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How to build your business before quitting your day job

How to build your business before quitting your day job
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Like diving from a cliff the first time, leaving your job to dedicate yourself to your own business can be quite daunting prospect. There should be much more consideration to making a decision to quit your job than simply “look before you leap.” There are ways to approach this without burning bridges, while building wealth and increasing the likelihood of success in the new venture.

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Determine a good crossover point, so that you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Why not maintain those relationships developed during your career while gaining some early traction? Much of what works and doesn’t work in a venture can be figured out before making a full commitment to it. You can work toward a bottom line measurement, where profit trajectory from the business crosses your income needs, before you make the leap. This is not always easy to do but will be worth the effort.

If done well, quitting your job to dedicate yourself to your business will be a natural transition, even if this is your first time. Here is a list of ten things to work on to determine a good crossover point. In other words, don’t quit until:

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  1. There is a good product or service offering in place. An idea, set of samples, prototype and the like do not count. There needs to be a real business opportunity in here. Wherever possible, it should be proven, backed by a good plan and operating on a sound business model. It takes solid front-end marketing to determine that. There is rarely any value in quitting a well paying job on just a hunch there is a good business opportunity. Whatever it is, it needs to be priced for sale and priced for profit with all the costs of overhead, production, sales and distribution factored in.
  2. There are real customers. Unless you are selling quilts, family and friends are not considered customers. Whether your customers are end users, distributors, retailers, businesses or the general public doesn’t matter as much as whether or not they are real and sustainable.
  3. There is enough money in the bank to sustain a prolonged dry spell. It can take three years to develop a business to the point there is enough profit above and beyond the needs of the business to generate a healthy income for the owner.
  4. The business becomes more enjoyable and satisfying then the job. This is easier for people who hate their job than it is for those who are very passionate about their work. There needs to be passion and enthusiasm for the new venture, otherwise it is bound to fail. This is always true if you are the one leading it and doing the sales. With few exceptions, this also holds true if you are simply taking over an existing business with a track record and organization in place. The attitude of the owner affects the whole enterprise.
  5. The product or service offering is not being trampled by a major competitor. If a big competitor can afford to and does make a big effort to undercut your offering and has the ability to out-market, out-produce and out-sell you, the business could quickly become a race for the bottom.
  6. The business will not likely go broke within three to five years. The sad reality is that about half of all companies are simply not around five years after they are started. About a third of the ones that close do so because they lose money, another third break even and the remainder are profitable. There are many reasons for a company to close its doors, but not making a profit is obviously the main one.
  7. You develop the self discipline it takes to tough it out in your own business. Not having a boss or system in place to keep you working makes it easier to become distracted and lose focus on the needs of the business. Putting off necessary sales calls to head off to the beach on a nice summer day is a surefire way to undermine the chances of success.
  8. You have become an expert in your chosen area. Leaving a 20 year career in the insurance industry to start a venture manufacturing a new health food snack bar is likely going to become problematic. People in both the insurance and food industries will be skeptical unless clear expertise has been developed in the relevant areas. This is why it is often easier to transition from a job to a business in a similar area or expertise. An insurance veteran offering a new product or service in the insurance field will have less trouble establishing credibility as an expert.
  9. You have enough of the right “friends” in the area. A productive network is a great asset in building a business. If you have the right people in the right places available at the right time, your business is much more likely to succeed than if you don’t. Use tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and industry networking events to enhance your network.
  10. You have key mentors and advisors in place. These people can help you develop the business long before full deployment. Call on more of your growing network of “friends” as things develop. These advisors can also help with determining when to quit your job (or the business).

It boils down to really knowing yourself and knowing your stuff before going into your new venture with a full commitment. You should know the area well enough to be able to write a book about it. This helps eliminate the tendency to respond to the frequent “once in a lifetime” opportunities that come along.

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Develop the business under trial conditions as much as possible while you are still maintaining your job or career. You won’t likely be able to generate much volume or profit during this phase. It is often hard to go out and make sales calls during the day while you are working 9 to 5 job. However, it is quite possible to do substantial test marketing and research without having to quit your job. There can usually be enough product or service development work done where needed to get it into a saleable enough form to get orders from real customers – enough to prove out the business and maybe make a small profit. Plus build your network, expertise and credibility in the area.

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Develop your business to the point that you simply are forced to choose between your job and the business. Do that, and you’ll be much less likely to hit rock bottom when you make the leap!

If you have any additional suggestions, please post a comment.

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis now available.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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