Are you tired of working as a wage slave? Of being expected to carry out orders? Of being assessed by mindless superiors? Would you rather build a business of your own, instead of helping your boss expand his? Then perhaps the time has come for you to start thinking about becoming an entrepreneur yourself.
Some people are born entrepreneurs, others thrive as employees in a nine to five environment. Business ownership is a natural state to some, but would be a complete nightmare to others. In fact, these two classes of people are fairly strictly divided. Of course there are people who, at some point in their lives, cross the divide by accepting paid employment or by becoming their own boss. Even so, it is safe to say that overall, most employees stay employees until their retirement (although they will change jobs in the meantime), while most entrepreneurs stay independent throughout their working lives (although they may change tactics from time to time). That is not to say that all entrepreneurs will deny the benefits of paid employment as a matter of principle, and no doubt countless employees sometimes play with the idea of becoming self-employed. The purpose of this article is to encourage the latter type of move – from paid employment to entrepreneurship. After all, this is a step that offers people the best opportunities to develop their potential, and it has the added advantage of promoting employment and economic growth.
As an employee, there will come a time when you feel you are expected to carry out boring tasks and pointless orders, or discover that you could earn much more money if you sold your services to your own clients, rather than via your boss. Except for the born entrepreneurs, most people who set up a business of their own do so out of a variety of motivations, positive ones (freedom, self-development, earning potential) and negative ones (conflict at work, annoyance with working practices, unpleasant colleagues etc.). Whatever your reasons for deciding to work for yourself, you should bear in mind that in order to be successful your decision will have to be based on a solid foundation. The following preconditions constitute the mix of ingredients that will help your decision bear fruit:
Professional skill Bear in mind that any business is doomed unless it is based on the owner’s personal strength. Trying your luck at something just for the fun of it is not a sound basis for success. In fact, this type of entrepreneur is responsible for a lot of the daunting statistics that might keep you from setting up your own company in the first place, such as the fact that over a third of all business start-ups go bust between the first and fifth years of their existence. However, people who have based their business on a real, commercially productive and recognised strength have much better chances of survival. In a way, what successful start-ups sell is professional expertise, as much as anything else. That may come in the form of a product or a service, but it always embodies the business owner’s personal strength.
Commercial skills No matter how talented you are, you won’t be able to make a living from your professional expertise unless you have the commercial skills to sell it. By commercial skill we mean the ability to find the people who might be interested in your product or service, the ability to convince them that it is your product or service that they need, and the ability to make them pay a reasonable price for it that will help you make a decent profit and give your clients the feeling they’ve bought something that is worth the investment.
Perseverance Success normally does not come easy, but depends on the fulfilment of a host of preconditions. Before convincing your clients, you may need to convince a bank that your product or service is worth investing in. You will have to find and attract the people you need to set your business in motion and keep it running. You will have to find suitable accommodation and reliable suppliers. In all, it may take you quite a while to create the optimum mix of tools to deliver a high-quality product for your clients, and even then you may have to adjust it to their taste. You may also have to defend yourself in court against third-party claims, engage external consultants for advice about evolving legislation, sort out disputes with your staff or make huge investments for potential orders that may eventually be granted to a competitor. Success is not for the faint-hearted.
Planning skills Above all, clients like clarity. When you offer them your product or service, they will need to know exactly what it costs and when they will get it. This calls for careful planning in your production system – not only the part that you actually run yourself (e.g., your own work planning and that of your staff members), but also the part for which you depend on others, such as your suppliers. Delays in the final delivery to your clients are fatal to their confidence in your business. Apart from being potentially harmful to the client, late deliveries will make him feel that you have no control over your business and are a strong incentive for him to look for another company next time.
HR skills Sooner or later, most entrepreneurs will find that they need others to make their business a success, or to make it grow (which usually comes down to the same thing). Staff recruitment is a skill in its own right, because you will need to find effective ways of testing the candidates’ professional and personal contributions to your business. Unlike professional actors, applicants cannot usually avoid presenting themselves as they are in real life, so contrary to popular belief it is not the candidates’ acting skills but rather your assessment of human nature that determines the success of your selection procedures. And once you have found the right people, you should carefully think about the practicalities of employership. What are you going to pay them? What do you expect to do about issues such as absenteeism, maternity leave and overtime? The more staff you take on, the higher the percentage of your time that you will have to spend on HR issues.
Financial insight A great deal of your time and energy will have to be invested in keeping your records and making sure you comply with all the financial and fiscal rules to which you are subject as a business owner. In fact, it is imperative for you to seek tax advice even before you have launched your company. Make sure to pick an advisor who has practical experience in the small businesses sector and enjoys helping you weather all the regulatory storms as a business start-up, pointing out both financial pitfalls and money-saving strategies and helping your fledging company gain a firm footing in the business arena.
Each of the issues outlined above deserves a far more detailed discussion. Keep an eye, therefore, on subsequent articles from this author in which he will discuss the many benefits the business owner may enjoy once the above conditions have been fulfilled. Those benefits may be considerable. However, we believe it is wise at this stage to emphasise the hard work, rather than the rewards. After all, business success is always based on a fair amount of realism – and a little bit of the stuff that dreams are made of.