Remember waking up before dawn to jump into the lake at summer camp? The hardest part was the moment right before you jumped, when you knew the water would be freezing cold but didn't yet trust that you'd acclimate. For would-be entrepreneurs who want to follow their passion but haven't made the leap, the fears about starting a new business can feel just like staring at that frigid, early morning water.
Maile Ehlers, a graphic designer and founder of PGH Papercraft, felt torn between freedom and stability. "I was climbing up the corporate ladder (at a paper packaging company), but I really wasn't happy," she says. She put off quitting for fear of stiff competition and unpredictable earnings, but after building a customer base in her spare time, she finally struck out on her own.
"New entrepreneurs are not confident about their own competencies, and thus aren't sure if it would be the right decision," says Hao Zhao, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "Such hesitation is normal."
Today, Ehlers' business is booming and she's branching into new markets. "Seeing that my business has been successful gives me the confidence to keep going and expand," she says.
If you find yourself making excuses about why your new venture should wait, these four tips can help you gain confidence and make a firm decision.
1. Decide if you're truly passionate. "(Entrepreneurship) is not for everyone," Zhao says. It may sound like a sexy career, but the reality is that it takes self-motivation and fortitude. If it isn't for you, that's okay. "Be honest with yourself about whether you have the tenacity to be an entrepreneur," says Paula Caligiuri, a psychologist and author of Get a Life, Not a Job (FT Press, 2010). "You'll eventually need it to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and persevere when the tasks become challenging."
Ultimately, passion drives that momentum. "Taking the successful leap requires both caution and passion," Zhao says.
2. Get to know your market. Before launching a new venture, scope out your competitors, get to know your customers, and meet entrepreneurs that you might emulate. "Success requires expertise with the product and market, as well as careful planning and execution," Zhao explains.
Ehlers launched her shop on Etsy before quitting her job, which helped her assess the demand. "When I saw (business) was consistent, I put my two weeks in," she says.
3. Create a safety net. If you're serious about starting your own business, save up the resources you'll need in order to succeed. "Lack of time and debt are the two greatest pitfalls that prevent people from starting a new gig," Caligiuri says.
At first, cut out TV time in favor of business planning and curb unnecessary spending. Ehlers didn't quit her job until she saved enough money to cover two months of costs, a precaution that helped reduce her pre-launch anxiety.
4. Turn to family and friends for support. The people closest to you can be a vital resource as you prepare to start a new venture. "Encouragement from trusted family members and friends will help build entrepreneurial self-efficacy," Zhao says.
They can also help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. "Many people cannot name their own natural talents," Caligiuri says. "Family and friends can help us see what we are good at and what our challenges might be as entrepreneurs."