By Michelle Wright, CEO and Founder, Cause4
Although the UK economy is said to be on the rise, it seems many employees are staying in roles they’re dissatisfied with because they’re afraid of the huge risks that come with change. It’s understandable. Fears about how you’ll pay the mortgage, feed the family and feed yourself all become real once you decide to make the big leap.
The first sign for me that the time was right to start my own business wasn’t hating my job. It was when I became almost unmanageable in my in-house role; I was desperate to develop myself further and take on a new challenge and hungry for new opportunities that were beyond the scope of my in-house organisation. So, for the sake of my long-suffering boss, and myself, I felt that it was time for me to move on and experience my biggest challenge yet — setting up my own business.
There are many things to consider when becoming an entrepreneur. I was very lucky that I had a friend who’d asked me to cover her maternity leave, part-time, for a big consultancy. These six months gave me the time to find my feet and start financially preparing for the plunge into entrepreneurship.
In 2009, I decided to set up Cause4, a fundraising and development enterprise. I have been encouraging my staff and clients to be entrepreneurial ever since. Each Cause4 employee takes charge of their own element of the company’s business plan and is given the support and training required, but is also encouraged to take on responsibility and challenge themselves. We’re sort of obsessed by learning and professional development and there is a huge line up of training for each member of staff throughout each year.
In my opinion, nobody should really call themselves an entrepreneur until they’ve put their own neck and money on the line. In the last five years in growing my own company and mentoring a variety of start-ups, I’ve learnt some invaluable lessons about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and how to know if you’re ready to start your own business:
• Don’t poach — I’m a strong believer in karma and what goes around definitely comes around. Most ex-bosses fear that their ex-employees will poach clients, staff and strategy, and it’s something that many new enterprises definitely do. However, trust is crucial in a new role and vital to long-term success. Any client that you win by pinching from a close acquaintance, you can lose in the same way.
• Figure out the finer details later — Scoping out business plans, choosing website designs and deciding office layouts can wait. The key is to start talking to people about what you’re selling and what their needs are. As soon as you get started the gaps that need filling will become clear. I’ve seen so many start-ups not get off the ground because the website isn’t ‘perfect’ yet. It’s crazy — get to know your audience first.
• Enjoy the unknown — Being an entrepreneur is never easy - the responsibility can be overwhelming at times. However, I’ve noticed that those who don’t worry or put too much pressure on the future tend to thrive. These entrepreneurs see ambiguity as freedom and opportunity to shape their business naturally.
• Don’t turn back — there’s a common feeling that once you’ve started your own business you could never go back to being an employee and I couldn’t agree more. I’d be demanding and impatient in an in-house role — really completely unemployable. So, once you’ve started keep at it and if it fails, try something new.
• Have fun — new businesses are time consuming and tough so it pays to do something in an industry you enjoy. In this way you can sit back and remind yourself of why you decided to start a new venture in the first place and keep positive through the long days.
One of the greatest things about being an entrepreneur is that you have the power to rip up the rulebook and do it your own way. Entrepreneurialism isn’t for the faint hearted and it certainly requires a lot of attention. But, if you can recognise your limits, find support from mentors or Directors, and seek out distractions to help you cope with the demands, you’re halfway there.