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What you need to know before you quit your day job

Have your entrepreneurial desires got you thinking about quitting your day job? Good on you. I remember that feeling like it was yesterday… I was so excited to get going! I was clear on my business case and I knew exactly what was different about what I wanted to create. But I wasn’t even slightly prepared for the emotional impact starting a business would have on me.

And I don’t think I’m alone. While success might look glamorous, it takes energy, passion, commitment and resilience to get there – and these are not qualities that everyone has.

I’ve started four different businesses (with varying degrees of success) and the biggest thing that’s taught me is the importance of being mentally and emotionally prepared. There are so many ups and downs that come with relinquishing the security of a day job, and you must be ready to face them head-on.

I think this is hugely under-represented among small business advice. So, I wanted to offer my perspective on the key things you must be clear about before you take the leap and quit your job. These are just as important to making your business a success as your product or service.

1. Treat your time like you treat your cash

The biggest investment you’ll make in your business is your time. Your time represents your foregone salary, so you must think of it as a capital investment. And be very clear from the outset how much capital you are willing to put at risk.

Be very strict about how you spend your time. Now you’ve put a monetary value on it, set a clear limit and draw that line. This will help you remove some of the emotion from the decision to call it a day if you can’t see a future for the business down the line. If you don’t, the emotional connection between you and your business can be very dangerous…and very expensive.

If you need to call it a day, take the humble approach and go back to employment. Embrace ‘fast failure’: you can always go back to a day job and earn more income to try another idea. And put what you’ve learnt from your first business into your next one.

2. Business isn’t personal

Leaving your day job means you will probably be at home in your new ‘office’…a lot. If you have a family, they’ll see you around more, which can put emotional pressure on you to be available for your family when you should be focusing on your business.

It may sound obvious, but make sure you create a clear divide between work time and family time, just as you would in a day job. This may be easier said than done, but try and make sure everyone understands that even though you are at home, you are working. And that means your attention is devoted to the business.

3. Be brutally honest with yourself

If you are someone who is used to others providing you with structure and direction, then you are going to need a level of self-discipline and motivation that you’ve never needed before. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not a self-starter, ready to do some hard yards that aren’t very sexy, then you need to think very hard about whether being an entrepreneur is right for you.

There won’t be anyone asking you to do anything or providing you with direction. It’s a constant game of self-motivation and discipline as you face setback after setback, particularly in the early days. And it’s down to you (and only you) to find a solution.

If you rely on others a lot, you need to quickly instil proactivity and discipline into your life, or you can forget it. Small things, like making sure you get up at the right time every morning, or working in a defined office space (even if it is at home), have a big impact.

When I started my first business, I felt like I didn’t know which minute would make the difference, which second would be the catalyst, so I could hardly ever sit down and just relax. It would get to 10pm when I wanted to put my feet up to watch a movie, but I felt like I should spend that hour and a half writing emails to potential clients in case it was the breakthrough I needed. I had no boss or big corporation setting me targets, but it was one of the most stressful times in my life. You must be
aware of the tension lack of structure can create.

4. A problem shared is a problem halved

Being an entrepreneur is a lonely place, particularly in the beginning. You’ll spend a lot of time on your own as you try to build your business. If you are a people person, this can be tough to cope with, so don’t do it! Create a trusted network around you.

Tempting as it is for an entrepreneur, you can’t always think through problems on your own – you need a fresh perspective every now and again. You’ll be amazed at how simply talking it through with a circle of people you respect and trust can help relieve your stress.

If you can get those people connected to your business in some way so they have a personal interest in its success, all the better. This is what I did with Elixirr and it’s been invaluable. My close circle of friends and mentors has got me through more than a few tough spots! The cherry on the top is if you can get those people to invest capital in the business, creating even more of a connection to the success of your business.

Before you quit…

Not having a steady income for a while may seem inconsequential when you have a great idea that you know you can build into a successful venture. But it can get very stressful very quickly when the chips are down, when you’ve gone six months without income and you’ve started eating into your hard-earned savings. Don’t underestimate the emotional strain that financial uncertainty can put on you at a time when your company is fledgeling.

Being an entrepreneur is about so much more than the idea. You must be emotionally and mentally prepared as it can be a very trying and difficult time. The potential rewards are huge… just make sure you’re really ready before you quit your day job.

Stephen Newton

Stephen Newton

After failing at three startups before founding Elixirr, I am passionate about supporting and empowering entrepreneurs, and have built Elixirr around this principle. My firm is becoming famous for our entrepreneurial spirit with many of the consultants having gone on to start their own successful businesses.

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