Tap Mentors Before Going Out On Your Own

Last week, I met with two former colleagues who are contemplating “what’s next” in their careers.  One is thinking about leaving her job to pursue her dream of starting her own PR consulting business, and the other has been out of work for several months and is weighing three options–finding another corporate job, join a consulting firm or unleash her long pent-up entrepreneurial instincts.

Since the first colleague is the main bread winner in her family, I tried to talk her into staying employed for the time being rather than assume she can successfully launch a new business in the time window she is allowing.  The old adage is almost always true: It’s easier to find a job when you have a job.  That also applies when you’re thinking about hanging up your own shingle.  While still employed, organize your business plan and begin networking so you can hit the ground running when you launch your business.

The second friend must zero in on what he truly wants to do.  “Keeping all my options open” is too broad of a positioning platform for a successful move into entrepreneurship.  It suggests that you’re not convinced of your likelihood of success in the proposed consulting venture.  Like the first colleague, this individual had not yet done the due diligence required to set out on his own.

Since I’ve recently had the opportunity to work with several leaders of the Small Business Administration, I suggested that both friends arrange to meet with a SBA consultant who could help direct their entrepreneural thinking.  For starters, the SBA’s 10 steps to setting up a new business should be considered early in the entrepreneurial process.  In addition, be sure to read this week’s Career Couch column in the New York Times since it provides great advice for those embarking on independent consulting careers.   The Times column offers the following important insights that underscore the reason to seek professional guidance from SBA and others:

“Many of those who start working independently don’t really know how to run a business,” says Gene Zaino, cEO of MBO Partners in Herndon, Va. “It’s difficult enough to find clients and deliver good service,but now you have to navigate taxes, regulatory issues, figure out if you have the right business insurance, how to get invoices out and how to approach clients when payment is overdue.”

You’ll also need a sounding board, so try to find a mentor who has been successful at independent contracting. “Most good companies have mentorship and career advice built in,” he says. “When you’re on your own, you have to build that in yourself.”

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