Building a Cybersecurity Business: Harsh Truths I Wish I’d Known 

 April 4, 2024

By  Jane Frankland

Recently, a friend of mine who’s just started her own cybersecurity business asked me what I wished I’d known before starting my own business, two decades ago. Having swapped backstories with other “successful” entrepreneurs — including all those not so glamorous aspects — I couldn’t help but write this for her, and for others who are starting out or scaling.

You see, there’s a romanticised portrait of entrepreneurship painted in the minds of many—an alluring image of being your own boss, the freedom to make decisions, and the potential for limitless growth. But beneath this glossy veneer lies a reality that’s bloody harsh, unforgiving, and saturated with trials that grow more complex as you scale your business. The path is literally littered with challenges and they get harder the bigger your company gets.

Before I give you 22 harsh truths which instantly came to mind, if you’re struggling to grow your cybersecurity business, and win business, come join next Masterclass. It’s happening on 1st May at 2pm London time and I’ll be running through:

  • How the market is changing in cyber and how this affects you winning work.
  • The top 3 mistakes nearly all companies make and how to avoid making them.
  • A proven strategy for differentiation that’s fast, effective and doesn’t break the bank.

Register here.

#1. It’s Tough and Gets Tougher—Until You Exit

As your company grows, so too does the list of responsibilities and concerns. It’s like climbing a mountain and thinking the summit is the end, only to realise there are more peaks waiting for you.

Right at the start you’ll be worried about finding your first client, and explaining to anxious family members why you think your idea will work. As you grow, the stakes will get higher and you’ll be wondering if your business will survive another year as you’ll need 25 clients just to break even. Then, your competition will increase, legal issues will need to be resolved, employees hired, guided and fired, operations scaled, and investors appeased when you don’t hit your revenue targets. It’s a constant balancing act with no end in sight — at least until you’ve exited the company, banked your money, and worked through your contractual exit clauses.

#2. It Starts With You—and It’s All on You

The life of an entrepreneur is rife with decisions, from minute operational details to grand strategic changes, and each choice carries weight. The ultimate responsibility rests on your shoulders, as you’re the one solving problems and strategising for the future.

It’s like the time you need an overdraft but the bank won’t extend it despite a healthy sales order book, and the fact that you’ve been in business for years. You’ll be the one finding a way forward, getting resourceful. Or when you’re going for investment and your team are banking on you to close the deal. You’re the one convincing the investors that your business is worth their money. You’re the one taking the risk and putting your house up as collateral. The success or failure of your business lies on your shoulders, and it takes a certain kind of resilience and determination to handle that pressure.

#3. Choose your Co-Founder/s Wisely

Starting a business with someone can be like getting married. You’re going to spend a lot of time together, make important decisions together, and have to navigate conflicts and challenges as a team. That’s why it’s important you choose your cofounder/s wisely, especially as (aside from revenue) it’s one of the most common challenges you’ll hear about.

Ensure you have complementary skills, and that your values, and visions for your company align. Additionally, set clear boundaries and expectations for each other from the beginning, and prepare for the worst-case scenario by having a clear legal agreement in place – even if you’re married or are life partners! That way, you’re better protected.

#4. It’s Not About the Money (At Least Not at First)

Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurship is not just about chasing money. In fact, most successful entrepreneurs are driven by something much deeper—a passion for their purpose, a desire to make an impact, to leave a legcy, a need for creative fulfilment. Money is simply a byproduct of their efforts and success. And in the early stages of building a business, you won’t be making much money at all—you’ll likely be reinvesting most of it back into your company to keep it afloat and be the worst paid of all your employees.

#5. It’s Not Just About the Idea

Many aspiring entrepreneurs believe that success hinges solely on having a revolutionary idea. But the truth is, it takes more than that to build a successful business. Many good businesses are built on existing ideas, but it’s the execution and determination of the entrepreneur that sets them apart. Your idea may be great, but it takes hard work, resilience, and adaptability to turn it into a profitable venture. Often, being able to pivot your idea or strategy when needed can be the difference between success and failure.

#6. Money Matters—A Lot

Finances are the lifeblood of any business, and as an entrepreneur, you’ll need to have a keen understanding of your company’s financial health. From managing cash flow (as it’s king) to securing funding, money management is a critical aspect of running a successful business. But it’s not just about having enough money to keep the lights on. It’s also about knowing how to allocate resources, make smart investments, and control costs. Ignoring these financial aspects can quickly lead to the downfall of even the most promising business idea.

