6 Entrepreneurs Share Real Talk on Career Shifts

Across the world, coronavirus lockdowns are loosening, and communities, shops, and the business world are returning to life. 

Many people are eager to run full tilt back to their old normal. Others are enjoying the pandemic silver linings of next-to-no commutes, unstructured workdays, and a windfall of bonus family time, and are in zero hurry to race back to the corporate grind.

After all, the upside to the downside of having life and work upended by a pandemic is the recognition that it IS possible to dramatically change one’s life. And to do it virtually overnight. So, if you’ve long dreamed of leaving your corporate day job and launching your own business, 2020 might be your year.

Six entrepreneurs who moved from corporate life share advice for becoming your own boss (including which of your old skills translate to start-up life, which to ditch, and the steps you need to take – stat).

Find Your Why
Ditch qualms about selling your gifts and talents. Enough people will happily pay you for what you would do all day for free. Figure out what that is. Forget Instagram. Focus on what lights you up or breaks your heart. Planning family trips to Italy? Freeing young women who drown in debt? According to Seth Godin (Google him, sign up for his emails and buy his books), you only need 1,000 raving fans for a thriving business. Most importantly, BELIEVE you can and take imperfect action. 

Elena F. Deutsch, MPH is the Founder of WILL – Women Interested in Leaving (big) Law and helps women lawyers (and some men) who feel stuck, unhappy and anxious, become clear on what they want next, kick inner nay-sayers out of the driver’s seat, and take action on their dreams.

Money + Grit
Starting a business takes more money than you’d ever expect. While there’s capital out there, and especially capital looking to back women-led businesses, hold off on getting external financing for as long as you can. Have a solid proof of concept and, ideally, profitability before pitching institutional investors. Friends and family are the way to go in the beginning.

Sometimes not having experience in an industry can be a good thing. When I left investment banking to launch a line of luxury suncare products, I brought new eyes and a fresh perspective to an industry ready to be disrupted by an out-of-the-box idea: discerning customers want exceptional healthy, natural sun solutions.

And network! Being an entrepreneur can feel isolating. Get out there and speak to people. But be prepared to get kicked in the face, multiples times and often. Shake it off, get back up, you will make mistakes, learn from them. 

Valerie McMurray is the founder and CEO of Soleil Toujours, a luxury suncare brand.

Solve Customer Problems
It’s so important to take a strategic view of your business from the word go. Map out who you want to work with, their biggest problems, and make sure your offering fits where they need help. So many new businesses fail because they don’t orientate their services around the needs of the client and end up as a ‘nice to have.” It’s not enough to create something abstract that YOU love – it has to feel like the missing piece for your target audience. And be ready to set your prices higher than feels comfortable!

Jessica Fearnley is a business coach who helps women build seven figure consulting firms. A LinkedIn Top Voice in 2019 on entrepreneurship and small business, she lives in Sheffield, UK.

Never Too Late
Many people think that entrepreneurship is a young person’s game. Not true! It can be an advantage to start a business later in life. Because once you’re in your 50s and beyond, you’ve acquired strong skills, valuable contacts, and industry-specific knowledge that you can apply to a new business. You are more likely to be financially stable so that you can potentially self-fund your new company. Older entrepreneurs tend to be more successful because, by the time you launch your company, you have a better understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and what you need to feel fulfilled as a human being. So, if you are considering launching your own business, it’s never too late. Just dream big, plan well, and great things will happen!

Caroline Castrillon is the founder of Corporate Escape Artist and a business and life coach whose mission is to help people find career fulfillment. She lives and works in Austin, Texas.

Build a Dream Network
The most valuable resource I had when I made my career pivot was the personal network I had spent years building out. Months before I left my corporate role to become a full-time investor and advisor in the startup community, I engaged a few trusted members of my network to test out what I was thinking, talk about what support I might need, and, most importantly, map out a strategy for who I needed to meet to increase my chances of success. The end result was an intentional plan to build out my network for the future and leverage my current network to open new doors.

Kim Seals has invested in 25+ early-stage technology, energy, health care, consumer product, and media companies through her role as a General Partner in The JumpFund.

Stay the Course
The best thing I did when I took the risk to make the leap from corporate life to entrepreneurship was to set expectations, recognizing that I would need at least two years to truly build and set aside an ‘onramp budget’ to help make that a reality. I made a promise to myself that when I encountered rocky roads or amazing job opportunities, I would stay the course for two years to give my business the time it needed to flourish. I know I would have thrown in the towel earlier if I didn’t make timing commitment–and now 2.5 years after launching Wet Cement, I’m so glad I did!

Jennifer Willey helps unlock fearlessness through her company Wet Cement. She does this through speaking, training and coaching on how people and organizations can own their voice, lead with purpose and innovate through inclusivity.