For most professionals, our twenties are all about adjusting to post-college life, finding the right career and gaining the necessary skills and experience to reach our professional goals. During that process, some young people find themselves overcome by an entrepreneurial spirit and vision that can only be realized through independence.
That is what happened to me last year when I ‘jumped off the cliff’ and left a stable job in my field to pursue an independent venture. My industry, public relations, is a highly competitive industry that can be difficult to break into and offers a proportionately limited path for advancement. Despite those obstacles, by my mid-twenties I was leading accounts for a reputable PR agency and seemed to be on the fast track to middle management with this growing company. Everything was humming along fine until one sleepless night sparked my vision for a fresh alternative to the traditional PR model, and so began my journey to independence…
Phase 1: Early Planning
Once you get the entrepreneurial itch, the first step is to get all of your ideas down on paper. After writing my initial vision on a notepad, I found myself waking up during the night to amend my thoughts, typing ideas into my phone throughout the day and daydreaming of the possibilities at my work desk.
The next step is refining that vision and organizing it into a business plan. While I had some experience in crafting business plans from an old college class, I knew I needed real guidance from people I trusted and who knew a thing or two about launching and running a business. This is the point in which I introduced the idea to my family. Being young and still relatively new to my field, I faced a healthy dose of initial skepticism from my family. Those concerns were balanced out by their admiration of my courage and passion along with their unyielding support. They introduced me to concepts and ideas that helped me structure my vision into a viable business model.
Once the final business plan was complete, I knew this venture was no longer a matter of if – it was a matter of when.
Phase 2: Resignation
In the weeks leading up to your resignation from your current position, it is crucial that you recover and fully understand any contracts or agreements with your current employer. This should be done before submitting your resignation or participating in any activities that could be in breach of such agreement. Many employers require employees to sign a non-compete agreement when they first join the company. If such documents exist, I strongly recommend reviewing them with your attorney to avoid any future legal conflicts. If it turns out that you are not prohibited from soliciting or signing your current customers, you will need to decide if that is a route you want to pursue and create a transition plan for bringing them over to your new business.
If you want to keep your plan hidden from the company you’re leaving, it’s important to make the actual resignation quick, quiet and direct. Your employer and co-workers will likely ask why you are leaving, so be prepared to handle those questions in a way that will not disrupt your new venture. Don’t let emotions influence the manner in which you leave – it’s just business.
When you walk out of those office doors for the last time, be sure to pause and take in your first true breath of independence. It’s an amazing feeling.
Phase 3: Pre-launch
I only had a couple of days between the moment I cut ties with my previous agency and my first day in business. There was an awful lot to be done in that time frame: setting up an LLC, constructing a client agreement, executing that client agreement, setting up an invoicing program, beginning website construction, getting new head shots, setting up business subscriptions, establishing new vendor relationships and so forth.
I didn’t have any money, so I sublet my apartment to stay with family, maxed out all of my credit cards and accepted a small loan from a family member to get things going.
I signed my first client only days after leaving my previous agency, and I am incredibly grateful to them for believing in me and playing a huge role in bringing my vision for an edgy and innovative financial PR agency to life. The first six or seven weeks really set the tone for the future of my company. I helped my client achieve remarkable success while spending the rest of my time networking and developing new business leads. I did not post anything publicly about my new venture during that time. I saved the public launch for when my website was complete.
Phase 4: Launch
You only get one shot at launching a particular company, so make sure you do it right. Unless you happen to be a publicist like me, consider enlisting the help of an independent public relations practitioner or an agency in order to maximize this opportunity for positive exposure. If your budget is small, you may even be able to find a local PR student willing to help you for the experience along with a modest stipend.
The launch is your opportunity to reveal your venture to your personal and professional networks and beyond. It is also your opportunity to begin building a positive and impactful digital footprint for your brand.
The attention and visibility you’ll get from the launch, if done right, will create opportunities for you to reconnect with contacts who could help you grow your business as referral sources or in other capacities. I spent a large part of the next two weeks on the phone reconnecting with old friends and professional contacts after my launch, and a number of those conversations planted seeds that would later contribute to the rapid success of my business.
Phase 5: Building and Optimization
The ensuing months after your launch will put your business model to the test. Bloomberg has reported that eight out of ten entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. This is often caused by them running out of money before they reach profitability. For a service-based business like mine, I was able to limit that risk by keeping overhead very low in the beginning until I established multiple, reliable revenue streams to support an increase in expenses. While that approach may have slowed down my company’s immediate growth, it allowed me to create a secure and steadily growing business.
One of my biggest pieces of advice is to never let your marketing efforts stall, no matter how busy you are with running a business. Neglecting your brand visibility and audience engagement can dry up future sales numbers and reset any previous momentum. For a new business, the risk of losing relevance is very real without a steady, dynamic marketing strategy.
At the end of the day, a business is only a logo and a tax ID number without the people who run it. You will find yourself growing as a businessperson right alongside your company’s success. This is important because much of your company’s growth from this point forward will rest on your acquired skills, knowledge and decision-making. If you decide to build a team, it is equally important to help them develop into capable representatives of your brand. Whether you remain solo or add additional talent to the equation, the success of your independent venture will ultimately come down to you.
Are you up for the challenge?