#7. Time is Your Most Valuable Asset

When you become an entrepreneur, time management becomes critical to your success. You must prioritise tasks, ruthlessly eliminate distractions, and constantly reassess your schedules and routines as new demands arise. And above all, you must learn to delegate. If you try to do everything yourself, your business will suffer. But time is also an elusive commodity for entrepreneurs. Days blur into endless nights as the demands of running a business consume your every waking moment. You’ll find yourself sacrificing personal time, hobbies and even relationships in pursuit of success.

#8. You Have to Sell—All the Time

As an entrepreneur, you are the face of your business. That means you have to constantly sell your product or service, whether it’s to potential clients, investors or partners. Even if you have a great team behind you, your passion and belief in your business should never waver. You need to be able to communicate effectively and make convincing arguments for why your company is the best choice. And don’t forget, selling also means being able to sell yourself and your vision to potential employees. After all, they’re choosing to invest their time and skills into your business.

#9. There’s No Universal Blueprint for Success

Part of the fantasy surrounding entrepreneurship is the purported existence of a universal path to success. This is a myth. The truth is that building a business is akin to being an engineer engaged in perpetual troubleshooting. What works like a charm for one will not necessarily propel another to the same heights. The constant testing and refining are not optional—they are the essence of survival and innovation in business.

#10. No one Rewards you for your Errors

Failure is not a matter of if, but when. According to Forbes, 90% of startups fail. As an entrepreneur, you must accept that failure is an intrinsic part of the journey. You’ll experience setbacks and make mistakes—sometimes costly ones and there’s no one to give you gold stars for when you make them. But your failures are essential to your growth and eventual success. You need a high error rate so you learn more faster. So fail fast and as cheaply as possible. It’s up to you to learn from your mistakes, pivot when necessary, and keep moving forward towards success.

#11. Mentors and Coaches are Crucial

The road to entrepreneurship is a lonely one. You’ll face challenges that no one else can fully understand—except for those who have walked the same path. Mentors and coaches are vital in navigating the entrepreneurial landscape. They’ll offer invaluable advice, share their experiences and help you avoid pitfalls they’ve encountered. Don’t be afraid to pay for coaches, and build relationships with seasoned entrepreneurs. Their guidance could mean the difference between success, long-lasting struggle and failure.

#12. You’ll Encounter Skeptics and Lose Friends

As an entrepreneur, you’re bound to encounter skeptics—people (often friends and family) who denigrate your ideas or otherwise serve as a hindrance. Even among those who believe in your vision, there will be disagreements over strategy, finances, and other critical aspects of the business. These conflicts can strain relationships and lead to unexpected rifts. And when you meet with success, expect that your newfound accomplishments will alienate some friends or incite resentment.

#13. Work Never Ends and You’ll Face Constant Uncertainty

Entrepreneurship is not a Monday through Friday 9-5 job. It’s a lifestyle that demands constant attention, dedication, and sacrifice. You’ll likely work longer hours than you ever have before, and much of that time will be spent in uncertainty. Cash flow can dry up unexpectedly, a key client may jump ship, or a competitor (or former employee) might launch a competitive, disruptive product. These are just a few of the many variables that can keep an entrepreneur up at night.

#14. The Emotional Rollercoaster

Running a business is an emotional rollercoaster. One day, you may feel on top of the world, and the next, everything could come crashing down. The highs can be exhilarating, but the lows can be devastating. You’ll face rejection, setbacks, and failures along the way. It’s crucial to develop resilience and maintain a positive mindset to weather these challenges and keep moving forward. You must have an outlet.

#15. The Constant Learning Curve

Entrepreneurship is a continuous learning process. You’ll need to be constantly improving and adapting as your business evolves. This can mean learning new skills, staying on top of industry trends, and being open to feedback and criticism. The willingness to learn and grow is essential for any entrepreneur, as the cyber business landscape is ever-changing, and those who refuse to adapt will struggle to survive.

#16. You’ll Wear Many Hats

When you start a business, you’re not just the CEO or founder—you’re also the accountant, marketer, salesperson, HR manager and everything in between. As you grow, these roles may be passed on to others but as an entrepreneur, you must still have a good understanding of all aspects of your business. I can’t stress that enough. You need to understand how your business works before you delate roles. Otherwise the chances of you being taken advantage of increase substantially.

