Dream of leaving your corporate job to build your own business? Here’s how to make your first leap your last.
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Ever dream of chucking the stability of your corporate job to follow your passion? Picture yourself basking in the benefits of the freedom and serenity that comes with being your own boss?
It’s a good dream, one that’s becoming increasingly popular. But before you decide to make the leap to full-time entrepreneurship, know that there’s more to successfully following your passion than enthusiasm—a lot more. Especially if you actually want to earn money and support yourself (and maybe even your family).
During a decade working in a human resources department, I had a front row look into the reasons why employees join or leave an organization. And what type of person did I see again and again? Those who wanted to return to the traditional workforce after trying unsuccessfully to make a living by following their passion.
The reason they couldn’t make their ventures work almost always had nothing to do with passion, and everything to do with lacking critical business knowledge.
Here’s what I learned from studying these folks—let’s call them “paused entrepreneurs.” Let their missteps help you decide whether now is the right time for you to strike out on your own, or whether you should stick it out a bit longer in your traditional job to gather some critical business skills.
1. Working for someone else teaches you how to be a boss
Working as an employee in a company that’s owned and managed by someone else helps you understand the annoyances of being an employee and teaches you how to manage work-flow processes and balance competing demands. It also gives you the opportunity to test your own work capacity levels and expectations, without risking your business falling apart.
When you have a boss, you’re also learning how to be a boss. That means you’re learning about how you best take direction, leadership actions you would like to emulate or forget, how efficient delegation works and how to bite your tongue when speaking with a superior.
The paused entrepreneurs I interacted with often said they were completely unaware of how much work it takes to build their own business; they didn’t know their own capacity. When their workload piled up quickly to the point of them needing assistance, they were unable to effectively manage the responsibility that comes with additional staff. Many tried to hire an assistant and found they were even more miserable being a boss, as they had no prior experience managing someone.
The lesson: if you haven’t spent enough time as an employee, you might find it difficult to succeed as a manager.
2. Understanding office politics will make you a better communicator
Office politics exist in every work environment. Yes, take a deep breath. Those politics will provide you with ample opportunities to hone several business acumen muscles, such as how to influence others. Be sure to learn how to get your point across without stepping on your colleague’s toes—an essential component to business success.
While you’re at your traditional job, figure out how to work with the most difficult person in the office. It may not be fun while you’re doing it, but it will provide you with a preview of all of the different personalities you’ll come across when you’re on your own.
When difficult customers cross your path down the road, you’ll be prepared to handle them under pressure with class and grace.
3. Observing how a business works (rather than working with your head down) will help you and your business in the long run
You can learn so much more about how a business works by asking questions, observing your surroundings and seeking out new experiences.
Instead of simply punching a clock, figure out:
- How is the company you work for profitable?
- What do they spend money on?
- How do they generate recurring income?
- How do they find their customers?
Put on your spy hat while you’re in a safe environment and seek out the decision makers, idea generators and budget keepers to get a full scope of the business model. Then copy what you can by applying the lessons you learned to your own venture.
Creating a profitable business was one of the biggest challenges that sent paused entrepreneurs back into the traditional workforce. Understanding how to generate sales and maintain profitability was the biggest stumbling block—and it’s one you can avoid by learning on the job.
4. Try out entrepreneurship before committing full-time
For many paused entrepreneurs, the idea of being their own boss was more liberating than the reality. Before making the leap, take a week or two of vacation days and act as if you’re already running your business full-time. Being your own boss does come with expansive freedom, but it also comes with wide-reaching responsibility, isolation and plenty of regular office job menial work—like creating invoices and replacing the printer cartridge, tasks someone else might do for you when you’re an employee at a big company.
If you start your business on the side at first, you can turn it into a side hustle while giving yourself time to test your sea legs and generate income. You’ll be able to weigh your business model and levity of decision making and figure out a work environment that works for you.
Following your passion is a huge step into the unknown and includes all of the scary and exciting things that come with being your own boss. But to make your first leap your last one, be sure you have gathered as many business skills as you can from a profitable, stable and established business. Your firsthand experience working for someone else will be invaluable for succeeding at your own business.
Melissa Anzman is a career coach, blogger and author of Stop Hating Your Job. A former human resources insider who helps people fall in love with their jobs again, Melissa lives in Atlanta and blogs at Loosen Your White Collar.