Dear Joe: Should I Go Out On My Own?

The email arrived on Saturday night, around 10:30 p.m. It simply said, "Can we talk soon?" The vague statement -- delivered during a three-day holiday weekend here in the U.S. -- set the stage for a phone call yesterday. An old pal wanted advice on whether he should go out on his own -- and launch his own business.

When it comes to career advice -- especially quitting your job and starting a business -- I often shy away from the conversation. After all I don't know the person's...

  1. Risk tolerance: Just how much is he or she willing to risk to chase a business dream?
  2. Financial status: Does he or she have ample savings to (A) take no salary during startup mode, (B) fund the business and (C) keep the lights on at home?
  3. Family status: As I've often said, the biggest variable in starting a business often involves whether your family will support your decision -- and for how long.

That Looks Awesome

So many people "think" they want to start a business. But that urge is somewhat akin to me watching my son's lacrosse or football games -- and me "wanting" to get on that field just one more time. Generally speaking, the urge to step on the field quickly passes once I realize:

  • How many hours my son has practiced to earn a spot on the field.
  • All the training required to get into "game shape."

Thanks, but I'll pass -- at least when it comes to chasing my youth as an athlete.

Getting Into Game Shape

Still, the business world isn't all that different. I think the best entrepreneurs get into game shape before actually making their move. That means spending six months to a year really re-prioritizing your life before going out on your own and launching a business. 

Before you quit your job and potentially launch a business, here are the tasks I'd tackle during that six- or 12-month pre-game window:

  1. The idea: You don't necessarily need a business plan. But you do need a one-paragraph descriptor describing the business or service you plan to build -- and how you'll monetize it.
  2. The asset: What is the resulting asset or intellectual property? What's the thing that's going to make the business valuable -- or at least a revenue generator that pays your bills and funds your savings?
  3. The piece parts: What talent, technologies and infrastructure will you need to get the business off the ground? Of those piece parts, what can you handle on your own? And where will you look to find the parts you're missing? What additional piece parts will you need if/when the business takes off?
  4. The finances: How are you going to cut your personal spending at home to fund the dream at work? And how long will your family patiently endorse your dream before they start asking, "Hey, where's the paycheck?"
  5. The alliances: Who can you call on -- potential customers and partners -- to help transform your dream into a cash-generating reality?

There's plenty more to do. But those five points are enough to get you started.

Making A Move?

Oh, and about that weekend email and resulting phone call yesterday. I'm not sure if my pal will go out on his own. But I suspect he has some rather great business ideas, based on his own experience in and around the IT market for the past two decades or so...

I look forward to tracking his path forward. And yours. If you're mulling a tech career move or business launch, I'd love to hear about it:

PS: Don't tell me the idea. But do tell me what sparked the urge to potentially go out on your own...

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