#17. Ditch Your Ego—It Has No Place in Your Business

As an entrepreneur, the willingness to play to your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses is crucial. Your ego must take a backseat to progress. There’s a critical need to attract talent that surpasses your skillset in specific domains and to acknowledge when to step aside. True leaders excel at assembling teams whose collective capabilities far exceed their own.

#18. The Rewards Can Be Worth It—But Don’t Chase Them

Yes, entrepreneurship comes with its challenges, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. The satisfaction of seeing your vision come to life, creating jobs for others, an environment that’s fulfilfilling, and is making a positive impact in the world is unmatched. However, this shouldn’t be the sole driving force behind your entrepreneurial journey. If you’re only chasing fame, fortune or validation from others, you may find yourself feeling unfulfilled when you achieve success. Instead, focus on building a business that aligns with your passions and values, and the rewards will naturally follow.

#19. Resourcefulness is Key

One of the most valuable skills an entrepreneur can have is resourcefulness. In the face of challenges and obstacles, being able to find creative solutions and make the most out of limited resources is essential. This can mean networking with other entrepreneurs, leveraging technology, or finding alternative ways to fund your business. By being resourceful, you can overcome even the toughest of hurdles on your journey to success.

#20. Niche and Become Known

In the world of entrepreneurship, it can be tempting to try and do everything at once. While having a diverse set of skills is beneficial, it’s important to remember that you can’t excel at everything. Instead, focus on becoming an expert in one specific area and establish yourself as an authority in that field. This will not only help you stand out in a crowded cyber market, but it will also allow you to develop a niche and attract customers who are specifically looking for your expertise. As they say, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

#21. Continuous Innovation and Adaptation

Innovation and adaptation are key to staying relevant and competitive. As an entrepreneur, you’ve got to keep your eye out for trends that can help improve your business. This requires a willingness to take risks and try new things, as well as the ability to pivot and adapt your strategies as needed. That way, you’ll increase the odds of your business’ longterm success.

#22. Your Vision is your North Star

A clear, compelling vision isn’t just an inspirational guideline—it’s an essential component of an enterprise’s backbone. It attracts like-minded individuals, from employees to clients, weaving the fabric of a cohesive company culture. It’s the beacon that keeps the ship of business steadfast through uncharted waters.

Building a business is an endeavour that extends beyond seeking immediate rewards. There are no grand victories served on a silver platter, only incremental wins that accumulate over time. To do the work you love, you must first earn it. That means bracing for the long haul, carrying the weight of the business upon your back, never expecting accolades, and selling.

Success, therefore, is not a spark of brilliance or a lucky break. Entrepreneurs who thrive play to their strengths, seek guidance, collaborate, invest passionately in their team, and harness technology. They adapt to the pace of progress, and when necessary, remove themselves as the inhibitors of growth.

To End…

The path to entrepreneurial success is strewn with challenge, but for those who persist, it offers the ultimate test—and perhaps the ultimate fulfilment. For every harsh truth, there’s a lesson in resilience, and for every obstacle, there’s an opportunity to outpace, outsmart, and outrun. The dare is substantial, but so are the potential rewards for those intrepid enough to accept it.

Yes, it’s an uncertain journey, but it’s one that offers the chance to create something meaningful and lasting.

So keep pushing forward, embrace the uncertainty, and trust in your abilities as an entrepreneur. Be wise and resourceful to seek help where you need it. The possibilities are endless, and success can be just around the corner. So never give up on your dreams and always remember why you started this journey in the first place — because you believed in yourself, your why, and your vision. Those beliefs are what will keep you going, no matter how tough things may get.

Now I want to hear from you…

Drop me an email or join me on LinkedIn and tell me, what lesson have you learned on your entrepreneurial journey? What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?

And if you’d like to join me for my next masterclass on How to Get More Cyber Clients on a Shoestring Budget, which is happening on May 1 at 2pm London time, register here.


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Jane frankland


Jane Frankland is a cybersecurity market influencer, award-winning entrepreneur, consultant and speaker. She is the Founder of KnewStart and the IN Security Movement. Having held executive positions within her own companies and several large PLCs, she now provides agile, forward thinking organisations with strategic business solutions. Jane works with leaders of all levels and supports women in male dominated industries like cybersecurity and tech. Her book, IN Security: Why a failure to attract and retain women in cybersecurity is making us all less safe' is a best-seller.


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