First, analyze your interests; then, run the numbers.
Q: I’m becoming increasingly disenchanted with the corporate world, and am thinking about striking out on my own. I could do consulting, or follow my heart down a different path. What do you recommend?
— Suzanne, director, strategic planning
A: Following your heart is great, but be sure it’s backed up by some realistic planning.
It’s essential to know what you want to do and why it inspires you. Make no mistake, there is a lot of gritty work involved in starting your own business, so if you are not fully clear on your direction, you will need to start with that.
As a first step, consider each option that you are interested in. If your attention is widely spread across many possibilities, define some criteria that will help you focus. At that point, identify specific deal breakers that will take some items off the list. This may include practical concerns, such as the amount of startup money, training, or equipment you need.
Take a realistic look at the market opportunity for your leading options. Who will your customers be? Why are you the right person to address their needs? This step is essential whether you follow a consulting path or pursue a different option.
Put numbers down on paper. How much income do you need? Then determine how well your options would meet your financial needs. If it looks challenging, decide whether you can reduce your cost of living or potential business expenses, or what your Plan B is for bringing in more money while you get your business up and running.
Reflect on the emotional aspect, starting with the reasons for your current disenchantment. For example, you may not like the dynamics in a large organization or your specific co-workers. Your organization may not have a mission that energizes you or you may not enjoy the role you have. Remember to also note the things in your current situation that nourish you.
Get feedback from people around you, especially family, as they will certainly be affected by a shift to self-employment. Explore their concerns and listen to their points of view on the benefits and risks.
Make use of resources to help new entrepreneurs. The U.S. Small Business Administration can help, and many business schools have programs available to business owners. Tapping expertise can ensure that you’re asking all the right questions and thinking through all of the challenges you may face.
Now, with all this information at hand, close your eyes, use your imagination, and picture your life in this proposed new situation. Envision a day or a week, noticing what you are doing, who you are with, and so on. Pay the most attention to the energy you experience. If you have to talk yourself into feeling excited, you are exploring the wrong path.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. However, once you decide to make a change, you will need to commit and close out other options, at least for a time, to give yourself the best chance to succeed.