, you’ll soon become frustrated when your expectations don’t come into fruition.


  • Can you really run the business by yourself?  While it makes perfect sense to save money wherever possible, don’t expect to be able to do everything yourself.  There will come a time when you will need to pay for help.  Few start-ups can afford full-time staff without substantial funding, so have you factored in the cost of outsourcing work to freelancers or consultants?


  • Do you have the necessary finances and cashflow to startup and keep going?  One of the main sources of frustration, and frankly the death of many a start-up, is insufficient funds and little cashflow to keep running.   It’s also worth mentioning the unrealistic  expectation that clients and customers will always pay on time. Unfortunately they don’t!  So it’s vital to safeguard your profit expectations by having upfront payments wherever possible, strict non-negotiable terms of payment on invoices and then follow-up non-payment of invoices promptly afterwards.


You might find that once you’ve sat yourself down and taken a closer look at some of these factors, you’ll need to reframe your expectations so that they’re more closely aligned with what can realistically be achieved.


Push back the expectation of others

To many, the very word ‘entrepreneur‘ conjures up the image of a successful celebrity entrepreneur – a millionaire – which, incidentally, is one of the reasons why some entrepreneurs feel uncomfortable with the word and don’t refer to themselves as one.  When you don’t appear to be making thousands, let alone millions (yet), people can be dismissive of your work and achievements.

There’s also the contentious issue if you’re a self-employed mum who happens to work from home.  You’re either a full-time mum with a hobby business ‘on the side’ and therefore not to be taken seriously.  Or alternatively, if you’re working around the family, then surely you can fit in all those little chores around the home in between work!  And by the way, are you just a ‘mumpreneur’ or a proper entrepreneur?

It’s frustrating when those closest to you don’t appear to be on the same page, or even recognise the hard work that you’re investing into your business.

But frankly, you can’t please everyone all of the time and neither should you try to.  If anything, I think you should push back their expectations.  This is about sticking to your guns.

What will help, is if you regularly communicate the great work that you are doing.  Openly celebrate your milestones.  Big up your testimonials/awards/nominations when you receive them.   Your have a real business with 101 satisfied customers – raving fans.  They can’t all be delusional!

It’s also important to be honest about your setbacks, so that those closest to you can give you their support in a meaningful way.  When you do encounter those setbacks, explain exactly what type of support you’ll need.  It might be something as simple as asking family and friends to take over childcare one day over the weekend, so that you can take yourself off to your nearest library to refocus on your goals.

One thing you do need to be very clear of yourself from the outset so that you can communicate it on a regular basis, is that few startups show a profit in the first year.

Breaking even is a very positive achievement.  Profitability may well need to be a long-term goal.





I’m Mary Cummings, a ghostwriter, collaborator and all round word doctor. I help business owners write and publish business books; I'm also passionate about helping creative freelancers find work that they love - their work sweet spot with work on their terms, projects they love and clients who are a dream to work for.

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