You know by now that working for the dreams of somebody else isn’t your dream come true? You want to create your own reality and design a lifestyle after your vision? If you answered these question with yes and want to storm off to scream “I quit!” in your boss’s face, wait a second! Do you have a plan for what’s next? I’m sorry to interrupt your energy and enthusiasm but you got to have a plan, especially if you still depend on a salary for food and bills! I don’t want you to quit your job not knowing how to pay your bills only to find yourself in the next shitty and even worse paying job three months later! If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. That’s why I wrote down the exact steps that you need to take to start your business successfully while keeping your full-time job.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Why do you want to do it? What are your reasons? What do you believe in? Asking yourself the why-question is very important. Tough times and struggle lie ahead and in order to persevere and not give up you need to know your reasons, your calling, your purpose. Not knowing your purpose will make you give up when the first hurdle reveals itself. Don’t worry about having the wrong why. Your why can change with time, as you become older, priorities change in life. Additionally, as you grow confident doing business, you’ll start dreaming bigger. In order not to lose your sense of purpose you should reflect on it from time to time, like yearly whether your purpose took a turn.
How badly do you want it? I remember when I started dreaming of my own business, I could not think of anything else. I went to bed with my idea in mind and woke up inspired to continue to work on it. I still had to go to my full-time job, but I worked as much as I could after hours and on all weekends. How badly do YOU want it? Are you ready to reduce or give up other activities for this dream? Don’t just jump into endless research mode but plan ahead. Identify available time slots and mark them in your calendar. Only what gets scheduled gets done. Be realistic with meal breaks, sleeping and recovering breaks! It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon and you have to persevere in good and tough times. Being too hard on yourself, in the beginning, will force you to give up early! Balance discipline and recovery.
I mentioned it earlier but it’s better having said it twice: the one who fails to plan is basically planning to fail. Planning is crucial and nobody else can do it for you. But don’t get too anxious and paralyzed over making the perfect plan! You also don’t need to create a multiple-pages-long business plan! Even though it’s important to make a plan your plan will change many times down the road. Sometimes you won’t know exactly how to solve a problem before solving it and that’s normal. You’ll learn as you go. Think of it as the first version of your plan. You can also form a mastermind group and discuss your plan with them. I’ll explain masterminds at a later point.
Your plan should map out how you want to get from sitting down today to validating your idea to serving your first customer. Don’t think of serving 100 or 1 million customers but map out how you get and serve this one customer, including who this customer is. What do you need to do to get there? When you know how you will serve one customer, you can start thinking about serving multiple customers. Also, get comfortable with the fact that your process and product might change after serving your first customer or the first few customers. Translate this roadmap into SMART goals! SMART goals are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant to your vision and time-bound. Most importantly: brain dump what’s flying around in your head and map it out. If you feel overwhelmed that’s because your goals are too abstract and need to be broken down even more into 15-30 minutes action steps. And remember, it’s never gonna be perfect and it is supposed to change down the road, so don’t try to make it perfect.
The very first thing to do before getting caught up in thinking about how to get to a multi-million dollar company is validating the demand. The number one reason why startups fail is a lack of market need for the product. These founders didn’t validate their idea enough. They started immediately with product development and then marketed it to potential customers. Only after marketing their product they received feedback from their customers, which is way too late and too expensive. That way they burned through their funds creating wrong or unneeded solutions. You don’t want to find out your product sucks only after producing it! You want to know before you invest time and money making it! That’s an old approach of product development which Proctor and Gamble might be able to afford but not you or I. You can’t develop a product in your head, you need to test and validate the problem and the minimal solution to it. A better approach today is to start validating the demand as soon as possible and repeat during different stages of product development. Not only do you need to find out if the problem that you are trying to solve exists, but additionally how your customers are solving it right now and whether your proposed solution is the right one. Really great ideas often reveal themselves only after talking to and listening to your customers’ needs.
Actively seek feedback from your potential customers and fellow entrepreneurs. But you can’t just ask customers what they want! They will tell you they want a carriage with faster horses, found Henry Ford when he invented his car. You need to actually talk to them and find out what their pains are and how they are solving it today. It has to be a really painful need and you should find the one ingredient that makes you different enough.
The entrepreneurial life can be very lonely especially as solopreneur. You might soon realize that your friends and family can’t really comprehend the daily challenges that you’re facing. That’s why you need to become allies with other entrepreneurs who understand the emotional rollercoaster that is entrepreneurial life. Knowing there are people facing similar challenges and encouraging each other will help you persevere when times get tough. It creates also additional accountability. When you are working for yourself you can’t blame your boss, your colleague or your company as you are in charge. It also means that things only get done if you do them. You also need set your own goals and milestones. A mastermind group or an accountability partner who is highly committed will help you stay accountable for your progress.
I highly recommend surrounding yourself with people who are further ahead of you, from a similar industry or who have mastered those challenges you are facing. They won’t do the work for you but they might nudge you in the right direction. Your can find like-minded entrepreneurs through networking events or in online communities on facebook or other platforms. Experiment with what works best for you! Maybe a healthy mix of both but don’t get caught up in networking. Networking can be a form of procrastination distracting you from the really important tasks such as customer validation or product creation.
That’s a tricky one. While it isn’t directly related to your business you need to think about how to leave your full-time job. First off, check your contract! Does your contract mention a non-compete clause? Then be very careful with setting up a business that competes directly with your current employer. You should also strictly separate your full-time job from your personal project. Never work on your own business while on the clock, refrain from using company resources like company computer for your business and don’t tell your employer’s customers about your personal project. You would risk losing everything you’ve built and having severe legal and financial consequences. In doubt, consult an attorney.
I recommend setting a deadline when you want to leave your current company. What do you want to have achieved when you leave your day-job? Maybe having validated your idea, acquired your first paying client or secured funding? Unless you can secure funding very early on due to your network or have your own funds to finance your lifestyle, I personally recommend quitting only when you really validated your product and started to earn some money or secured the first customers. If you can turn your current full-time job into a part-time gig, that would create the best terms for creating your business as a side hustle while still being able to pay the bills. Whatever that is, set a date by when you want to have achieved it. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, according to the Parkinson’s law. That means it will take as long as you give it time.
Commit 100% to take action and create the life that you want for yourself. And, just do it, take baby steps if necessary.
Nobody can promise it will be easy. If they do, they are liars. The entrepreneur’s path can be tough and lonely at times but also very rewarding: it’s better to work on your own legacy than to realize the dreams of somebody else.