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Should I stay or should I grow? Making the leap into enterprise


A full-time job elsewhere can be a handy security blanket as you try to get your solo venture off the ground. So when's the best time to kiss the company goodbye? Louise Druce charts the pleasures and the pitfalls.

There is no guarantee of success in any job but quitting the stability of full-time employment in a company to go it alone is like tightrope walking without a safety net: get on the wrong-footing and you're heading for a serious fall but the self- reward of making it to the other side can be worth the risk.

Becoming self-employed requires commitment, determination, perseverance, a lot of sacrifices, and an open-minded and positive attitude to cope with any eventuality should things not go quite according to plan. Of course, even if you think your steely nerves will help you bounce back from any set-backs, there are the all important finances to consider. It can suddenly make those basic company perks seem like King Solomon's mines.

Entrepreneurial quality check:

  • Self-confidence
  • Self-determination
  • Being a self-starter
  • Judgement
  • Commitment
  • Perseverance
  • Initiative

Source: Business Link

So is it worth giving up the regular day job? "A lot depends on why you want to start on your own," says entrepreneur Robert Ashton, also a business start-up specialist and author. "If it's to try and escape from aspects of employed life that you don't like, it might be better to try to improve your job rather than run away. There have to be positive reasons to go it alone, otherwise you may find yourself still confronting the same problems with the added burden of self-employment."

Ashton knows from personal experience. He was made redundant in 1990 and says he learned all the lessons the hard way. "I was the classic employee who dreamt of working for himself but had no idea really what to do," he explains. "After a few months of panic, I teamed up with another guy who knew the ropes and sold my expertise as a salesman and marketer. Later we split and I went it alone, building a second business, which I sold in 2003."

Reality checklist

If you are determined to go solo, firstly you need to weigh up the pros and cons of staying with the firm and trying to juggle your own business against cutting the apron strings completely.

As well as potentially losing health and pension perks, self-employment usually goes hand in hand with long hours, which can put a strain on personal relationships. You also need to research your market carefully to make sure you can survive in shark-infested waters. According to government advice site Business Link, a common misconception is that failed entrepreneurs simply lacked funding or didn't have the right team in place when, in many cases, their lack of success was down to a lack of time spent thoroughly researching their business idea and its viability in the market.

"No business is a first," says Ashton. "If it looks that way, take it as a warning." He recommends finding a company already in your line of business and come up with ways to do it differently. This should be backed up by tactics such as mystery shopping, networking with industry contacts and colleagues, and product testing.

Above all, Ashton warns not to harbour any romantic notions about the business and kidding yourself that it'll fly when it obviously isn't even clear for take-off. Another common pitfall can be over-preparation – there is no point writing endless business plans if you don't get out there and win over the customers.

The long goodbye

When it comes to finances, it's unlikely you're going to see big returns on your new business straight away so budding entrepreneurs should aim to have enough cash in the bank to survive several months without an income. And this means being realistic about paying back loans and overdrafts should you choose to go down that route.

Ashton believes unless you're really lucky, a new enterprise is unlikely to yield the same level of income you received in your regular job for at least six months and probably closer to two years. As well as putting half a year's living expenses aside, he recommends saving a few thousand extra to cover the unexpected. "Quitting your job to go it alone without the financial cushion will force you to take bigger risks and seek short cuts – both potentially risky," he adds.

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That's why, once you have made the decision to quit, you may also want to think twice about storming into the office to tell your boss what you really think of them as you dramatically hand in your notice. Other options you might want to explore to help you along financially, says Ashton, are negotiating a redundancy or early retirement deal, leaving the job in stages (such as going part-time) or agree a deal where your employer becomes your first client and you support them part-time in that way.

"The perfect situation is to be ready to resign with everything in place and be surprised by a redundancy offer the day before you were going to resign anyway," he says. "That rarely happens, so you've got to go when your business opportunity is looking really good and you're fit and ready for the challenge ahead."

For all the negatives of getting your business up and running, there are many rewards when you reach the heights of success. For Ashton, his positives include now having the self-knowledge and ability to follow his own instincts, financial security to say no to projects that don't feel right, being his own boss, having a career where work and life are not separated, and having the opportunity and ability to help others making the same journey.

"Once you've decided [to make the leap], it's foot to the floor and go for it," he says. "No turning back or slowing down."

Five things that might make you stay at work

1. I can buy out when the boss retires – so will end up with my own business anyway.

2. I've a life threatening condition and the company will be generous – although illness can give you a 'happy go lucky' approach, it may be best to seek fulfillment in your home life rather than become an entrepreneur.

3. I qualify for a bumper pension in two years – so why not hold fire and try to negotiate an early release? It'll be easier to start a business if you're receiving a pension.

4. I actually like work, but my partner is pushing me – is an all too common comment made by reluctant entrepreneurs. Should your partner start the business instead?

5. They're currently funding my MBA – which means that a start-up venture has never looked so appealing. Write the plan but wait until you get the piece of paper before resigning. Is there an opportunity to start a joint venture with your employer?

Five things that might make you decide to leave

1. The boss is a control freak who'll never let go – if work is uncomfortable and you think you can do better on your own, it’s often worth giving it a go.

2. I think the firm's going down the tubes – ask if it's true. If it is, you might be able to buy the assets from the receiver and get off to a flying start with the business you know.

3. I have a personal pension scheme – so however old you are you won't lose out financially when you're old.

4. Work is depressing me – life really is too short to spend it doing something you don't enjoy. Understand what it is about work you want to change first though.

5. I've been trading on the side and am getting busier – many businesses start because moonlighting is proving successful. Make sure you're not breaching your employment contract.

Source: The Entrepreneur's Book of Checklists

This feature first appeared on, the leading online community for entrepreneurs and owner managers of small to medium sized businesses. The site provides free resources including a highly interactive forum, expert blogs, a business grants guide and an events diary. It's a great resource for anyone thinking of setting up their own business. Like, subscription is free. Take a look at:


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