Every hopeful entrepreneur dreams of the day when they can leave behind the regular grind of a day job and become their own boss. But leaving behind a steady paycheck in order to start a new business can be intimidating, and often requires a leap of faith. We spoke with several entrepreneurs who have successfully made this jump, and asked them to share their advice for aspiring entrepreneurs facing this pivotal decision.
1. Know When it's Time
Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder, Mavens & Moguls
If the days (and nights) fly by and you have more ideas than time to address them all, you're moving in the right direction. If you can't shut off the stream of ideas you've got to make your business a success, it's probably time to start acting on them. But make sure you prioritize and focus on the crucial ideas so you don't get distracted along the way. When starting a company, less is truly more. Do a few important things really well and be known for flawless execution. Own that space in your customers' minds so that they'll always think of you first. Once you've earned their trust and respect in one place, you can parlay it into other areas later. Oprah didn't start off with a book club; that came after she built credibility with her core audience. Amazon began with books then expanded into toys, music and everything else after scoring with booklovers. Your reputation is the best asset you have, so build on your strengths as you go.
When you believe in your core that a bad day on your own is better than a good day at your desk job, you've got nothing to lose. Failure was never a consideration for me despite the fact that most startups fail. My business successfully leveraged my relationships and prior experiences, so it really felt like the culmination of years of training for this opportunity. There's no substitute for doing your homework so you can be ready and aware when serendipity strikes. The important thing is to keep moving forward and learn from every experience. You can't wait for the perfect time to launch; you just have to course correct as you get more feedback along the way. Being an entrepreneur means making decisions without perfect information. Get used to it—or find another career path.
2. Understand Your Customers' Needs
Rafe Gomez, Co-Owner, VC Inc. Marketing
When new entrepreneurs leave their careers, the biggest mistake that they make is to follow their dreams rather than seek to understand the needs, goals, and challenges of their target customers. Regardless of how effective your product or service is, if it's not in tune with what your prospective buyers want, your company will crater. These insights should be pursued strategically and methodically, not emotionally.
Your goal should be to truly intuit and understand the solutions that are desired by the market segment(s) that you're seeking to connect with, not the solutions that you'd like them to have or think they should have with no research to back up your position. If you're open minded and willing to tweak your dream to be synchronized with the needs and requirements of your desired target consumers, your journey as a business owner will have a greater chance to be profitable and successful.
3. Start with a Side Hustle
Cristian Rennella, Co-Founder, elMajorTrato.com
Don't leave your career just yet. First, start with a side hustle. A side hustle is very important because it allows you to search for product and market fit. That is, you can invest your time and effort in finding an unmet need that customers are willing to pay for.
This search is the key task that will define the success or failure of your startup in the long run. The best type of side hustle you can look for is the subscription model. A subscription model is where every month your customers must pay an amount (usually small) between USD 10 and USD 100. This is the most interesting type of side hustle because it allows you to have a stable and predictable growth in the future to create a great company.
A side hustle is better than leaving your established career (at least at the beginning) because with no extra pressure and with some extra time you can invest in being face to face with the client and it will be your responsibility/challenge to provide a solution and charge for it.
4. Validate Your Ideas First
Nicole Littmann, Founder, Aurelian Coaching
Validate your theory that what you have to offer actually solves someone's problem, and that they're actually willing to pay for it. Too many entrepreneurs have a great idea that no one is interested in, which can ultimately lead to disappointment.
Provide your item or service for free for at least 3 months or for a double-digit number of customers, in exchange for glowing testimonials and for real, honest feedback. Nothing can replace this validation step. What entrepreneurs need is to provide something useful and of value — not just something interesting.
5. Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
Leslie Fischer, Founder, Sustainable Slumber
Be willing to learn a skill outside of your passion in order to grow your business. I began Sustainable Slumber because I love writing about eco-living and I am passionate about helping people get more sleep. What I didn't realize was that about 90 percent of the work I do at Sustainable Slumber comes down to SEO. I had to invest a significant amount of time, study and energy into learning SEO, even though my passion is sleep. You will likely need to learn a skill outside of your primary interests in order to truly make your business thrive.
6. Invest in Yourself
Dan Meyer, Co-founder, Pocketdoor
You will never cross everything off your to-do list. Make sure you plan how you will take care of yourself and your personal relationships. For example: I set a goal to exercise three days during the week, and reserve specific time during the week for family. However, you must also plan for contingencies. Set goals and strive to hit them but make a plan in case you find that things take twice as long or cost twice as much.
7. Form an LLC
Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com
For liability reasons, it's wise to make sure you incorporate or form an LLC before the business takes off. Incorporating or forming an LLC can help protect personal assets by separating the business from your personal affairs. If anything were to go wrong with the business, it's wise to make sure your house, car and personal assets are properly protected.
If the type of business entity you should form is not clear to you, it's wise to speak with a CPA. CPAs can help you understand tax implications and how the different structures can help you protect your assets as well as save money on taxes.
8. Make Use of Virtual Assistants
Earl White, Co-Founder, House Heroes LLC
A game changing business tip for business owners of any level is hiring virtual assistants. When you're working a full-time job, available hours to develop a side hustle are limited. Staffing full-time employees can also be cost prohibitive and even several full-time staff can may not be enough. Virtual assistants can create the time you need to work on the big picture steps to get out of the 9 to 5 grind. There are talented virtual assistants across the United States (and internationally) you can hire for telephone services, client management, data analysis, calendaring, and web search at affordable rates compared to the traditional hiring process.
During crunch times, you can supervise short-term virtual teams to get through temporary periods of heightened work. Hiring a virtual assistant is also simple. There are several websites that connect you directly with virtual assistants and make the process a breeze by handling payment, dispute resolution, and providing live computer monitoring to supervise the team. I personally supervise 5 virtual assistants.
9. Document Your Processes
Shawn Breyer, Owner, Breyer Home Buyers
Startups are chaotic. Everyone does a little bit of everything to get the ball rolling and build momentum. However, when the startup begins to take off and more people are needed to accommodate the growth, the chaos cannot continue without harming the company. Every startup that is experiencing growth needs to have each employee on the team document the how to perform the tasks that they do and make it a checklist procedure.
The goal is not to tell someone exactly how to do it. The goal is to give everyone a path to travel down to hit milestones when performing a task. The benefit of this is that the startup can more easily scale since how to do things isn't tribal knowledge anymore, making training easier. The managers can also hold their team accountable for performing tasks properly when how to do it is documented clearly and provided to them.