Look inward before striking out alone

Dear Joan:
I'm a middle manager at a large company in Florida. We have been going through a number of lay offs during the last few years and it has most of us very worried about our jobs. Morale is very low.

I have only worked for a few companies in my career (each of them was in the same industry) and I have been with this company for over 15 years. It seems like those of us who are older and most "expensive" are getting "downsized" right out of our jobs. I'm 50 years old and worried that I won't be able to find another job in my field because my salary is too high (I'm an accounting manager).

I've been thinking about leaving this company and starting my own firm before I'm forced to leave. I'm not sure what kind of business I would start but I've seen some of my colleagues branch off into independent consulting, and I thought I might start an accounting firm specializing in small business.

My children are all grown and my wife works but her insurance isn't as good as mine, which is a problem. Also, I'm concerned about how much money I would have to invest, since I've saved a substantial amount for retirement and I'd rather not touch that nest egg.

Another concern is the amount of time and energy this will take. I am not very well connected to people-I don't belong to any professional organizations or community groups and my entrepreneurial friends tell me this is very important. I'm not very outgoing by nature but I could join these groups if I have to.

My question is should I start my own business now, before I'm forced to? Would I be better off trying to hang on to the job I have now and hope for the best or try to find a different job? I'm not getting any younger and I suspect that age discrimination is alive and well when it comes to trying to find a job. I really don't know which way to turn.

I was talking to a small business owner recently who said, "I'm amazed how many times my employees have said that I've `got it made'. They seem to think I'm a wealthy business owner who pockets every nickel we make and that I can just take it easy. They have no idea how little I actually take out of the business...how many sleepless nights...How many 70 hour weeks."

I've often heard other independent consultants say, "It's not enough to be good at your specialty...you have to market yourself well or you starve to death. And it's tough to do your work and market yourself at the same time."

These words of experience are underscoring an important point: you must be well suited to entrepreneurship. Being your own boss sounds glamorous...no one to answer to, afternoons off to golf, business write-offs. I can speak from personal experience when I say--forget it. Building a business is an all-consuming twenty-four-hour-a-day proposition.

Here's a profile of a successful entrepreneur. See if you fit the picture. It's a compilation of studies of entrepreneurs, personal experience and observation of successful business owners:

·        Successful entrepreneurs start their own enterprises because they want to-not because they feel that it's their only available alternative.

·        They typically are risk-takers; they'll invest their life savings if they believe strongly in their business and in themselves.

·        They'll work around the clock and skip vacations if they must.

·        If their business fails, they typically start another one rather than look for a job.

·        They are determined and persistent and goal-oriented.

·        They don't mind working alone and they're not overly worried about what other people think about them.

·        They aren't as worried about security as they are driven by the desire to create their own enterprise.

·        They are relentless networkers and marketers and they're willing to hire the expertise they don't personally possess.

Compare yourself to this profile before you decide to start up your own business. Many people jump on the entrepreneurial bandwagon only to find that they aren't a good match for this demanding lifestyle.

If I were in your shoes, I'd test the waters by becoming very active in a number of professional organizations. Join at least one organization in your field and one general business group. Choose groups with enough employers who could hire you, either for consulting or a job. Why not lay the groundwork now, while you're still employed?

Start job hunting in middle-sized companies. That's where the jobs are. They're looking for people with experience. During interviews you'll get a good idea about what it would be like to work in their environment. And at the same time, you can feel out the market niche you could fill with your entrepreneurial services, should you decide to take the plunge.

The idea is to test both avenues before you leap. You'll be building your network, job hunting to find out what's out there, and testing the market for your own business all at the same time. Then you'll be in a good position to choose.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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