As I write this month’s column, it occurs to me how much more meaningful it may be to readers this month, but moreover, how much more meaningful it is to me. While I’ve spent the last several years writing a column for the Business Journal on topics to help small businesses market themselves, grow their businesses, and navigate the complicated operational and administrative process of running a business – I offered this advice as someone who was running a small business, but not someone who owned one. I’m proud to say that has all changed, and I am now officially a small business owner myself. With that decision, excitement, anticipation, freedom and fear of making the change from employee to business owner all flooded in at the same time. However, I haven’t doubted my decision once, and that makes it clear to me that it was the right choice for me.
Running a business isn’t easy, and I doubt any small business owner would tell you differently. The everyday challenges of dealing with administrative and operational headaches, being responsible for P&L, and staying ahead of the competition are enough to drive even the most exceptional of business leaders a little crazy. Throw in the need to constantly identify and recruit talent, maintain morale among existing staff, and still make the time to market and enhance your business, and most days, it feels like there just aren’t enough hours to get it all done. Forget about work/life balance – at least for a while.
When I began thinking about the topic I should write this month’s column about, it wasn’t difficult to zero in on a topic that made sense, especially given the steps I had recently taken which will undoubtedly change my professional and personal life, in many dramatic ways. Why did I decide to leave the seeming comforts of my executive position, and incur the financial risks of starting my own business? The answer for me, was easy: I wanted to be in control of my own destiny.
Decide what motivates you, and use that as your guide
Why do you think you want to start your own business? Is it the allure of creative freedom, or the enticement of increased financial gain? Do you want to work fewer hours, or have a better quality of life? Think about what motivates you, and consider these things carefully. Being your own boss might sound appealing to a lot of people, but if you don’t have the drive and ambition to work hard even when you don’t “have” to, you will never be successful. Similarly, starting your own business simply because you think you will “make more money” than you do now, probably isn’t the right idea either. For me, what motivated me to start my own business was complicated, and there were many things that I considered before making the choice – but mostly, it was because I wanted to know that my hard work and efforts would lead to stability and security for my children. For many of us that is motivation enough.
Nearly nine years ago I opened a small office for an out-of-market public affairs firm who was relatively unknown in the Sacramento region. At the time, I was an office of one. But over the years I built a practice that would eventually become number five on the Sacramento Business Journal’s list of top 25 public relations firms, would generate annual revenue in excess of $2 million, and would employ 18 talented and creative professionals. None of it came easy, or without a lot of hard work, dedication, perseverance and sleepless nights. I was running a business, but I didn’t own it. When it became clear that ownership of the office I had spent several years of my career building wasn’t an option, I had to assess my situation, and ask myself some tough questions before I could decide what would come next.
Are you considering starting your own business? Have you asked yourself why you truly want to do this now? If you are considering starting your own business, I would suggest you ask yourself a few key questions to help you navigate more clearly through decision making process. I asked myself these very same questions (and about 100 others), and it helped me feel more prepared when I finally pulled the trigger.
Do I really want to own my own business?
Am I passionate about what I do, and can I build a business out of it?
Am I ready for the financial risks that come with owning my own business?
Can I commit the time and resources into running my own business?
Do I have the support of my friends, family and others close to me?
Do I have the skills, education and experience necessary to be successful?
I can’t tell you how many of these questions should have a “yes” answer to make you feel more comfortable pulling the trigger for yourself, only you can make that decision. For me, every one of them was a resounding “YES!”
Talk to others, and be prepared to listen
Embarking on a major life change like starting your own business is one that few of us do alone. Just like any other difficult decision you have made in your life, it is essential that you surround yourself with people you trust, people who you can talk to about your plans, and people you will be willing to listen to. Let your friends, your family and/or your business associates help you. Tell them about your goals and objectives, and how you plan to succeed. Take their advice and counsel. Chances are, one of them will have insight that might help make your decision a little easier, and worst case, you’ll feel better vetting your plans with people who you trust.
Once you make the decision, commit to it
Once you decide to start your own business, it’s OK to be scared (it may even feel a little like you are freefalling from a plane without a parachute!) Being fearful of change or of the unknown is natural. But don’t be afraid to do it simply because you are afraid to fail. Instead, commit to your new business and get started building your business plan, getting your finances in order, and start taking control of your destiny. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding, and you’ll likely be asking yourself why you didn’t decide to do it sooner.