By Sally Percy l Contributor l Forbes
It’s not easy to make the switch from being a respected leader in a large organization to self-employment. Yet this is a move that thousands of people make every year for a range of different reasons. Sometimes they have no choice – perhaps they’ve been forced out of their current position as a result of a business restructuring or they are suffering from health issues. Sometimes it’s a positive career decision because they want greater flexibility in their life, to try something new, or to experience the feeling of liberation that comes with being your own boss.
Regardless of the reason for making the switch, transitioning from corporate life to self-employment can be a real culture shock. So, what should leaders consider when they are contemplating the big move from the corner office to the garden office? Rebecca Hill, founder of Wise Sherpa, a London-based consultancy that helps individuals to manage the transition from a corporate career to self-employment, shares some practical advice in this Q&A.
Sally Percy: Why are many successful business leaders attracted to the idea of working for themselves after spending decades working for large organizations?
Rebecca Hill: Typically, they are looking for a different way to work and live. They have often spent many years working in an ever-more demanding work environment and may have had to sacrifice flexibility to climb the career ladder.
Then a particular catalyst may push them to take the step to work for themselves. This might be anything from an itch they’ve always wanted to scratch through to a bereavement of a close friend or relative, which makes them reassess how they are spending their time, both inside and outside of work.
Many professionals are also finding it increasingly hard to find the types of roles they want to do within the types of organizations they want to be working for. Since the barriers to setting up a business are continuously diminishing, they decide instead to take the plunge and create their own business around their values and aspirations.
Percy: What are the biggest challenges that experienced business leaders tend to find when transitioning to working for themselves?
Hill: It’s hard to believe, but many of them are afraid of failure. For the most part, they have had very successful careers working for large organizations, so taking the step into the unknown after years of big institutional life can be very scary. They are used to having a large support structure that includes an IT help desk that solves all their hardware and software issues, secretarial support that manages their diaries and travel, and a finance department that sorts budgeting, invoicing and accounts payable. They are also used to overseeing teams who execute a lot of day-to-day activity on their behalf. The good news is that setting up a business is not as scary as it seems. With the right support in place, including technology and people, it can be pretty seamless and exciting.
Percy: How can transitioning business leaders overcome the challenges they face?
Hill: Talk to people who have done trodden this path before you. Ask them all the questions that are on your list and then decide what does and does not work for you. If you don’t know anyone, or you are struggling to find the right people to talk to, reach out to the network of your network (for example, via LinkedIn or Facebook groups). Unless you are an extremely driven and focused individual, find yourself a good business coach who can work with you on this journey. Finally, identify some good mentors – especially in the areas where you feel you need support.
Percy: Many people who are successful at creating and growing a business tend to be in their 40s, 50s and 60s. What skills and experiences do they bring that increase their chances of success?
Hill: As they have often served their apprenticeship in a big company, they have solid, professional experience, as well as a network that they can draw upon as they build their businesses. They also have experience of life’s ups and downs and are able to maintain a good degree of perspective as they embark on the entrepreneurial journey. They can draw on this resilience as their business passes through its inevitable highs and lows. Finally, they are often in a financial position where they can afford to take some risks rather than stick with the status quo.
Percy: What are the main differences between working in the corporate world and being an entrepreneur?
Hill: Both require you to be extremely committed in this age of “always on” and the expectations that come with that. As an entrepreneur, however, you are the business owner. So, you have autonomy, and therefore you have to decide very early on what your boundaries are going to be in order to achieve the objective you have in mind. It can be enormous fun – and very satisfying – to be an entrepreneur but you have to be very skilful at handling both yourself and your clients in order to thrive.
Percy: What would be your top pieces of advice to someone working in the corporate world today who wants to leave and start their own business? How can they set themselves up to succeed?
Hill: Do your research before making any decisions. There are a number of fantastic resources out there – including the British Business Library, which now has a physical presence across the UK. It offers some great training as well online tools to help you do your market research and planning. Find yourself a good coach to explore whether or not the move is right for you and to work with you through the set-up of your business. Many people now have a “side hustle” where they set up their business alongside their day job and then make the decision to move when the time feels right to them. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, so figure out what you need in order to thrive. There are some excellent co-working spaces that provide good opportunities for entrepreneurs to connect with each other. Finally, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Starting a business is a very exciting time, so have a positive mindset when you make the leap.
(This interview originally appeared on July 2, 2019 in Forbes)