When I was about four years old, my dad quit his corporate job and started his own business.
He loved working for himself and kept his business going strong all the way up until he retired. He made it look so easy that I never even thought much about how he was different from other dads with salaried 9 to 5 jobs – and what he had to put into ensuring that his business was successful year after year to provide so well for our family.
Incredibly, even with this obvious role model, I never seriously thought about becoming an entrepreneur. If anything, I had a “someday, maybe” kind of attitude about it.
That is, until I quit my job at age 34 to take a sabbatical. When I arrived at the end of that life-changing year, I needed to decide whether I’d return to my former career or attempt something totally new.
I chose the latter, and started my own business as a life coach.
It’s been one of the most rewarding challenges of my life. I love having a job that suits me so well, and the freedom of setting my own work strategy and priorities, as well as my schedule. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to a regular salary job, again. (And yeah, my dad has enjoyed having another entrepreneur in the family.)
Since starting my business, I’ve discovered that my former “someday, maybe” attitude is pretty common. I’ve met many other people who have great ideas and would be awesome entrepreneurs, but who – for whatever reasons – haven’t taken the initiative to get started.
Sometimes the reason is that it’s not the right time; maybe their present career is going too well or they have family obligations. Sometimes it’s because they doubt their ability or fear failure. Sometimes, it’s simply because they haven’t taken the time to concretely decide when, and how, they're going to pursue this lifetime dream.
Do you have a business idea that you’d love to try?
If so, don’t let the opportunity pass you by. I still can’t believe how I almost missed it myself. Life is so short – and if you’re called to do this, it’s going to be incredibly meaningful for you.
Why not do a little preliminary exploring to see if this project might be right for you?
To help you get started, here are some of the baby steps that most helped me in the beginning:
1. Begin to believe you can.
This step might seem laughably fundamental, but it’s really the most important. It’s often the biggest roadblock for aspiring entrepreneurs.
There are a lot of things that get in the way of our believing in our ideas and ourselves. Some pretty common ones are:
- “My idea isn’t good enough.”
- “I’m not good/skilled/disciplined/savvy enough.”
- “It’s too financially risky.”
- “I’m afraid of failing.”
To make any forward progress with your business idea, you’ll have to start getting comfortable with these thoughts. You’ll need to recognize them, and learn how to get through them.
For now, tell yourself you’re simply in the curious, information-gathering stage with no strings attached. Give yourself a couple of months to explore your idea before making any judgements or decisions. In this time, suspend any disbelief and allow yourself to believe fully in you and the possibility of your idea – or in something even better you haven't hit on yet.
2. Recruit one or two key supporters and start sharing your idea.
Maybe keeping your ambitions a secret would protect you from embarrassment you don’t succeed. On the other hand, there are some real benefits for sharing your idea with people you really trust and can speak openly with.
At the end of my sabbatical, as I started wondering what I’d do next for work, it was my husband who gave me the wake-up call about how it was time to try being an entrepreneur.
He’d heard me mention my interest in having my own business a number of times, which is why he was surprised when I started talking seriously about applying for jobs. (In retrospect, this was my knee-jerk response to being out of work; I was afraid of launching something totally new.)
“Are you sure you want to work for someone else again?" he asked me. "Wouldn’t this be the perfect time to start your own business?”
I could hear in his voice both a challenge, and his complete confidence that I could do it. That meant the world to me, and gave me the boost I needed to get started.
In the beginning, it was scary to tell people that I was interested in becoming a life coach. It sounded woo-woo and new-agey, especially compared to the gritty humanitarian aid work I did before. I really believed in life coaching though, and wanted to do it.
Every time I told someone about my idea, it felt more natural. It just took practice.
3. Learn about the job.
Before leaping into any big decision about your business idea, see if you can’t first dip your toe in the water to see if it’s really right for you. Learn everything you can about what it takes to launch this type of business and what the work really consists of.
Find people who already have a similar business as the one you’d like to start and ask to if you can set up a time to talk. Go through some basic questions, such as:
- How long have you been in this business? How did you get started?
- What percentage of your time is spent doing what?
- What do you like most about this work?
- What do you dislike?
- What skills or character traits does a person need to be successful in this business?
- What kind of training or education do you recommend in the beginning?
- Any other advice for someone in my position and/or just starting out?
It’s also good to ask about financial realities too, especially if you have specific concerns. You might ask:
- How did you finance your business?
- Did you immediately start working on it full-time, or did you keep another job?
- How long did it take to become profitable (or pay your salary)?
Be as candid as you possibly can in these interviews, describing exactly what your situation is and then openly asking what the person advises. It takes some courage, but the more you can open up to someone about where you're at, the more specific and helpful they can be.
Remember: If someone has agreed to do an informational interview with you, they have already decided they want to help you. So make their job easy and be specific about how they can help you!
4. Reflect and decide on next steps.
When you’ve finished your initial research – you’ve interviewed or read about other like-minded entrepreneurs, researched training, financing and other resources you might need – sit down with your notes and reflect on what you know so far.
It’s likely that two things happened during your initial research. You have:
- Become even more excited about your idea and the possibilities. You’re more passionate about it than ever – and maybe even want to take a big leap right now.
- Gotten some advice that discouraged you or put you off.
I experienced both of these after my initial research into starting a coaching practice. It was easy to decide to move ahead because I heard from other coaches that my specific experience and strengths – as well as my interests – aligned so well with what I'd need for a successful practice.
Several coaches also warned me about the time it takes to establish a healthy and profitable coaching practice. “It will take you at least twice as long as you think,” one told me. In my naïveté, I was quick to dismiss this counsel as being unique, and overly pessimistic. Then, it turned out that they were absolutely right – but I had to learn that myself, the hard way.
Any business enterprise involves risks, a steep learning curve, and a share of failures. There’s just no preventing that. It’s part of the adventure.
Still, there is a lot you can do to be strategic. Does this project both fire you up and have a good chance of success? For the problems you can already anticipate, what actions can you take right now to mitigate them or head them off?
As you review what you’ve learned so far, what’s your gut telling you about your next steps?
I’m excited to hear what you learn! Please feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line anytime. Good luck as you continue exploring.