Q: I've recently been made redundant with quite a good pay-off, as I'd been at the company for a long time. Given how hard it seems to be to find a job, should I be thinking about starting my own business?
A: The right answer depends on you: your personal circumstances, your experience and, most importantly, your temperament. There are dozens of books on starting your own business, with excellent advice on how to write a business plan and where to look for funding, but almost nothing published on the crucial question of whether you should start one at all.
The first question to ask yourself is this: am I contemplating this because it's something I've wanted to do for a long time or is it more a case of finding myself with the wherewithal to do it? Getting a business off the ground takes both energy and staying power if you are going to successfully ride the peaks and troughs of the launch period. If your current interest and commitment to a new venture are less than 100%, then it will be worth undertaking a personal voyage of discovery into your own working preferences and the realities of being the founder of a new business to establish whether this new career is likely to suit you and lead to success.
Start by reviewing your career to date. What aspects of your previous employment provided the greatest satisfaction: the role, your status, the remuneration, your achievements, the recognition you received, the working environment, your colleagues? And what elements of your working life were less satisfactory? Now apply this template of the positives and negatives of your work experience to the business venture you are considering. How could you ensure that in future you have more of what suits you best in your professional life? And how could you minimise the potentially troublesome issues? Would the trade-offs required of you be worth making?
Next, consider your personality and how it might help or hinder you as the founder of a business. Would you describe yourself as entrepreneurial - by which I mean do you tend to have commercial ideas and find ways of exploiting them? If so, you may well have the flexibility and market awareness required to make a go of your own business, providing you make sure you have the right back-up financially, operationally and emotionally.
On the other hand, do you regard yourself as prudent and risk-averse? If until now you've always worked in structured organisations, within a clear framework of roles and responsibilities and you have thrived, then you may well find the uncertainty that often characterises starting a business very troubling.
Whether you're risk-taking or more cautious, suddenly having to be your own finance director, IT manager, PA, office manager and catering staff could be a shock. You may be the CEO, but you still have to replace the loo rolls. I've worked with people who have started their own businesses as refugees from corporate life, who revelled in being free of bureaucracy at first, but subsequently missed a lot of the elements of employment they used to take for granted. If this sounds a bit like you and seems off-putting, then think twice about your start-up, unless you can have access to resources that will relieve you of some of these potentially irksome duties and practicalities.
If you're still undecided, you could offer consultancy services. Some of my clients have adopted this increasingly popular route and have succeeded in capitalising on their experience and contacts to gain clients, including winning projects from their previous employer. In effect, it's a halfway house between employment and a full-blown start-up, and you are still in the market for another corporate job if one comes along. In these days of outsourcing, quite a high proportion of new projects outside the normal run of an organisation's activities are farmed out to consultants. But success is not guaranteed - there may be an oversupply of consultants in your field and development budgets have been squeezed, making it difficult to earn a decent living.
But if you are longing for greater autonomy, develop a clear idea of the business you want to create and why there will be a market for it, and work out what the major obstacles to success are likely to be and how you would overcome them if they arise, then you are more likely to make a go of a new company.
- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach.
If you have a problem you'd like her to tackle, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.