I've been working for the same company for four years and at the age of 30 feel ready to go it alone and set up as an entrepreneur. While this is exciting, it is also terrifying. What key advice would you offer someone making that leap from the corporate world to self-employment? HJ, Dubai
Like you, I have been with my organisation for a few years and am a similar age, making us both from Generation Y. Four years can feel like a long time, especially when you hear the average being two to three years these days. The move from the corporate world to entrepreneurship certainly feels tempting for many, as it can be a step up to something bright and new. As millennials, we have very different expectations of work than previous generations and want to gain new experiences, perspectives and variety. We are hungry to learn, want something fresh and to step outside our comfort zones, but on the flip side it makes us ferociously impatient. Where some of us (like me), do this by taking on a different role in a different country or creating a new role for themselves in their current organisation, others move elsewhere, and the very brave few (like you) jump into the adventure of self-employment.
Before you pack in the corporate life completely, make sure you have a clear business concept that you are passionate about and have some experience in. It doesn’t have to be a game changer like Uber or Airbnb, but there must be a logical and/or unique idea behind it. Once you’ve settled on an idea, figure out how you can make it a reality. Is the product or service something that people or businesses want or need? And importantly, will the same people pay for it? You then need to test the market, talk to potential customers and gather as much data as possible then create a realistic budget. If you haven’t done any of this, then there is certainly a lot more to do before packing up your desk.
After you are comfortable with your proof of concept, there are certain practicalities you must also consider. The first is purely financial – do you have the means to survive without a regular income for a period of time? Many entrepreneurs will tell you they did not take a salary for a year or so. This is also coupled with the expenses of living in the UAE and the possibility of dependents, health care and schooling. I suggest doing the numbers, and hopefully you have enough saved to support this endeavour.
Also remember you will not be embracing this journey alone. You are going to be investing a lot of time and resources into your new business venture. Be certain that your family is on board. They must be aware that this process will be challenging financially and emotionally, and that the lines between work and home life are going to become increasingly blurry.
Once you’ve covered this ground, talk to people who are doing the same thing, network and share ideas and mistakes. Going from a corporate environment of business meetings, travel and power dressing, to coffee shops, conversations and jeans with sneakers can feel very different. Equally, you have to proactively interact, have meaningful conversations and stimulate activity, whereas in the office environment a lot of this falls into your lap.
My final and most important piece of advice would be to learn the art of patience – something that may not come naturally to people like you and me. It takes a long time to build a business; landing clients requires a real commitment to networking at levels you have never dreamed of. It also requires resilience. Putting together proposals for companies that have no real intention of buying your service is a typical occurrence. Think long and hard about what is realistic for you, and don’t expect to be Mark Zuckerberg overnight. However, what should keep you going during this long journey is the reason for doing this in the first place – your passion and what you are trying to achieve. That should be your anchor that holds the ship on a persistent course for success.
Your enthusiasm and energy to step out on your own is what will drive you forward. But be realistic and honest with yourself about the long-term commitment you are making. For entrepreneurs, you have to be simultaneously patient and impatient. Yet getting the fundamentals right early on, doing homework and having the family on board will make this already bumpy move just a little smoother.
Alex Davda is a business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice on any work issues.
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