The “Shit Period” might sound rough…but in truth it’s a beautiful thing. It’s an experience that binds the entrepreneurship community, provides business founders a sense of fulfillment and in later years is often looked back on in with a sense of fondness. It’s where the core of a business or large project takes shape and true value is formed. A business grows up fast during this phase – busting through its immaturity and building long term character through immense learning.

But it’s called the shit period because it’s hard; damn hard. Once you’ve been through it – you’re part of an unofficial entrepreneurial club with a shared respect over battle stories.


What is the Shit Period?

We define this as the phase where an idea turns into a project or business. It’s called the shit period because it’s shit. An endless sea of things that must be done, consistently changing variables, missed timelines, cash shortfalls, sleepless nights, and even inklings of regret.  It tends to be an identifiable timeline between the creation of your idea and an eventual sense of stability or flow in your business.

[Flow: an existence where your business knowledge and skill matches the complexity and challenge and you’re free of both anxiety and boredom.]


Why does it happen?

A business idea simply has too many unknown or uncontrollable variables to avoid the shit period.  You’re spending money on an unproven concept which is stressful even for gritty entrepreneurial veterans. It’s a basic fear of the unknown. Overnight success is a myth. The shit period happens for all businesses. It’s part of the game and must be embraced. God bless ‘em: all business founders have jumped off the ledge into this sea of unknown and once they’ve jumped – they must figure it out as they go. You can’t tell the future and that anxiety makes this phase of running a business very hard at times. It’s important to note: the shit period doesn’t just apply to the start-up phase. It happens to varying degrees for each new project big or small. If your business is going to try a new service approach: shit period. If you’re launching a positioning project for your business: shit period. If you hire new team members to fulfill an exciting new client project: there it is – the shit period.


Signs you’re in it:

–      Your bank balance is dropping – sometimes at alarming rates and often deep into the negative

–      You simply don’t have enough time to do all necessary things to make your business awesome

–      Change is constant and you wonder if you’re heading in the right direction

–      You live with “imposters syndrome” a feeling that you’re pretending to know what you’re doing

–      You’re wondering why the hell you did this in the first place. Whose idea was this?

–      80% of your time is doing things you don’t want to do

–      You’re tired – solid long sleeps are rare

–      You hustle for clients – each new client takes time and energy


Signs you’re busting out of it:

–     Your bank balance is growing – and your take home pay is increasing

–     You’re experiencing a sense of stability – business is recurring and sustainable

–     Major changes in your business model have turned into minor tweaks

–     You have confidence – you know what you do well and have a process to back it up

–     The hustle decreases – clients call you based on recognition and referral

–     You claim some of your life back – vacations, stress free weekends, time with family and friends

–     You’re sleeping better


Minimizing the Shit Period

We’ve identified the required perspective and mental space to bust out of the shit period:

Embrace Business Awareness:

The founder’s self-awareness and how this translates into business awareness is critical to minimizing the shit period and getting to a better version of your business. What is the business awesome at? What are you weak at? Can you admit early on that you don’t know much about your idea and that your plan A might not work? Figuring out your strengths and finding opportunities to work more in those areas will often shorten the shit period.

Embrace Strategy Processes:

Hypothesize, Track and Adjust: we have an article dedicated to the right type of business planning Here but as a summary – have key goal areas for your business and create a set of metrics to track them. Then, listen closely to what your metrics tell you.

Embrace Change:

Your business might experience a couple major pivots over the first couple of years before the shit period is really over.  These iterations might include changing your market, your service model, or decreasing your business size. Some of the most stable businesses will have some sort of “stick of dynamite” moment before really coming out of the shit period: firing clients or employees or both to get into a healthy structure.

Embrace Failure:

Entrepreneurship is no place for a fragile ego. The shit period is often a series of small but necessary failures leading to the eventual realization of the best version of your business. Owning up to mistakes and tackling them head-on is potentially the number one way to decrease the shit period time. Often, founders are unwilling to admit they hired to many people, charge too little, over-service clients, hired too junior, or have flaws in the service process. This denial and inability to embrace mistakes can be paralyzing.


Stress vs. Anxiety

Even after the shit period: a business needs to push, change and evolve – stress doesn’t go away. If you’re waiting for your business to be entirely stress free – you’re waiting for something that doesn’t exist. The defining characteristic of the shit period is anxiety. Anxiety is fear of the unknown whereas stress of fear of the known. Stress is necessary for a business to evolve and thrive – it motivates and builds camaraderie. Anxiety over the long run is damaging and should be minimized whenever possible. Embrace the shit period, turn the unknown into known and push through to the best version of your business. Join the club and earn the badge of honour.

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.” — Thomas A. Edison


Recommended Books:

Make Ideas Happen – 99U

How to be a Designer without Losing Your Soul

Heart, Smarts, Guts and Luck