Taking the Leap
In the last few months, two people have asked me about starting a business: a close personal friend and a networking contact. I figure it's a question most business owners encounter.
The friend has been planning on leaping solo for a while now; she's just not sure how to define the right time. (As I wrote this post, she texted me that she’ll be laid off in March. Timeline defined.) The networking contact has wearied of her current role and, seeking something new, is looking into a business idea. Neither person is sure how to jump from full-time paid employment to more-than-full-time partially paid or unpaid employment.
It's a scary leap.
How much should they save before making the jump to full-time self employment or business ownership? Should they try to get clients to soften the blow and test their concepts before leaving their jobs? If so, how do they properly serve customers while maintaining full-time roles?
And how much legal and accounting and banking rigmarole should they undertake and at what points in the startup process?
When will they know they're ready?
As with many things in life, there's never a perfect time to start a business. And taking a big risk--because, let's be honest, self employment and entrepreneurship are big risks—is never exactly a "smart" decision. You can always do something more stable financially and emotionally than taking risks—and stability may be much better for you and your family. (For more on that topic, read Meg Cadoux Hirshberg’s Inc. Magazine column, "Balancing Acts," about being married to an entrepreneur and her book on the topic, For Better or for Work.) Yet there's also truth in the adage that life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
So, in short, I have no answer. Other than that there is no answer. Which is no help at all.
A friend once told me that he admired my bravery in starting a business. He meant it as a compliment, yet it caused me some consternation. I never saw myself as brave. For me, starting a business was less a big leap and more a conviction that I could do something different in a better way. Was it exactly the right time to start a business? Not by any objective analysis. I didn't have a large safety net; I hadn't saved up for months or years and I had no investors or bank loans. Fortunately, I'd maintained the minimal living standards of a former graduate student in the social sciences and I had no one dependent upon me (no spouse or children--just a couple cats).
Like me, most entrepreneurs I know fell into it somehow. They took less of a conscious leap and rather more of a subconscious fall forward.
I know my friend and contact are asking because they want to mitigate the risk of starting out on their own as much as they possibly can. They know that there are no guarantees to success and no exact right times. They're looking for as much certainty as they can get in an uncertain venture.
The only answer I can give: If you think too much about starting a business, you never will. But that doesn't mean you should, either. That's up to you.