What's your problem? First-time business nerves

I want to start my own business. Should I just go for it?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 23 Dec 2011

Q: I've worked in the construction business for 20 years and have had a long-standing desire to start my own consultancy. I feel now is the right time for a number of reasons but I don't know whether to start the business on the side or just to quit outright and go for it. What's your advice?

A: I'm always nervous of encouraging readers to be bold; to go for it; to make a clean break. It's all very well for me, standing on the touchlines, shouting at other people to show a bit of confidence and courage - while risking absolutely nothing myself.

But a firm decision to quit and go for it does have the galvanising (if scary) effect of concentrating the mind to the exclusion of all else.

I can see the temptation of starting your own consultancy on the side while keeping on with your salaried job, but it concerns me on two grounds.

I don't see how you could pursue this route without the knowledge and approval of your present employer; to do so would be to raise both practical and moral questions. Inevitably, you'd find yourself, however marginally, in competition with your company; and juggling your time could be a nightmare.

And, secondly, just at the time that you most need to be obsessively single-minded, you'd be distracted. So what I suggest is a longish period of research and development - followed by a clean break.

In the course of your 20 years in the construction industry, you must have made a great many contacts. Without attempting to woo your company's current clients (which would be ethically questionable and probably actionable), you should sound out the market. See if you can obtain a commitment from at least one client - perhaps an ex-client of your current company - so that you have a small solid base and some assured income before you finally jump. Ideally, of course, you'd do all this quite openly; but not all companies are big-hearted enough to encourage valued employees to start out on their own.

It's possible, in other words, to quit completely; but some well-considered pre-planning can greatly minimise both risk and anxiety. I think your bank manager would agree with me.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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