Q: I am very successful at my day job, and I also run a small business. With more time, effort and investment, I think my business could be hugely successful, but this would require that I quit my job. How do you know when it’s the right time to take an entrepreneurial leap of faith?
A: Almost everyone has some entrepreneurial spirit, and with it, the potential to run their own businesses. But an entrepreneur’s life isn’t for everyone. Many people decide instead to put their talents to work at somebody else’s company, innovating as intrapreneurs. For others, working for someone else is never an option, and so they start launching their own ventures early on.
Nhuri is one of those people who has to choose between intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship: Without knowing more, I can point out that it’s clear you have great confidence in your business, so sooner or later you’ll have to give it a go full-time. If you don’t, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering what might have been.
It’s true that entrepreneurs have to take a leap of faith at some point. While it may seem daunting, the key is to make sure you’ve got a parachute.
The first step in preparing for the day you quit your job is to plan out the launch of your business (or, in Nhuri’s case, its expansion), thinking through everything from the type of location you want for your office to how you want your product to look on store shelves. You need to work out as many of the bugs in your plan as you can ahead of time—while keeping an eye on the clock. If you take too long, the circumstances might change, altering markets so that you could miss your opening.
To make sure the broad outlines of your plan work well and to sort through the details, you need to connect with some strong mentors. Having a sounding board for your ideas will be invaluable, and will help you make the transition from part-time businessman to full-time entrepreneur more smoothly.
Nhuri’s situation reminds me of the day that Brett Godfrey, a member of the financial team at Virgin Express, our European short-haul operation, approached me with an idea to launch a Virgin airline in Australia. Brett outlined his plan, I offered my thoughts, and together we hashed out the details on the back of a beer mat. Soon we were on the way to creating the next Virgin business, with Brett at the helm as the CEO of Virgin Blue, Virgin as one of his investors, and myself as his co-founder and mentor.
Though Blue only had a couple of planes when it started operating in 2000, Brett grew the airline (now known as Virgin Australia) into a thriving business. Brett and I are firm friends—we own Makepeace Island on Australia’s Sunshine Coast together—and his entrepreneurial career has gone from strength to strength.
Your mentors will also be the people you will turn to for advice and assistance when things don’t go according to plan. And you can be certain that things won’t go as planned, though that’s half the fun. Decision-making can be more difficult when the wrong call can make the difference between your being able to pay your bills (and your employees) or not. With a strong support network of people who have experience and know-how, you’re more likely to make better choices.
Before your business becomes your sole source of income, you need to be sure that you’ve protected the downside. You may need to secure financial help from investors, or perhaps your business requires that you take on partners who have the clout to give it the best possible start. Whatever type of business you are hoping to launch, you should think about the consequences if it is slow to take off or even fails, and do what you can to minimize that possibility. If you are able to put together a contingency plan, that will help you to proceed with confidence.
While you plan and network and find financing, remember that the window of opportunity is closing—at some point, you will simply have to go for it. Then all that’s left to do is give up your day job and become your own boss.
Be brave. After all that planning, it’s now time to have confidence in your idea and believe in yourself and your team. Good luck!