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Why leaving your corporate job to set up on your own is not as scary as you think

Discover these common fears that might be holding you back from leaving your corporate job to set up on your own.

As we’ve been exploring the reasons why you might not leave your corporate job to set up on your own – assuming that you want to – we looked last week at the fear of failure. We saw how failure could mean making the wrong career choice, not earning enough money, and being judged by other people. But although the fear of failure is one of the biggest fears, the scary stuff doesn’t end there! Here are three more fears that might be holding you back from leaving your corporate job to set up on your own – and why you shouldn’t let them.

1. The fear of starting from scratch

You’ve been in your corporate role for many years – maybe even your entire career to date – and you know exactly how it works. You have extensive experience of the job and the sector, and because of that you also have the respect of your managers and your peers. You’re operating within your comfort zone, where you understand the environment and you know how to do a good job. Leaving this comfort behind to start something different feels like you’re turning your back on all of that experience and respect and starting from scratch.

I always find it ironic that if you think back to when you really were starting from a blank slate as a new graduate, that was the time in your career when you had the most confidence! The arrogance with which you left university and applied to prestigious jobs when you had zero experience is in pretty stark contrast to the insecurities you are now experiencing when trying to do the same 10 to 15 years later.

The truth is that you really aren’t starting from scratch. Yes, there are big differences between running your own business and being an employee and, yes, there is a lot to learn – but that doesn’t mean that you’re drawing a line through all that time in a big corporation. You have a host of transferable skills – both hard skills and soft skills – that you’re bringing to the table and that are very much still relevant in this new world.

Now, you may be contemplating starting a business in a completely different area than the one you’ve been working in. If that’s the case, the learning curve will be particularly steep and you’ll have to work especially hard at developing new skills, as well as building both a network and a reputation in this new area, and that will take time.

One way to make the transition smoother is to take it step by step. For example, I didn’t quit my marketing job in 2013 to become a coach and a writer. Instead, I started by using my skills and experience from my corporate job in a freelance and consulting capacity, and it was only over time that I then trained and certified to be a coach, and had more and more writing published, evolving my business to what it is now.

Take smaller steps in the right direction and the change won’t be as extreme – it’ll take longer, but you’ll build a stronger and more sustainable foundation for the future.

2.  The fear that the grass won’t actually be greener

There may be a number of things you don’t like about the corporate world and that are pushing you to want to leave and do your own thing. Maybe you dislike office politics, the endless emails and meetings, and the pressure from other people to always do more. It’s easy to fantasise about life outside of this world, a life in which you make your own decisions, you only do work that you enjoy, and you set your own goals and expectations. But what if that really is just a fantasy and the things you hate about corporate work exist in the entrepreneurial world as well? What if there are other downsides to working for yourself that you haven’t had to deal with in your full-time job?

The grass does always seem greener when you’re looking onto the other side without having experienced the day to day of what it really entails, and once you get a closer look you’ll get a more realistic understanding of what it entails. Working for yourself, you will still have to deal with difficult clients, customers or suppliers; you’ll still have to answer emails and probably attend some meetings; and, to make matters worse, you’ll be all alone and without the infrastructure and team that you have now in a large, established company.

But the best thing about running your own business is exactly that: you’re running the show. That means that you’re setting your own expectations, with no boss to decide your work plan; you can choose which clients, customers and suppliers to work with, and say “no” to the ones that are problematic; and you can decide how you want to work, for example, 100% virtually and from home (avoiding those meetings that you so dislike!).

Working for yourself also doesn’t have to mean working by yourself. You can hire a virtual assistant or freelancers to do the work you most dislike; you can partner with a co-founder; or you can even build a team of your own and set the expectations and culture for the organisation yourself. You are shaping your own business model, so although there will always be aspects you don’t particularly love – especially when you’re just starting out – you will have far more control and freedom to design how you want to work in your own business and avoid the things you want to avoid. (Oh, and by the way, as we said last week: if you don’t enjoy it, if you find that working for yourself is not for you, then there’s nothing to stop you from choosing to apply for another full-time job.)

3.  The fear of having to work even harder

One of the reasons why you want to leave the corporate 9 to 5 is likely that you want more flexibility and less stress. You dream of spending more time with your family, having the opportunity to do more things that you love outside of the office, and maybe doing more travelling or finally writing that book. But although a full-time job can be stressful, it’s also a world that’s both comfortable and predictable, given that you’re operating within that comfort zone where you know what you’re doing, and your boss and your peers know and respect you. As someone put it to me, “you can coast – and still get paid”. Won’t running your own business mean more work than ever before?

It’s true that the first months and even years of running your own business will be hard work – and you definitely can’t expect to coast and rely on other team members to pick up the slack when it’s just you, without having a negative impact on your business results. It’s also true that you may have colleagues who left their job but have since given up and gone back to a full-time job when it didn’t work out as they had hoped. But the image of ‘the hustling entrepreneur’, who never sleeps and has no personal life, doesn’t have to be your reality.

First of all, you are the one who decides how hard you work and no one can make you work harder. You may protest and say that I’m over-simplifying things and that you’ll be ‘forced’ to work hard in order to make money… but you are choosing the business model and it’s up to you to make strategic decisions that will create a sustainable business based on the parameters that work for you. You are also choosing what your income goals are and within what time frame – so if you prefer, you can set less ambitious goals in the short term, start your business as a side hustle alongside your existing job so that you don’t have the immediate pressure to replace your salary, and accept that the pace will be slower and the whole process will take longer.

I’m not going to tell you that starting and running your own business will be easy. If that’s your expectation as you consider leaving your corporate job to set up on your own then you probably need to adjust your expectations! But the magic of designing your own business and working life is that you’re choosing work that is both enjoyable and fulfilling for you, and that, even if you’re working ‘harder’ on paper, you’ll find a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm that will make it feel like you’re not!

Of course, I don’t expect that any of this is going to remove your fears altogether. As I always say, ‘scary’ tends to come along for the ride with ‘exciting’ – and I would even argue that that’s the whole point! You’re choosing to step out of your comfort zone, to challenge yourself and to inject a whole new dynamic into your career. But we will continue to explore how to make this rollercoaster ride more comfortable in the coming weeks.

Are there other fears that are getting in the way of your move out of the 9 to 5? Comment below!

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