As the end of 2013 is fast approaching, I see many articles on the promise of what may transpire in the upcoming year.  Some of this is written for people considering a career change, maybe doing so by starting their own businesses.  These messages of encouragement include things like, “Dream big,” “Be true to yourself,” and “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” I appreciate this perspective.  If I didn’t truly believe these ideas, I would never have had the courage to start my own consultancy.  And on the days when running my own business is challenging, thoughts like this inspire me and remind me of the bigger picture of why I chose this path.  In addition to the importance of inspiration, I have learned several other lessons that are more practical but equally important should you choose to start your own business and begin leading yourself.

Allow sufficient time for your business to develop.  I have heard variations on the rule-of-thumb for growing a new business:  two years until you are well-known enough that people seek you out; three years until you have a steady income; five years until you are “established.”  There is no one right answer, a lot of variation depending on your industry and goals, and much room for interpretation in what these things mean.  But the main point is that we are likely talking about a scale of years until you see significant results – not weeks, not months.  So you need to be patient, and you also need to…

Understand your finances. I wrote down every expense I anticipated, both business and personal, so I could realistically estimate how much income I would need.  Given that it could take years to grow your business, how will you pay your bills? Loans? Outside investment? Personal savings? Other employment? I have several colleagues who negotiated to work part-time at their jobs, freeing them up to spend time on their new businesses while also having a known income.  This financial planning exercise also allowed me to make important decisions.  Was there personal spending I could cut back on?  If I needed to modify my business budget, what were my priorities? And to set priorities, you need to…

Create a strategic plan. When you run your own business, you need to be clear on what your goals are and how you are going to achieve them.  My business is a small consultancy, but I follow a fairly structured strategic planning process.  I do an analysis of my current situation, decide where my business should go in the next year, set goals, then determine strategies for achieving the goals as well as specific actions in support of each strategy.  I spend a day or two on this activity, and my resulting plan is only a few pages long.  But it is invaluable in ensuring that my day-to-day activities are aligned with achieving my goals for the year.  My plan is also a good reminder that some of my actions may not show results right away but are still important steps toward achieving a bigger picture.  Another good reminder of that is to…

Build a group of similar, supportive colleagues. I was lucky – two close friends of mine started their own businesses at the same time as me.  I found it incredibly helpful to be able to share the experience.  We offered advice and suggested resources to each other.  We all understood that growing a business takes time, and we celebrated our “small steps” as much as our bigger achievements.  We supported each other in our new ventures, even if we went to separate offices.  If you need to seek out colleagues, there are plenty of entrepreneur groups out there – alumni associations are a good place to start.

If you are considering starting your own business, know that it is possible, and it takes both inspiration and realistic planning.  I wish you success and the best of luck! 

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