9 Tips for Striking out on Your Own as an Entrepreneur

If you’ve got a great idea for starting your own business but are concerned about leaving your current job, you’ll want to plan carefully before making the leap.

Here are a few things to bear in mind as you do your due diligence and take your first steps in setting up your company:

1. Get accustomed to change — a lot of it.

It will require a major shift of your professional gears to transition out of full-time employment and a regular paycheck into a brand-new paradigm that puts you in charge of providing everything for yourself. The changes in attitude and skills required to do this successfully have struck many new entrepreneurs as dramatic, and sometimes, unsettling.

Get used to the fact that you will be the decision maker in your own business world from now on. You won’t have the luxury of waiting for others to spot opportunities, foresee challenges, and make decisions for you. You will need to train yourself to be alert and to work with a degree of urgency as you get your new business off the ground.

As the leader of your own company, you must be prepared to work longer hours, particularly in the early stages. You’ll also need to be able to change your focus from one facet of your business to another (e.g., finances, marketing, troubleshooting, etc.) multiple times a day.

2. Start thinking like an entrepreneur.

You will need the right mindset — the right habits of thought — to start out on your own as an entrepreneur. In fact, some business experts even say that your mindset contributes in a big way to the kind of outcomes you achieve.

Do you have the flexibility to keep your sights on both your immediate and long-range goals at the same time? This is an essential skill for an entrepreneur, and an ongoing responsibility that you probably won’t want to delegate to anyone else.

3. Do what you love.

Find your unique passion. Many successful entrepreneurs describe this step as the key to their later accomplishments. However, it goes beyond the simple love of an activity or hobby, whether it’s cooking, piloting a plane, or motivating others. Finding your passion also involves discovering what you are truly good at and what you want to do on a day-to-day basis. As you seek to discover this passion, try to also take an objective look at your special skill sets, innate abilities, and previous experience as an employee or leader in any organization.

4. Know your audience.

Consider the marketplace. You might have a dynamic and interesting idea, but if there is no one willing to pay for it, there will be no point to your business. Remember that a workable business plan finds the sweet spot at the intersection of what you love to do and what your customers want.

5. Network with potential customers.

Talk to people who fit the profile of a typical customer of your business. Many of these people may already be among your network of friends, family, and coworkers. Ask them questions about the kinds of ideas, products, and services they think would make their lives easier or better. It can be extremely helpful to write down the phrases and key words they use in describing these items, so that when you create your marketing plan, you will be able to reach them by speaking their language.

6. Understand your finances.

Make sure you have planned for the structure and organization of your company, and for how you will fund it in its early stages. If you’re starting out small, you might be able to borrow money, cash-in investments, or draw on money from a 401(k). But at some point, particularly if you plan to scale up very quickly, you’ll want to examine opportunities for raising venture capital or other funding from investors.

Some experts recommend accumulating enough savings in an “entrepreneur fund” to see you through at least three to six months of the expenses of your new business before you strike out on your own.

Learn how balance sheets and other financial record-keeping instruments work for your business. Even if you hire a CFO to oversee the numbers, you’ll need to understand this information yourself as an objective measurement of how well you are doing and to develop your business plan in the direction you have chosen.

7. Craft strategic business and marketing plans.

You’ll require a concise strategic plan that outlines your mission, vision, and values, as well as the long- and short-term operational strategies for accomplishing them. You’ll need to take into account your product or service and the resources you intend to use in order to successfully deliver it to the public.

And in today’s fast-paced, social media-driven environment, the companies with the quickest and most relevant online efforts are the ones that rise to the top. Toward the beginning of your efforts, you’ll need to place someone on your team — whether that means you or a hired professional — with the right kind of savvy to navigate the social media landscape. Your company will need to generate targeted content, e-mail pushes, and social media campaigns, as well as a host of other efforts that will help you build customer relationships.

8. Make learning a priority.

You will need to recognize that being an entrepreneur is a continuous learning experience, for which there may not be a complete job description. You’ll want to figure out which vital skills you lack — and don’t have the time or ability to develop — and outsource accordingly. These skills may involve human resources, raising capital, setting up your technological infrastructure, or handling finances, but make sure you have them covered.

Remember that you, your company, and its employees may be living for years to come with the consequences of the choices you will make in an often uncertain environment. You’ll need to hone your tolerance for risk and develop your faculties of perception and judgment so you can pick yourself back up and learn from any missteps you may make.

Still, avoid being too much of a perfectionist. Waiting for the perfect time to do something often translates into waiting for it not to get done. Concentrate your energies as an emerging CEO on the biggest and most important components of your company, and accept that less-critical pieces of your plan will likely not live up to your ideals.

9. Test the waters before diving in.

Are you perhaps feeling uncertain about entrepreneurship? Test your idea for your business by starting out small or with a prototype while continuing to work as an employee in your current firm. By lessening the risks, you’ll have more bandwidth to fine-tune your business and more time to see if being your own boss is the right course for you.