How to quit a corporate role to start your own business

How to quit a corporate role to start your own business

Posted: Tue 25th Feb 2020

Thinking about leaving the stuffy corporate world to start a business can be intoxicating. The boundaries and politics disappear overnight. There's no limit to what you can achieve and no one to tell you otherwise.

But stripping away the corporate edifice means losing the support system and the salary that comes with it. You're going to have to learn lots of new skills, cope with financial uncertainty and build your confidence.

It's common to meet Enterprise Nation members with corporate backgrounds. In fact, our founder, Emma Jones, left a large company to launch her first business Techlocate, which she went on to sell to Tenon 15 months after launching.

Are you thinking about making the leap? We talked to small business owners about their experiences leaving corporate roles to start businesses to find out what it's really like and share their advice.

What causes people to leave successful corporate careers?

It's normally a mix of push and pull factors that make people want to start a business. The decision can come from a frustration with the politics and process that come with working in a large company. A desire to have a better work-life balance plays a big role too and lots of people have an itch to run their own business.

Meenesh Mistry said the idea for Wholey Moly came to him while working in a corporate role but the desire to run his own business had been there a long time.

"I had been in my career for 10 or 11 years. It was moving onto that next stage of career progression and I wasn't that excited. I was looking for business opportunities. The idea was organic but you need that drive to want to make a change."

Developing a business idea while you're working full-time

Lots of frustrated corporate workers are secretly scheming to start up. They might have registered a domain name, gone to a networking meeting or had mutinous conversations with co-workers.

But how do you balance working on your side hustle with your full-time role? Meenesh explains:

"It's a tough balancing act. I was working evenings and weekends on the business. You squeeze in a bit of time at work when no one's looking. It's a hard juggling act if you have quite a demanding role."

Meenesh says it's important to plan your time. He recommends not just booking in the hours you're going to work on the business but also the physical actions you're going to take. Meenesh uses a self-help-style journal that encourages him to set out his goals and develop three-month plans.

It's vital that you consider any potential legal ramifications. Your contract may bar you from working on a business as a side hustle and there's likely to be restrictions to work you can do in the same sector.

What it feels like to take the plunge

It's hard not to overthink what it'll feel like when you walk into your manager's office and hand in your notice. You might have even enjoyed playing out the conversation in your head or drafting a resignation letter.

But making the jump is scary. It's a sliding-door moment when you have to make your idea work and show that it wasn't a silly move to leave a well-paid job.

Meenesh says:

"That was difficult. You go from working in an environment where you have a team, a manager, a manager's manager and you're quite safe in terms of decision-making. It's not your personal money that's at risk.

"All of a sudden it's all on you. It's your money. Every decision seems so vital. It's something you have to get comfortable with. There's no way of getting around it. The physical and mental side are both a big change.

"Not having access to departments like marketing and IT means doing everything yourself. On one hand, this meant more hassle because you can't just walk down the corridor and ask someone when you have a problem. On the other hand, you'll learn so much, from social media and networking to funding."

Amanda Cullen started Business Made Simpler five years ago. She stressed that it takes time to build up momentum.

"Sometimes people have an idea and get lucky, but for most people it takes a while before you're making a meaningful income. That was definitely true for me.

"You have to be realistic. Set savings aside if you possibly can. The reality is very few people will earn enough to live on straight away. It normally takes about two years to get to the place you want to be financially."

Leveraging corporate experience to build your business

The rigmarole around financial and organisational planning demanded by corporate roles is helpful when you're starting up. Learning these skills from scratch takes time and creates risks –poor planning increases the risk of business failure.

Meenesh explains:

"I worked in finance. Having financial skills is really important. Cash-flow management, understanding profit and loss and balance sheets. Even if you're not an accountant but worked in corporate, you'll always find yourself using a spreadsheet."

The value of building a good network

Meeting people going through the same experience is a powerful motivator. Networking provides the connections that will support your business and replace some of the support you have in a corporate role, from web designers to packaging experts.

Meenesh advises people starting up to go to as many events as possible; it's something he "can't stop banging on about", he confesses.

"That helps you change your mindset. You can see what they're doing. You can get networking and understand the industry a bit better. If you only talk to people in corporates that aspire to be there you aren't going to get a different point of view."

Amanda planned to run the business as a side hustle and slowly build it up. Some way through her coaching training she decided she couldn't stand corporate life a minute longer and resigned.

She says:

"The concept of going out on your own when you're in the corporate world and have support and holiday and sick pay to being completely responsible was really intimidating.

"But it's a bit like you're jumping a big fence on a horse. When you're over it you look back and think 'That wasn't such a big deal. Why didn't I do it sooner?'"


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