Everybody tells you that starting a business is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. I only half believed them before, but now I’m marginally more experienced in such things I can only reiterate that advice. It’s tough. For me there have been several major lifestyle issues to deal with. Some of these were completely expected, whilst others came totally out of left field. Coping with these problems has been a focus of mine over the past few months, and it has had a strong impact on my day to day life.

The first pressure was easy to predict: being financial unstable. Hogrocket’s business plan has us running at a loss for nine months before any money comes in at all. Of course, each of us has put away enough money to survive this period whilst still paying mortgages, taxes, living costs, etc. The real killer for me wasn’t the fact that I physically don’t have enough money, but more the guilt of not being able to sustain myself in the future. My partner, Emily, and I have a mortgage which absolutely must be paid, so it’s my duty to make sure I meet my half of that obligation no matter what. Doing otherwise wouldn’t be fair on her, and could put our existing investments at risk. Totally can’t go there.

When you don’t have a regular salary coming in each month it adds strain to everything. In work terms it forces us to get our butts in gear and ship as soon as possible (not necessarily a bad thing), but it also means that every single decision (creative or otherwise) must be measured in financial terms too. Hogrocket needs to be a well-oiled machine, and it can lead to frustration and panic when it is not.

So I’m fixing this financial burden in a few different ways:

  • Firstly, and most importantly, I’m cutting down on excess spending. I’m having drastically fewer nights out, and cutting back on leisure purchases. For example, I haven’t bought myself either a 3DS or an iPad 2, even though I REALLLLYYYY want them! I keep telling myself that these are things I can afford when the company is financially self-sufficient, but not before then. Emily and I also plan our spending in advance, working out how much each of us will spend in the month and identifying large purchases ahead of time. We try and minimise use of the car, given the expensive price of petrol in the UK, and have even discussed getting rid of it completely. We also reschedule big money events to flatten our cash flow throughout the year, i.e. push back our holiday plans to when we might have some extra cash to pay for it.
  • We are keeping a close eye on our mortgage rate, using a financial advisor to help us find the best deals. Unfortunately in the current climate all the deals seem to be a bit crap, but every little helps. We’re also planning for the future with regard to the house, mainly finishing off various DIY jobs and renovations. The idea is that if we do hit hard financial times we’ll be able to sell the house quickly and easily, and reduce our mortgage burden if the worst does happen. We also get regular valuations on the house for the same reason.
  • I’m also investing my savings wisely, using multiple high-interest bank accounts and taking advantage of tax-free ISA savings schemes. I’m looking to invest in more stocks and shares over the next couple of months in order to try and maximise this income too.
  • Finally, I’m spreading my time between several projects. Hogrocket is my main focus and it’s how I spend my days, but in the early mornings and evenings I work on several other items for my second company. Generating income from these additional projects provides a small amount of relief; enough to keep me going if everything else fails. It also spreads risk (and opportunity), meaning that I have a buffer between success and total failure.

As for the unexpected problems, the main one has been stress. I’ve encountered huge amounts of stress over the past few months, resulting in tension headaches and even laying awake at night, unable to sleep because of the worry. Even during the day I’ve found it hard to remain focussed and work as hard as I know I can. Anybody who knows me well will attest that I’m not normally a stressed person; I like to think of myself as quite laid back and able to deal with life’s ups and downs. Certainly I’ve never experienced anything like this before in my life. That’s why this amount of stress took me completely by surprise, and to be quite frank I had no idea how to deal with it. The experience made me realise that stress is a real thing, and not just something made up by people who don’t want to work!!

So how am I beating stress? Well, I’ve got a multi-pronged approach to this one too:

  • Exercise! I try to get outside and exercise every other day at least. Not only does this have a positive chemical reaction on your body, but it also helps to clear your head and move your thoughts onto something else. I originally started jogging a few months ago, but quickly replaced this with a regular cycling regime. I prefer cycling because you get a good sense of progress as you go. I tend to cycle in the early morning for about 10 miles (16km), meaning that I get to see lots of cool scenery before I eat breakfast.
  • I am also trying to eat healthily. Emily is an excellent cook, and often creates excellently healthy, high energy foods for us to munch on. This is the kind of thing that sneaks up on you, but it does make a difference. We only noticed the other day when we had a dirty fish and chips, and both of us felt really lethargic for hours afterwards. If you eat well you’ll gradually have more energy, and be able to do more with your day. Likewise I’m not drinking much alcohol any more. I used to drink quite a lot; it’s the culture in Liverpool. Now that many drinking buddies have moved out to Canada and elsewhere it’s not really something I do much of now. In fact I try and drink more Chinese herbal tea nowadays! I picked some up in Beijing… not convinced it’s doing much but it’s worth a shot!
  • I also try to find other outlets for my creativity. Recently I’ve been drawing quite a lot as I find it relaxing; it’s difficult to find a quiet place to do it though. I also just took part in a two day course on film-making. I’m hoping that the cross-pollination of these two types of media would help Hogrocket, as well as provide another interesting outlet for me. I’m also reading a lot of books right now. Initially I made the mistake of exclusively reading things relevant to work, i.e. books about business, programming, presentations, working in a team, etc. The problem with this is that you just end up working 100% of the time, with no downtime. Recently I’ve been reading stuff that is totally not relevant, and that’s helped lower my stress levels for sure.
  • Finally, I’ve made sure to keep my weekends free. Instead of working, either on Hogrocket or personal projects, I’ve made the effort to go out and see friends, go for walks in the woods, long bike rides, or work on the house.

This is all a bit doom and gloom, right? Well, not entirely. There are some great upsides to operating a business. Not having to stick to a rigid routine is great – I can choose how I approach problems, and in which order. If something doesn’t need my attention straight away then it can sit for a while until I have the enthusiasm to tackle it head on. It’s also nice to be able to change my day based on un-movable appointments, for example if I need to go to the bank/post office/whatever, or have somebody coming to do something at the house. Oh and right now we are working in bedrooms rather than offices, which is a nicer atmosphere – although it’s not exactly a long-term solution!

However, there’s a fine line to walk between creating your own schedule (good), and just not having a schedule (bad). I’m really careful to not make the mistake of falling into slack behaviour. If I have an appointment during the day then I’ll try to make up the time in the evening. I make a point of doing roughly the same working hours each day (2 hours in the morning on personal projects, 7 hours on Hogrocket, and then another hour or two on personal stuff again). The most important thing is to maintain strong forward momentum on everything; it’s very easy to get caught up in being lazy when you don’t have a boss bugging you.

I hope this blog post has been interesting to you. Let me know what you think!

This was originally posted on Ben Ward’s personal blog.