For years while I was working as an executive at a Fortune 500 company, I dreamed of starting my own company and being my own boss. After years of anticipation, I took action and founded a startup. I love my life as a startup entrepreneur.
Are you thinking of making the switch from a big company to starting your own business? Even while you’re still working, there’s a lot you can do to prepare yourself for the jump.
Here are four tips:
1. Never eat lunch alone
One of the best assets you have from your time at a big firm is an extensive network of professionals who (hopefully) think well of your work. In your final months in the corporate world, you should invest in tending your current relationships and even building some new ones.
Related: Don't Get Stuck in a Job You Hate
A strong network can provide leads for new clients, employees or service providers. Plus, you may never again have access to such a large group of people who are free to dine with you, only a three-minute walk from where you are sitting.
2. Learn new skills
At a big company, even as an executive, you probably have a specialized role in one functional area. But in your own company, you will need to be a “jack of all trades” -- so use your remaining time at a big company to learn a new trade, on the company’s dime. You can join a cross-functional project that will increase your exposure to a new area, or take advantage of training and development classes.
For example, my old employer offered a day-long introductory course in Agile Development open to anyone, regardless of job function. This would be a valuable investment of time for any budding technology entrepreneur.
3. Ask for advice on functions you don’t know about
Don’t know anything about marketing? You’d think it would be a smart move to meet with a senior marketing leader at your company for a few tips as you start your new venture but you’d be wrong.
When you are starting out, what you really need is practical advice. The responsibilities of a VP of marketing at a Fortune 500 company are completely different from what you’ll be doing marketing your small business. She won’t personally use any of the software tools you’ll need, and the agencies she would recommend are likely to be well out of your price range. Plus, the right marketing for an unknown startup is vastly different than for a well-known industry leader.
So what do you do instead? Seek out co-workers who used to be entrepreneurs themselves, and ask them about how they did everything. What services did they use? How much did they pay consultants? What functions did they do themselves that they now regret not outsourcing? And what turned out to be easier than they thought? You’d be surprised about how readily people will share this information, and it will be practical advice you can use.
4. Take advantage of your big company benefits
One thing that’s vastly different when you start your own business is the loss of corporate benefits. As an entrepreneur, you’ll need to have medical and dental, but your plans might not be as comprehensive -- and all other benefits go out the window.
So in your last few months, schedule that elective surgery you’ve been putting off, max out your 401K contribution, take that class using tuition assistance or make those contributions to your alma mater while you can apply for company matching funds. There’s nothing unethical about taking advantage of all your benefits as long as you are employed there.
Making the jump from the corporate world to starting your own firm can be scary, but it is worth taking the plunge.