First-class coach

I've been in the same large management consultancy since I left university 12 years ago. I've got a good salary and all the benefits, and since I had my first child four years ago, I've been working flexibly. Yet I'm becoming increasingly bored of corporate life, and I'm toying with the idea of starting my own business.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Would it be stupid of me to quit?

A: As I know from friends who work in management consultancy, in the early years of the job, the pace is fast and furious: exhausting, but exciting, with new projects and different locations providing constant interest. However, this degree of intensity isn't sustainable, and it becomes a lot less desirable when you have a young family. Flexible working and involvement in different types of project relieve some of the pressure and can reduce the travel requirement, but the trade-off is a loss of some of the challenge. It sounds to me as if your cushy job is boring you.

Your idea to leave and start your own business may be the right thing to do, but it is only one option. Because of the nature of new business start-ups, it is important to explore other possibilities before jumping ship.

It would be difficult to imagine two more different existences than working in an established organisation and starting your own business. The first provides light, warm offices, a photocopier, a computer, a mobile phone and tech- nical support, paid holidays, status and the companionship of like-minded colleagues - not to mention a regular (perhaps sizeable) salary.

With your own business, you'll have to set about creating all this financial, logistical and emotional support. Initially, only the quality of the coffee may be better than you have now. Certainly, the quality of life will take time to develop into something close to your ideal.

Some of my clients have set up their own business and have so relished stepping outside the pressures of the corporate world to become masters of their own destinies that they have made light of the difficulties they encountered on the way. Others have experienced enormous frustration, especially in the set-up phase, when there is no-one to whom they can delegate simple tasks like buying the loo roll, or the fact that they have to wait in all day for a phone line to be installed.

A friend who held down a big job in a well-known financial services company left to set up her own consultancy last year. Twelve months on, she has decided to go back to corporate life. It's not that she hasn't been successful in finding clients and meaty projects; it's just that she now appreciates the resources that are automatically available in a big organisation, and she misses being able to make the decisions that can have a positive impact - a power rarely accorded to freelance consultants.

I'm not trying to put you off starting your own business. A refugee from corporate life myself, I've started two separate concerns and, though I sometimes missed the comforting thud of a pay cheque hitting my bank account every month, I delighted in the autonomy that having my own company afforded. True, the lows were lower, since I had only myself to blame if things went wrong, but the highs were higher too. No longer could there be any doubt if something good happened that it was all down to my efforts.

But ask yourself some searching questions before you take the plunge: how entrepreneurial am I? How much would I miss the relative security and comfort that employment affords? What would day-to-day realities of life as a self-employed person be like? If the business didn't take off immediately, how long could I survive? Am I sufficiently interested in this business area to put body and soul into it? Would my partner support me emotionally and/or financially?

If you find what's involved intimidating, consider other options. Perhaps there's a different, more stimulating role within your present consultancy? Could you move to a new one? Or join a small business that has already gone through most of its growing pains, has something of an infrastructure and could benefit from your big-business skills and experience?

If, having done your reality check, you're still gung ho, then go for it. Such is the paucity of mature talent in management consultancy these days, chances are you'd be welcomed back if you discover that having your own business isn't as blissful as you perceived it to be.

- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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