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Business Experience - How Much Is Enough Before Going Out On Your Own?

Aug 17, 2007
Many first time entrepreneurs over the years have stopped to ask themselves, "Should I get more business experience at a big company before going out on my own?"

This is true of recent college graduates who are deciding between regular job offers and a startup. This is also true of people who have been in industry for twenty years.

So how much business experience do you really need before going to work for yourself? The answer of course, is that it depends.

On the one hand, there is a lot to be said for getting a "real job". This is what I did after college, and it ultimately helped me start working for myself because it gave me the confidence to know what I really wanted.

Here are some advantages to getting more business experience:

1. It made me realize that I actually could get a job with a good salary. This might sound silly, but I guess you can think of it as a safety net. In the back of my mind, I knew that if I gave entrepreneurship my best shot and it didn't work, I could always get another job. I knew that if I was about to be so broke that I couldn't pay my rent, I'd have a backup plan.

2. Somewhere deep down I had a fear of what other people would think about me being an entrepreneur. It took me a long time to admit this to myself, but I didn't want anyone to think "he is an entrepreneur because he couldn't get a real job". The brain works in funny ways, but at least if I was quitting a good job to go out on my own, it would somehow have more credibility.

3. Seeing what I didn't want helped me discover what I did want. If I had never found out how much I hated working for someone else (the long hours, no sleep, boring work, etc) then being my own boss wouldn't seem so great! I wake up excited every morning because I know what the alternative is.

Notice that I didn't put "I got more business experience that helped me start a business" as one of the advantages. I learned a lot in my time working for other people, but I can't think of a specific skill that really helped me as an entrepreneur. It was entirely different. Of course, since I was always learning it helped me in indirect ways. I met other intelligent people, my writing got better, I networked...but you don't have to have a big corporate job to do this. I continue to do those things today just as much while working for myself.

So let's look at the other side: how could "getting more business experience" prevent you from accomplishing your ultimate goal of starting a business?

1. It's perhaps the biggest excuse in the book. "I don't have enough experience" is used by so many people for why they CAN'T start a business, and it really is just that: an excuse. In reality, the time will never be perfect to go out on your own, but entrepreneurs make it work. They realize that they'll have to learn things along the way, and probably fail at times, but that they will get it done no matter what. Quitting my job was probably one of the hardest decisions I ever made, because I was downright scared of what would happen. I was scared of failure, what people would think, etc...and "I don't have enough business experience" is a very convenient excuse in that type of situation.

2. People get stuck at their corporate jobs. The real danger of "getting more business experience" is that once you get there you won't be able to leave due to financial reasons! Often times when we are earning a good salary, and getting raises, it's easy to spend that money. You might buy a new car, and get some swanky new condo, and before you know it you've taken on debt(mortgage and car payments). The problem is that now you can't leave your job working for someone else because you've over extended yourself and can't afford to miss a single car or house payment! This is known as getting caught in the rat race, and can quickly make you a slave to your corporate job.

If you are going to go work for someone else, make a conscious effort to save your money rather than spend it. Put 25% of it away every month before you can even see that money. Build up your cash reserves, because starting a business becomes much easier when you have six months of cash in the bank to get started with.

The bottom line is this: Go to work for someone else (or stay there) for a while if you have to. I don't blame anyone who goes this route because it is exactly what I did. It will let you know if the corporate world is the right place or not, and give you the confidence to know you have a backup plan in case you should ever need to get one of those "real" jobs again. Realizing you don't like having a boss may be the only "business experience" you ever need.

But take an honest look at yourself and make sure you aren't using "I need more business experience" as an excuse not to start your company. And for goodness sake, don't start spending all the money you make there on expensive cars and houses! You could easily get stuck in a job you dislike just because you can't afford to miss a payment!

I know you'll make the right decision.
About the Author
Brian Armstrong makes it easy to learn the secrets of todays top business owners. To discover the "7 Essential Steps to Starting a Business" in his Free Online Course, visit this site now: Business Experience
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