Confessions of an Accidental Entrepreneur

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Elizabeth Grace Saunders, founder and CEO of Real Life E

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E, a time coaching and training company that empowers individuals who feel overwhelmed and frustrated to feel confident and accomplished through an exclusive Schedule Makeover process. Here Elizabeth talks about how she started her company and how to manage it.

Confession: I never thought I would be an entrepreneur.

I grew up in a traditional family: My dad worked at a corporation, and my mom did an awesome job of raising four kids. I excelled in school, got a full scholarship to a university, completed four internships, and then was hired for a corporate job (and was super excited about it) before graduating from college.

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Then life happened: I was laid off from my first full-time job six weeks after I was hired. After an escape to Europe for some solo adventures, I went back to work in the corporate world only to discover a year later that it was time to resign. My position didn’t align with my career goals so I wanted to move into a different corporate role that better suited my skills and personality.

I saved up enough money to live on for a while and talked with my parents about moving home as a fall-back plan. Then, on my one-year anniversary, I turned in my resignation letter and started sending out e-mails to my vast network of journalism professionals, letting them know that I was in the market for a new position.

Instead of sending me back leads on another 9-to-5 job, my friends in the journalism world asked me if I would like to do contract work for them in the interim. That was 2005. I’ve never had a “real” job since: My first full-time entrepreneurial venture grew out of an extremely practical mix of market demand and income necessity.

I didn’t plan to become an entrepreneur. I just became one, but I learned a number of things along the way.

How to Create Financial Structure

One of my first big entrepreneurial concerns involved how to consistently generate cash flow. I was extremely fortunate to have a strong client base from day one. But I still had to transition from receiving a regular paycheck during my year of full-time work to a system of invoicing and waiting for payment.

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To overcome these challenges, I learned to use these techniques:

  • Ask for some kind of payment in advance. When possible, I request at least 25 percent of payment before I begin a project. If that’s not possible, I try to have invoices due on receipt.
  • Keep a large savings cushion on hand. I have the proper accounts in place so that I can move through slower months without major financial stress.
  • Charge market rates for products and services. I charge more than “employee rates” because as an entrepreneur, I need to make more to account for the additional costs and risks of owning a business.
  • Focus on bigger contracts or orders. Selling a few large contracts instead of many small ones decreases the time I need to spend on marketing and sales and regulates income.

How to Create Time Structure

Another major hurdle I faced when I started my company involved having a sense of when I needed to focus on work and when I could relax without guilt. I’m ambitious, but I also thrive on order and really felt frustrated that I didn’t have clarity on when it was OK to stop working.

To create a sense of peace and achieve work/life balance, I began to:

  • Track my hours. Through a very simple time sheet, I record the hours I work each day. This gives me a simple way to assess how much time I’m investing in the company.
  • Set limits on how many hours I work per week. Although at first I felt like I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms, I made myself stop working at 50 hours and then gradually pared down my schedule until it was consistently putting in 40 hours or less per week.
  • Front load my days and weeks. I always try to work on the most important items early in the day and early in the week so that something taking longer than expected or an interruption doesn’t force me to work extra.
  • Limit personal activities. I try not to spend too much time on personal e-mail, phone calls or other activities when I’m within my work hours. This keeps me focused and productive.

By putting the proper financial and time structures in place, I’m able to enjoy the adventure of owning a company and still retain a sense of balance and security that satisfies my traditional side. While I never thought I would be an entrepreneur, I’m glad I am one.

Founded by Scott Gerber, the Young Entrepreneur Council (Y.E.C.) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The Y.E.C promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentor-ship, and resources that support each stage of a business’s development and growth.