Are you ex-corporate who started your own business?
If so, what was the hardest, funniest, strangest thing that happened to you when starting/setting up your business OR what advice would you give specifically to a corporate professional who is now going out on their own?
I think the hardest part of going from corporate to doing your own thing is staying FOCUSED. In the corporate world, you are shielded from a lot of every day distractions because you are floating from meeting to meeting. Your priorities are being directed by the corporation's needs and goals. And while you have the illusion that you are in control, you really aren't. This becomes obvious when you go out on your own and all of a sudden you are in charge of determining how to spend your time each day. You have to choose how much time you dedicate to working ON your business, not just IN your business. It is really easy to get distracted by your newfound freedom (hello Facebook!?), and move tasks you hate to do (like accounting) to the bottom of the list. My advice is to recognize that you don't have to be an expert in everything. Choose the areas you like to do (like Sales, Marketing, Operations), and bring on help for the rest (Accounting, Legal, etc). Break big goals into smaller tasks so that you can measure your progress and stay on track. And get a library card! I can't tell you how many business books I've been able to read (for FREE) since I left the corporate world!
Hi Bernadette ~
What a great Q! As an ex-corp for many years I can provide both the humorous story and guidance for making the shift:
1) Story: I worked an hour from where I lived, and when it got close to giving notice time, I wanted to make sure I had a copy of all my work samples backed up to floppy disk (yup, it was a loooong time ago :-) Decided to drive down on a Saturday, and do some corporate work while there. (Dedication is useful when starting your own biz, too!). Gathered my supplies for the trip. Drove down. Discovered I did NOT pack floppy drive. Drove home. Got it. Drove back. Spent most of the day driving, though I did accomplish both objectives.
• If possible, keep your day job while you prepare to launch your own business, and even afterwards.
• Prepare! During the year prior to launch, I bought a computer, printer and fax machine, set up my home office, designed a logo and had stationery, business cards and direct mail pieces printed, secured my business license — and landed my first account, themselves a startup. The young founders recognized the risk and were happy to work with me on whatever basis I chose, as long as I could meet their needs.
• Don't give notice until you're sure you're ready to leave. I mistakenly thought my company would appreciate at least a month's notice, and I was willing to help train my replacement. Wrong! Once I was no longer a loyal employee (in their eyes), 2 weeks couldn't come fast enough.
• Have enough to live on in the bank or in another liquid form for at least 6 months. Barely two weeks after launching on a wing, a prayer, and one account, my startup client called to say they had lost their funding, and apologized profusely. I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach, even though I had a nice cushion. That same day, another company in the industry I'd just left offered me a full-time job at a salary much greater than what I'd just left. What a test! I thought about it for 24 hours, realized how much I wanted my own business, stepped out in faith a second time and turned the offer down.
When you are committed, the Universe moves, too: the next day, my startup client called to say their venture partner had changed their mind, and we were back in business!
As an erstwhile executive who has been a small business creator for a dozen years now, I have a few thoughts to share. My advice to any corporate ex-pat is to first get used to being humbled by your ignorance of small business operations - at least for a while. It is all very learnable, but it takes some time to figure things out. This is especially true if you held an executive role. Gone are the droves of functionaries who once did your bidding, so you are now really responsible for things - all things. Fortunately, there are endless resources, including off the shelf business models that you can buy, plug and play.
If you have already found the right vehicle for you, great, but your first business should be a starting point, it doesn't have to be the end in itself. Don't put so much pressure on yourself to choose the perfect business that will make all of your dreams come true and carry you through to retirement. Be nimble, the marketplace is very volatile. Have a plan A, but always be thinking about plan B.
Professors like to say that most businesses fail because they were undercapitalized, but the truth is that many of those would have had enough capital if they didn't spend months and months wasting money in the trial and error phase of trying to create a business model. A good product or service isn't enough. You need to be able to get it into the hands of enough paying customers to sustain the business. This delivery system is what makes or breaks a business. My apologies to McDonald's, but their burgers are not awesome. However, they are the best at distributing burgers, so they win.
For your first business, I urge you to strongly consider a licensed business opportunity, a distributorship or a franchise. Everyone needs a business model and the pre-built ones have much higher chances of success than the ones who are making things up as they go. If you think it is more cost effective to create your own business model - it isn't. Would it be cheaper to build a car in your garage or buy one from Ford Motor Company?
Lastly, don't spend more than 50% of your net worth and by all means, use someone else's money whenever possible. Don't be afraid of loans. Debt is a tool for business - use it wisely and you will be glad you did.
Fantastic question, Bernadette. I am ex-corporate and started my own business 5 years ago. Just to make it doubly tough for myself, I chose to bring my business leadership and management experience to coach independent business owners. So, in a sense, I had to learn it myself and then assist others in doing it.
Isn't there a quote that goes something like "teach what one must learn". Indeed, a big part of my successful practice is assisting former corporate people in starting their own businesses. I could write a book, but I will just highlight a couple of things. They may sound a bit odd, but those who are studiers of running a successful business will understand.
