Speaking at large company events, I'm often approached by delegates who ask me for advice on leaving the corporate fold. They've seen the grass outside their executive cubicle window, and it usually looks greener.
Here's what I usually say.
Test Your Eureka Moment
It seemed like a good idea in the bar or bath last night, but have you thought through what this means for your working day? In particular, have you discussed your big leap with your real business partner, the one who shares your home? "I married you for better or worse - but not for lunch as well!" may be their response. If you're working from home, remember that it will leak into your domestic arrangements more than you believe, so consider having a separate entrance to your office, and preserve boundaries by locking the door physically and symbolically when you move into your home space.
The Grass Is Different - Not Greener
In a big firm, you may have been used to having someone else do the photocopying and post. You may have had access to an on-site nerd when you can't download attachments on your PC (again!). Now, although the rewards are all yours, the hassles are, too. So make a list of all the resources you won't have at your disposal and consider how you've going to create your own informal support system.
And don't forget your need for human company: if you're the sort of person who enjoys a grumble with others standing at the coffee machine, remember that working alone can be lonely.
Income first, overheads second
I've known many would-be entrepreneurs who have kitted out an office, computers, and business cards before they have a single fee-paying customer. When you start out, everything is an overhead, so see how much income you can generate from your back room or garage before you go 'corporate'. As an inspiration, Wal-Mart's global HQ is a small, unassuming block in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Customers are rarely impressed by swanky offices: they are the fruits of your success, not the route to them.
The Nine-Month Pregnancy
Starting your own business is like giving birth: it usually takes nine months before it's alive and squeaking. Many people in big business find themselves getting the nudge/wink treatment from the contractors they are hiring - 'When you leave, we'll find you something' goes the line.
My advice is to discount exactly 75 per cent of these promises, then to assume no invoices will be paid for around nine months. Can you survive that long? If not, you'll find yourself looking at the job pages in desperation one year down the line.
Are You A Seller Or A Doer?
The two vital roles in running your own concern are getting the business and delivering it. These two abilities are rarely embedded in the same person. I often meet talented individuals who have a lot to offer, but underestimate how difficult it can be to get your foot in the door with new customers. Or, as former executives, they don't want to dirty their hands with the sordid business of actually selling their product or service.
Conversely, the natural salesperson may set up on their own, attract new business and quickly discover they now have to deliver themselves without all that backroom support they so derided when out in the field for a big organization.
If you fall into either of these categories, re-think how to phase your entry into the entrepreneurial world by piggy-backing on the skills of another. Find someone to partner who already has the business or the ability to deliver consistently. And if you're a man, get your wife to check our your prospective partner: in my experience, women are usually more objective and direct in assessing their trust-worthiness.
My intention is not to put you off going it alone, but much future grief can be saved by considering these themes creatively. You should also consider:
- Owning your new business - rather than letting it own you
- Celebrating each stage of success - you have to promote yourself to the corner office because no-one else is going to do it for you
- Finding a mentor - unless you're in business together, preferably not your husband or wife
Above all, remember that successes will come from favouring thinking "why not?" "What if?" over "Yes, but…"
Creativity, self belief, and loving what you do are the three most essential ingredients for success. Only if it's really fun and a great adventure is it worth doing.
Originally published: Mon 16 Oct 2006