It really struck me on Monday morning. Instead of tearing into the office for 8am, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and reflected back on the wonderful send-off from my colleagues the previous week. I also had time to think about the week ahead, and my plans for my exciting next chapter.
As a Change lead, practitioner, facilitator and coach, my ethos is to inspire others to transform and succeed. I’m therefore very enthusiastic to share and exchange lessons, hints and tips with others who are thinking of, or have just recently left their day job to run their own business.
For two years, I worked in the day job while setting up my own business. This was difficult, however overall it certainly helped with the transition, and prevented me from making too many rash decisions.
Without further indulgence, here are my first seven learning points about leaving the day job to run my own business. They are some of the things that concerned me initially, and the answers that became clear along the way. They may help prepare or reassure you, if you are travelling a similar path.
1. Am I the only one doing this crazy thing?
Although I was fairly unique amongst colleagues in my corporate environment, I quickly recognised the world of small business owners, is by definition, full of risk takers, and innovaters. Initially, this took me by surprise, yet made me feel at home all at the same time.
For some reason, I was reminded of the lovely, carefree life I led in Corfu – living out of a suitcase – for 15 months, before putting down roots in Nottingham. I wondered where these exciting people and experiences been hiding the last 25 years. Had I rediscovered them in Nottingham’s Creative Quarter? It started to feel good to be different again.
2. How will I hide my weaknesses?
In the corporate world, the broad principle is that people with the same role all work in a relatively similar way to each other. Significant departures from the status quo are often regarded as weaknesses. Differences are difficult to contain and control.
Running my own business, I started to think of my differences in a much more positive way. I gained confidence to remain true to myself and, over time, those very differences became integral to my unique offer.
3. What exactly am I selling and to who?
I had to find something that I already enjoyed doing and was already good at. Yet I then had to shake it up and adapt my niche skills to a different customer base (SMEs, not corporate). And I had to develop a specific offer – a brand that was both unique yet in demand. A growing recognition was my need to ‘identify, wrap up and sell little pieces of myself’. This felt very strange compared to how I related to my corporate work.
So based largely on my beliefs and values, I reviewed my skills and developed products to engage busy small business owners and their teams in Change. To do this, I gradually developed an approach to consultancy and facilitation that was different but doable, using a mix of support and challenge. I guess this is becoming my brand?
4. What is my preferred working style?
For years, I didn’t really question the restrictions that working in large organisations dictate. Only when I adjusted my working pattern two years ago, did I start to appreciate the endless possibilities. This coincided with a certain amount of flexibility being introduced even into large corporates, due to the growth of technology. At this point I started to seriously plan what my working week would actually look like if I had the choice.
I discovered an online personality test that helped me to better understand whether I prefer to be surrounded by others or on my own. It also gave me comprehensive insight into my leadership style. This all helped me to develop my business model in line with my personality fit, so I felt comfortable and confident with what I was developing throughout.
5. Where will I work from?
Once I established my preferred working style, I started to understand what other arrangements would work for me. We’re seeing a rise in co-working space, and in the earlier days, I embraced the opportunities it provided wholeheartedly. Co-working allows me to meet familiar faces or new people – yet in a way that I do not control. I soon got to the point where I had lots of wonderful collaborators and useful contacts. I was also learning to be much more targeted in my marketing approach.
I gradually realised that anything other than ‘pre-planned’ can distract me from my targeted approach. So I’ve now settled into a working pattern that suits me. I work productively from home, when I need to be in my ‘research, learning, design and development zone’. I balance this ‘alone time’ out with targeted meetings and networking, and am a virtual tenant at a creative space in the city where I work when it suits me. At other times, I’m delivering bespoke workshops and coaching on the client site. I have developed an arrangement that works for me, and consider it an important factor to enjoyment and success.
6. Do I need all this social media and marketing?
For me, personally, social media and marketing outlay could have been a deal-breaker. It was so different to anything I’d had to do in my day job, and I had limited time to learn it all. Initially I felt pulled in many different directions, which ran the risk of spending too much time and money. Fortunately, I had a clear understanding about costs and benefits of new ventures or projects from previous training. So I carefully identified the right people to support me, avoiding most of the risks and pitfalls.
I eventually worked out how best to sell my services, and who to. For understandable reasons, the leadership and teambuilding stuff I do isn’t always easy to recognise as a ‘need’ in oneself. It is always easier to acknowledge the ‘need’ for a new pair of shoes! I took this into account, producing brochures, website content and business cases which clearly explained the benefits of my approach. I gradually learnt to use social media and networking opportunities to target business funders, budget holders, and key decision-makers across the region.
7. What if I can’t do it all myself?
In the corporate world, there is usually a ready made infrastructure of support available to help with HR, IT, training and similar. While setting up my business, I met lots of interesting and supportive people from the start of my networking. I learnt to trust my instinct, which is, after all, based on some self-awareness and experience. I identified collaborators who ‘got me’, got my values and my business ethos. These people ably supported me with web-site development, analytics, social media, strategic marketing and graphic design.
Even after identifying the right people, and doing the initial training there is no magic wand. I still work hard to expand my digital skills, and just to understand what’s changing and what works best for my business.
Part 1 of this blog summarised my early concerns and learning about moving from a corporate day job to starting up my own small business.
Part 2 will focus on how my corporate skills both helped and hindered me in this.
In Part 3, I’ll explain how the simple business improvement tools and approaches I provide to SMEs as part of my service, have helped me plan and run my own business.
In the meantime, I’d be really interested to hear about your experiences of leaving the day job to run your own business. What did you learn when making the move? if you want to get involved in this debate, please ask questions or leave comments at the end of this article. Alternatively you can contact us about anything on our website here, phone us on 07824 660120, or email us at email@example.com.