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Employee to entrepreneur:
There comes a time in one’s career that change, sometimes disruptive change, can set in. You could face job-loss due to cost cutting.
You might be reconsidering your options outside of being an employee.
Or you might have a perception that change is coming to the organisation and this might not fit into your career plans.
Many career professionals often consider the entrepreneurship option as one that can offer significant opportunities.
You or a good buddy at work could be toying around with an idea that your employer may find not exciting.
You could be sitting on a very big opportunity and it just does not fit into the long-term plans of your current employer.
The founders of Home Depot in the US, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank were fired at Handy Dan, a home improvement store, when they were told that they were not needed after a disagreement with their boss. Their idea was to start a warehouse type home improvement business.
Today, Home Depot is worth over US$200 billion and each of its founders are multi-billionaires.
It is not an easy transition; to move from one mindset to another. Mindset is how you think and act. You are wired to behave in a certain way. Changing that wiring is like you’re hiring yourself to change the electrical wiring in your house.
How do non-owners think?
Employees like to take orders, many times do not take initiative, fail to be creative problem solvers and lack an appreciation of emerging opportunities. Why?
It’s all about taking risks. The typical employee is rarely rewarded to take risks, so why take it?
Often the boss does the thinking and when he doesn’t, you must get permission to think and hopefully he will not be offended.
Then there is the company politics; people look at how they can benefit from an idea first, then the firm. They want to improve their standing and move up the organisational chart.
This could mean ideas without commercial potential moving forward. Or they might come up with the idea and may not get the benefit.
Large organisations once started as smaller versions that were entrepreneurial. That made them grow faster, but as they grew, they added more structure and formality. When this happens, the entrepreneurial spirit of the founder gets diminished. If he is still at the head, he is sometimes frustrated why the pace is so slow.
Managers are hired, and they are frequently not entrepreneurially minded.
They just kill any new initiative that might disrupt the status quo.
Even the office design can be a creative and innovation killer. Cubicle life, as I like to call it, is just good for routine work, but does not get you to think outside of the cubicle.
Since a company’s gas is its thinking, the gas tank in a bureaucratic firm will get smaller and smaller as it gets larger.
Our brains have certain preferences. We like the thrill we get from doing things we love. If cooking is your thing, then you will continue to experiment with new ways and keep talking about it at work.
This practice can lead to developing a competence in the culinary arts.
But if you were asked to do something you dislike, say learn Spanish, you might avoid learning it and so develop little competence.
We like our comfort zone.
We all have comfort zones, and this keeps us from seeing opportunities. Getting out of the comfort zone requires a lot of motivation.
Leaving a job is leaving the comfort zone, despite that you are going nowhere career wise. The safety net of a cushy career is hard to abandon. But not for some.
Dennis Ramdeen, founder of Pepper Advertising, was quoted in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (2010) on Trinidad and Tobago: “My decision to start a boutique ad agency, Pepper, came from my incapacity to tow the line and follow corporate instructions that did not sit well with my value system, my training and experience.”
Changing your mindset requires that you perform different things. Learning a new language, taking a different route (even though it is not shorter), using the other hand, can develop new brain connections; more pathways to use to solve problems and spot opportunities.
It’s like you have one route to Point Fortin, but if you build a new highway (new brain networks), there is an additional way to get there faster.
You may have built up a huge bank of skills. Some you can throw away and some might be quite valuable.
I am sometimes surprised to know that some professionals do not know how to monetise their competences. Though some employees might be good at this, others maybe sitting on a gold mine (or gold mind).
Some take to opportunity quicker. Sales and marketing people are trained to go after customers and close sales.
Accountants are not trained to do so, add lawyers, engineers, doctors, dentists, and you get the message.
Marketing staff can make the entrepreneurial transition faster. Notice when some of your colleagues in your company leave to start a business, who are the first ones to do so? You guessed, it was people who worked in sales and marketing.
What kind of mind do entrepreneurs have? We know they thrive in uncertainty; the fog of war is where the action is for them.
This uncertainty gives rise to risks and entrepreneurs know risks could be masking a hidden opportunity.
Managers when they do take risks, they do it with the company’s resources, the only risk is their job.
This makes the transition more difficult as risk averse persons fear the loss of capital and not to mention the social risks of failing. In our society, when you “buss” a business, it’s taboo. It is one of the most shameful of business deeds.
Businesses that do well also are those that focus on innovation.
Entrepreneurs not only innovate but create innovation that delivers value. Innovation can be in a product or service, like the new iPhone but it can be in process.
If an entrepreneur finds a way to produce doubles in a factory operation (mass produced), then we can have our number one street food at a lower price and with an extra guarantee that it meets strict health standards.
Sujan Patel writing on entrepreneur.com offers some additional advice to employees who want to transition.
First, determine what you like to do and what people will pay for.
Then, start your business on a small scale and test for customer feedback. After that you can hire a team and secure your financing.
Remember, managing a startup is quite different from a mature company.
In an early stage venture things are fuzzy and customer acquisition is paramount. Sometimes your new product maybe not take off immediately, and you have fewer marketing resources to promote it, and this makes it challenging.
You will have to become the firm’s first sales person.
If you are a technical person this is difficult to do, but a necessary skill.
Sajjad Hamid MBA ACFBA
(family business) is an SME and family business adviser.
He can be contacted via: [email protected]
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