Should you make the leap from corporate to “go solo”?

I’m just back from breakfast with my next door neighbour, Nick, who has just launched his own strategy consultancy called Stratforma (He helps companies understand the complex world around us to make the right strategic choices). It got me thinking about the whole adventure of making the ‘leap’ to leave the comfort of a big company and “go solo”.

It’s the same leap I took 17 years ago when starting the brandgym. (We now have 9 brandgym partners, all entrepreneurs who own their own businesses, but working as part of a global network with the same values, beliefs, tools and processes).

So, what are the benefits? What are the risks? And which sort of people is this right for?

Benefits of going solo

There are many benefits from going solo and starting your own business, especially if you create an office at or near home:

Win back time: you can win back anything up to 2 or 3 hours a day in commuting time, which adds up to a day a week. Over my time with the brandgym this adds up to almost two extra years of life with friends and family!

Control your destiny: your “sphere of influence” increases enormously as you are now in control of what you do, how you do it, when you do it

Create your own brand: one of the most fun bits of flying solo is creating and bringing to life you own brand. The technology and resources available to small firms today is fantastic, allowing small firms to look, act and feel like big ones. In our case, each brandgym partner builds their own personal brand, by leveraging the brandgym ‘assets’ including books, the blog, research papers, tools and methods

Cut the corporate bull****: perhaps the biggest benefit is cutting out the corporate crap! No more need to sit bored in board meetings. No more politics. No more jockeying for the next pay rise or promotion. This is a huge saver of time and, more importantly, an even bigger saver of energy. And this means you have more time to innovate and do cool work, as the summary below shows (small/garage on left’ big/office job on right):

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Risks of going solo

There are of course some down sides to solo life:

– Internet and satellite TV: you need a lot of discipline to not spend most or all of your time watching these!

– “Riding the roller-coaster”: life as an entrepreneur is a roller-coaster of ups and downs. Work will not flow in the same nice, neat fashion. You will have moments when you are rushed off your feet, and others when things go quiet.

– Finding colleagues and connections: you will no longer be in an office and will need to create new connections and networks. At the brandgym we have a whole host of small partner companies we work with; these people, along with our clients, are our colleagues, rather than fellow office workers. Some of our partners choose an office in a We Work style venue, to have some of the buzz and human connection of office life.

– Risky business?: people often say they admire me for being a risk taker and starting my own business. And this is true to some extent. You do need some savings in case work doesn’t come in straight away. And you are only as good as your last project, which means you have to always be on top of your game; there is nowhere to hide!

On the other hand, big companies are also risky places these days. You are only a re-organisation or a new boss away from potentially losing your job it seems! Indeed, I see a lot of 40 to 50 year old senior executives who have been made redundant and trying to re-invent themselves to find employment; not easy given the economy and the competition out there.

So, it soloing for you? 

Here are a few final questions to help you work out an answer:

  1. Are you more interested in: a) security of income, b) building something you own?
  2. What matters most to you: a) lots of ‘resource’ on hand (PA, company car, nice office etc.), b) autonomy and controlling your own work/life balance
  3. What sort of working rhythm do you prefer: a) predictable 9-5 (or 8-8!), b) happy with ‘peaks’ of activity then time to chill
  4. Have you ever dreamy about starting your own business: a) no, b) yes?
  5. How important is direct control of a team to you: a) vital, b) secondary?
  6. How long could you survive with no income: a) 1 to 2 months, b) 6 months+?
  7. How productive are you working at home: a) end up making tea/coffee and watching TV/internet, b) get loads more work done than in the office?

If you answer mainly “b”, then going solo could be an option worth considering.

If you answered mainly “a”, then sticking to corporate life could be a better option!

For more on soloing see here.