Ten Tips to Transition from corporate employee to business owner

As a member of the Corporate Career club,  I had always spoken of my desire to quit the rat race at some point,  although I never really had a plan as to how I would do it. Years before that time,  when I was training to be a coach,  I attended a class called the Business of coaching. I worked on a project that involved developing a business plan for a coaching business:  target customer,  marketing strategy, PR strategy,  pricing models, the works. I thought it would be a pity to waste it so when I was done, I registered a business and operated it as a side hustle from 2010. This proved to be a good decision because 7 years later I became a self employed solo preneur but I wasn’t starting from scratch. Based on my experience of the transition I would like to share ten tips.

To hear me speak about my own transition book a session here .

  1. Recognise the opportunity

Even if you are not thinking of starting your own business, opportunities may present themselves. Take them up, and operate as a side hustle.

Opportunity also refers to the situation that could lead to your transition. If the corporation you are working for is not growing, if similar organisations are downsizing, if the economy is not growing, there is a likelihood that retrenchments are on the table. Don’t be caught unawares. And don’t take it personally if you are let go off. It’s a business decision.

2 Know that it will end.

Whichever way it ends,  it will end, don’t act like you will be there forever. You may choose to go into business for yourself, or the slow down and enjoy your sunset years. Whatever road you would like to take, preparation will ease the transition for you.. Intentional Change theory stipulates  that when a person focuses on his or her  future aspiration it  helps them to consolidate and draw from the resources – psychological, cognitive, neurological, physiological –  that they require in order to achieve that future state.

So, be intentional and articulate your vision for post corporate times as it  will help you make decisions that , combined, ease you into it. You can make certain choices about your investments that will help with passive income,  you can anticipate expenses , like school fees if you still have children in school , and prepare for them; you can spruce up on a skill to help in whatever occupation you look forward to;  you can revive a hobby or register a company;  you can develop the necessary networks for that new occupation. 

3. Borrow with pride.

Corporations have many processes down pat –  from how they generate ideas to how they process them to conclusion, launching new products. How they measure performance,  how they log learnings,  how they develop people,  what indicators they track. You don\’t have to start from zero. You can borrow ideas   and learn from what is done.  

Working for yourself means you don\’t need permission from many others to do anything, but it helps if you are using tried and tested tools as a foundation. Don\’t reinvent the wheel.

There is a caveat here:  be mindful of intellectual property and don\’t take anything that you shouldn\’t. 

4. Work your networks.

Starting with internal networks it requires that you have good interpersonal relationships. The procurement team can help you identify suppliers that you may need for your new venture,  The finance team can help with Tax information and general bookkeeping. They have contacts with the tax authorities.  Sales people know who buys what and they might just link you up with potential customers. Marketing support for pricing branding and communications could always come in handy. The cake is to come away with a contract from your corporation. This would surely give you a head start so don\’t be shy about asking for business whether you\’re going into training, cleaning,  making uniforms , producing branded giveaways,  delivering lunch,  or coaching.  But it\’s not just internal networks you can leverage external ones as well. Send out a farewell note and tell them what you are transitioning into and that you will call on them to discuss it further. 

5. Create a balanced lifestyle

You may have come across the wheel of life, a tool to help you assess how balanced your life is, or the extent to which you are paying the relevant attention to relevant sectors of your life. The concept of a wheel is  used because of the symbolism of a circle, which encompasses all, hence, life. The idea is that a rounder wheel, meaning a life where you pay the relevant attention to different sectors of your life, makes for a smoother ride. To envision this, imagine a car moving with one flat wheel. It makes for a bumpy ride. Secondly, you want as big a wheel as possible, because it means you can go further with the same effort. To achieve this, you want to score high for everything. 

In many cases work takes up a large portion of your wheel. This means that when you remove that slice you are left with a large gap. What does that mean for your transition from corporate life?

  1. You will need to fill that gap, because a  wheel is round
  2. The bigger the gap, the bigger the replacement needs to be
  3. The more you can draw from existing life sectors the easier it is for you to fill the gap.
  4. If work was everything for you, not having that job means you will be left with nothing
  5. So, develop areas of your life outside work. Build meaningful relationships away from work. Explore the part of your identity that is not dependent on your job title. If that identity is not evident, build it starting now.

Separate your title from who you are. You are probably making decisions, developing strategy, leading innovation, mentoring people etc. These are things you can do away from the job, because this is you, knowledge and skill that you take with you even when you leave the corporation. Do you value it as such? 

You will also take your beliefs – what do you believe about people who have been retrenched? About retirees? This attitude will either hinder you or support you as you transition from corporate. Think about this, because your beliefs about this transition are the single most important factor that will affect how you adjust. 

6. Mind the time

You will have much more unstructured time on your hands than you did before. Create structures that allow you to use it efficiently and effectively. This is not to say you must work 8-5, just be conscious that you may find yourself idle, or rushed to do this and the other, because you might unconsciously relax about managing time, or be too concerned about filling up time. Be aware of your thoughts about time, and create a plan to manage it. 

7. Find your flow

 You will no longer have to work stipulated hours so you can work when you are at your best. It may be morning,  afternoon,  evening or night. it might be for several continuous hours or broken up into phases of the day.   When you are in flow  you are fully immersed, energized,  focused, involved and enjoying whatever you\’re doing. That is why choosing what pleases your heart is so important for transitioning from corporate employee  to self employed. 

A caveat here as you relish  your freedom from standard operating procedures you may be tempted to chase many ideas to do everything you did have time for before this can be exhausting so balance your freedom with the good sense developed from working with structure. Because you had a plan, you are confident about what you want so you don\’t simply  go for what turns up. That means you are more likely to be in the zone  as you work with what you choose meaning it is more likely to thrive.

8.  Tap into your own talent.  The freedom to be creative is one of the perks working for yourself. You are not limited to the department into which you were hired. Explore skills you didn\’t use before, and use them. This may save you money in running your own business. 

9. Maintain Intellectual stimulation. Being in the Cooperative sector forces you to engage with people at a certain intellectual level on a regular basis. If you are not intentional about maintaining this you may find that you have fewer and fewer intellectual engagements  at that  level once you leave the corporate sector .  Such engagements can happen via reading materials, conversations with other people or participation in webinars,  talks or that kind of activity. Studies suggest that brain function declines rapidly when people stop regular work and put up their feet. So whether it is subscriptions to newsletters or magazines, do not give them all up when you move from corporate. If you are not interested in the same things, look for new subscriptions. Keeping up stimulating interpersonal interactions and physical activity as well will help to slow down memory loss. If you work from home be sure you have activities that require you to leave home.

10. Put on a Business owner hat –  First decide – are you after profit or impact? – will you solve a problem (be a painkiller),  improve a situation (be a vitamin) or provide ‘feel good” – be a candy?

Wearing a business hat means  you exercise self discipline and self motivation. It requires self awareness, what are you good at, what are your internal  blocks?  The ability to manage financial highs and lows when you\’re running your own business will be handy as you don\’t have regular income. Manage boundaries –  when are you working and when are you not? What engagements with family and friends constitute business and which ones constitute friendship . Think about pricing. How do you talk about what you do or what you sell?  Where do you talk about it?  Who is your ideal client or customer? Do you know where to find your ideal consumer or client? 

Running your own business also requires you to take risks –  try out things. It is also important to watch your people skills especially if you are transitioning from a high-level position to running your own business : you may be the director of your own business but you will find that you have to engage directly with people who, in the corporate hierarchy would be many levels below you but they\’re not – these are partners,  potential partners, your direct customers ,  service providers –  you need to engage with them positively to support your business. 

To hear me speak about my own transition book a session here .