Working hard and filling up your day is NOT enough. Let's face it, regardless of how successful one was in the corporate world, human nature being what it is, you put in a good day's work based on your job and then you go home. When running your own business, it is not how long and how hard you work but ON WHAT do you work. It it turns out just to be the things you do well and like to do, but you fill up all your time, you might feel satisfied with your day, but your business likely will fail. It sounds trite, but it is essential that one works on the right things at the right time -- which typically requires some planning, focusing on the business growth and profit drivers, and forcing yourself to do things that you are not as comfortable doing.
On the latter point, it is essential that you be honest with yourself and recognize that virtually NO ONE has ALL the skills and experience to run a maximally successful business. It is essential that 'you know what you don't know' AND do something about learning and getting help.
In general, those starting a new business struggle due to lack of effective marketing. Yeah... that thing you've heard a million times. But it is a very common belief that if you have a good product and/or service, people will come to you. Seldom if ever happens...
On that note, I always want to bring value... go to BizGrowthToolboxcom and take the time to review the video I put there entitled "Everything You Think You Know About Generating Leads and Growing Your Business... Has Changed." It will literally open your eyes as to how to grow your business, and does not have to cost you much to do so.
Wayne... so happy to have someone validate - 'it is a very common belief that if you have a good product and/or service, people will come to you. Seldom if ever happens...'.... from what experts say, I have one of the most viral type of brands out there, but if the marketing power is not put behind it, it will never reach the volume it should. That is a long story. Thanks
I started my own business at the same time I was working full time as an IT Director, finishing my Masters Degree and also working another part time job with a lot of time deadlines. However, starting or being in a small business was not unfamiliar territory as I grew up on a family farm as well as worked in many other small businesses making them grow. From all my experience, I would say the hardest thing to face is the ups and downs - feast or famine as you get started. Even to this day, I treat my three businesses as jobs, where I not only take pride in my work, and do whatever I can to excel but probably don't take enough time off as some other business owners do. In the past year, I have became a mentor for SCORE and so often, we see people with ideas but no money or really wild ideas to see how they will get the money. By far, this is probably one of the hardest things in starting/keeping a business going - could write books on keeping the money flowing.
Hardest: The eternal question: May I get the money to survive? The funniest: See my previous managers ask me for coaching. The strangest: Discover myself as an entrepreneur (I was studying Philosophy!!)
Chances are, if you are a corporate professional, my individual experience won't resonate as well as some of the other answers here. Partial because I was never really a "Corporate Professional". Unless you could consider 7 years of owning and operating a fairly large, ground transportation operation.
In any case, I do think I have something to offer anyone who is about to take the risk and make the effort of starting up their own business. One of the most important things I learned, as I look back, is how important it is to your own happiness, mental health and survival to understand, as best you can, how your personality (strengths and weaknesses) meshes with the job description you build for yourself.
Look at the short term and long term of your new venture and anticipate what you personally will be doing to make this business a huge success. If these responsibilities take advantage of your personality strengths and minimize any affects your weaknesses could have, you will end up more content with your decision or series of decisions required to build your business. I believe I did this through pure survival instinct.
If you take the Myers/Briggs test or any other test that could provide insight into who you are and what tendencies you have, you discover that certain job descriptions fit better than others. When you nail this down and take all of this into consideration as you build your business, success will not only be easier to attain, you will be happier and more productive in the process.
My example is simply this: I learned that I have a mild social anxiety issue (probably why I was never a corporate executive). I also learned that I was more of an introvert than extrovert. Although neither personality description is better or worse than the other, there is still an understanding and resource that can be gained by this knowledge. When you know more about who you are, what motivates you, what represents fear to you or what skill set you will take to more, you can then make some decisions that maybe you didn't consider previously.
In summary: If you can project or predict the perfect job description and have that description take into account your personal strengths and weaknesses, you will then be in a much better position to succeed. It may not be easy to do, but it's at least worth the thought process.
I'm pulling for you all,
Welcome to the world of Micro-enterprise! Most aspects of your solopreneurship or micro-enterprise (1 -10 employees) will be very different from life in the corporate world. Working alone can be daunting. You won't have skill and knowledge experts from the other disciplines: marketing, operations, finance or HR to take care of those parts of the business for you. You won't have the budget to buy things done either. You'll have to learn where to invest your time and what little money you have to find and acquire the knowledge and skills you need as a part of running the overall business. Ignoring this will only hasten or insure your demise.
But take heart, there are actually a lot of resources available if you know where to look. One caution though - don't look to academia or the government for help. Because they both utilize the same business model as the corporate organizations you just left they are really are not equipped to deal with the paradigm shift of Micro-enterprise.
We've designed a website to help folks like you. Mature-Entrepreneurs.com has information libraries, on-line class offerings, a growing blog and a community of experienced Micro-enterprise owners who are eager to help. Check us out and connect with others who are actively involved in starting, building and growing a successful. Good Luck
I am soooo glad I am not the only one will acknowledge this - Working alone can be daunting. You won't have skill and knowledge experts from the other disciplines: marketing, operations, finance or HR to take care of those parts of the business for you. .... it was so overwhelming for me to adjust to that.
Yes, that what I did in 2010. My main issue was, as already mentioned, turning my employee mentality to a business owner mentality. If found that quite hard but managed to succeed. It's funny and special that I now turn a lot of other ex-corporates into entrepreneurs with my business.