You may be sick and tired of your corporate job and decide you’re ready to be your own boss. You may have an idea which is the big itch you absolutely must scratch. Maybe you were laid off and you decide that your now former employer has done you a favor and given you the kick you needed to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. You may have retired from Corporate America, but you’re bored, you’re convinced you’ve got plenty left in your tank, and your spouse wants you out of the house.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to understand five essential truths you will encounter as you embark on the journey of business ownership:
1. Nobody cares about what you did in Corporate.
It’s a shock for some graduates from prestigious schools to realize how little their degree means to their employer once they are on the job. Suddenly they are at the bottom rung of the ladder, and all that matters is their performance on that job. The same holds true for those leaving Corporate America for entrepreneurship.
As a small business owner coming from the corporate world, it’s very difficult to talk to your potential clients in terms of what their problems are, instead of what your qualifications are. You are used to giving presentations built around the capabilities of your company.
In the world of small business, your prospects are interested in how you can solve their problems. “But my qualifications,” you may say, “are exactly what will solve their problems.”
That may be true, but your clients want to know you understand what they are dealing with. The one sure way for them to decide you have no clue is to drone on and on about how brilliant and experienced you are, instead of earnestly asking questions, listening with sincerity, and showing empathy with what they are dealing with.
Moreover, you may leave corporate for a business totally unrelated to what you were doing before. One of my clients left a major pharmaceutical corporation to run a small food service business. His customers love him, but they could care less what he was doing before; all they care about is the quality of the product he’s selling today.
2. Everyone is right: what you did in Corporate doesn’t matter.
You think your expertise matters. It does, but only to an extent. It may get you in the door to make several pitches right off the bat. You will be both fortunate and unlucky if you come out of corporate, like some do, with a client or two in your pocket, like possibly your former corporate employer. If that happens, it will give your business a kickstart, but it may also give you a false sense of security.
Joan signed on to consult with her former employer not long after she hit retirement age. “I was consulting with someone who used to report to me,” she said, “and I tried to explain to her that a certain course of action she was ready to take wouldn’t work with her bosses—the same ones I used to work for myself. I knew the political ropes, but she didn’t. She didn’t take my advice, and her course of action failed miserably.”
Joan said she finally realized that the need her former report felt to find her own way had overwhelmed good business sense. “For myself,” Joan added, “I realized that my opinion, while desired, was no longer that important. It was just another factor in the myriad factors which go into corporate decision making. That took me some time to adjust to.”
I can’t use her full name because she indeed made that adjustment: not only does she continue to consult with her former employer, but she now has more business than she can handle.
3. Owning a business will ruthlessly expose every fault you have.
You think when you leave Corporate, you are leaving the most stressful environment anyone could ever deal with. The truth is that you are leaving a protective shell. You may end up longing for that sea of cubicles you formerly detested, because you realize that maze was a support system which could cover for your mistakes.
When you own your own business — and particularly if you are a solopreneur — you are completely and wholly exposed. Your faults will be found. If you are too impatient, lack confidence, can’t effectively deal with people, or can’t properly communicate, your business will shine a spotlight on that deficiency, and every other one you may have.
Look at your business like the crazy aunt you wish you didn’t have to see at Thanksgiving. The one who points out every physical flaw you have and wonders out loud when you are going to get married, have children, or why you got divorced, as the case may be. Get ready: your business will be like that obnoxious relative as it relates to all your professional faults.
4. It will take a toll on your personal life.
Inventor, entrepreneur, and Shark Tank cast member Lori Greiner defines entrepreneurs as “the only people who work 80 hour weeks to avoid working 40 hour weeks." It’s a phrase which draws a chuckle from those of us who are entrepreneurs, but the chuckle is a knowing and sometimes uncomfortable one.
Your spouse, who may still be working in Corporate, may wonder why you are chasing your crazy dream. Depending on the interplay between you, stress, and food, you may end up unhealthily skinny or weighing more than you ever have in your adult life. Friends you had time for previously will find you hard to connect with and may give up on you, shaking their heads at your "obsession." You may miss some family events you never missed before.
5. It's alternately thrilling, terrifying, and deeply satisfying, sometimes all at the same time.
At the end of the movie Parenthood, Grandma sits at the kitchen table, watching the aftermath of a particularly chaotic day. Suddenly she starts telling a story from her young days seemingly unrelated to today:
You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. . . . Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! . . . You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.
In the movie, Grandma’s wise words are a metaphor for parenthood, but they could apply as a metaphor for business ownership. Relative to the corporate merry-go-round, owning your own business is like being on that roller coaster. It’s thrilling and exciting to create a business by meeting the needs of your clients, but there will be days when you’re ready to throw up and you just want off.
Hold on and enjoy the ride! If you’re honest with yourself and have eyes wide open as to what you’re in for, you really will get more out of it than you can possibly imagine.
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