I talk to a lot of people whose life goal is to start their own business. For most of them, it’s a “some day . . . ” kind of dream. You can’t start too soon. There are tremendous opportunities to use your jobs between now and when you’re ready to learn things that will help you. There are lots of skills that you need to develop to be able to hit the ground running with your business. Why not be ready to succeed when you start your business?
To start your business, you need at a minimum (and not necessarily in this order):
- A Product or Service
- Marketing skills
- Management skills
- Finance knowledge
You can buy some of these, but most of them you had better have enough to be able to oversee the basics until you can hire it in.
I know lots of people who have had their own business. Some were successful executives who bought or created a business after many years running large corporations. Some were middle managers who bailed on the big corporation either by choice or through layoff. Some were entry level employees who just couldn’t take the structure and lack of autonomy in the company they joined. Some were young people who never joined an organization, but went out on their own immediately.
The ones who succeeded had tons of confidence and drive. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t have doubts, but they continued to believe it would work out or they would figure it out way past where many of the rest of us would have walked away. (Of course there are always people who are lucky and come up with an idea that is a killer idea that people swarm to, but that is pretty rare–like winning the lottery).
There is a great book, Effectuation: Elements of Entrepreneurial Expertise, by Saras D. Sarasvathy, which explores the ways that entrepreneurs think differently than corporate leaders. The researchers asked successful entrepreneurs to help them develop a entrepreneurial game that would provide a simulation of creating a business. They compared the way the entrepreneurs thought about creating a business–including ideas, product development, financing, overcoming problems–with the ways corporate leaders did. They found that entrepreneurs do not close down the options in the same say as those who are successful in corporations. They approach the problem looking for how to make it all work, rather than how to pick some of it and make that work. The author, who did her research at Carnegie Mellon and is presently a professor at the University of Virginia, believes that people can be taught to think this way–just as people can be taught leadership. Thinking like an entrepreneur is only part of the battle, though.
From a practical stand point, no matter how well you think like an entrepreneur, and no matter how great the idea for the business is, you also have to be able to manage the business well enough to get it on its feet. Once on its feet, you can hire people to help you. From the time you start the business until it is producing enough revenue to hire the help you need, you have to be able to get the product produced or deliver the service, market it and manage the finances. You also have to be able to provide the necessary cash–either your own, or you have to figure out how to persuade someone else (usually through a business case) to give you the money that is necessary.
It is easiest to accumulate this cash and to develop the marketing, managing and financial acumen while sitting in an organization and using the resources of that organization to develop your skills. I don’t think this is cheating your current organization. As long as you are there, every skill set you develop benefits them. The book that really helped me understand this and was the blueprint that I used to get ready to start my business was Soloing, Realizing Your Life’s Ambition, by Harriet Rubin. I wanted to start a coaching and consulting practice. This book may not work for you if you’re starting some other kind of business–but find the book that does work for you!
There may be specific skills that you need for the kind of business that you’re getting ready to start. Take the classes, get a job in the kind of business you want to build, do whatever it takes. When you are ready–take that first step. The nice thing is that you can start your business while you are still earning a living in another organization. You don’t have to dump one to do the other, until you are ready.
Go for it!