What it REALLY feels like to launch your business
Have you ever thought about quitting your job and finally going out on your own? Ever wonder what it’s like to burst into your boss’s office and quit? Ever think about how your co-workers and clients would react to this inspired, universe-altering move? I’m living that life right now and I’m here to share.
After 26 years in the radio business, I’ve stepped away to launch my own company Small Step Solutions. The company will solve big problems for small businesses. The company comes from the part of my last job that I loved the most: identifying the problems of our clients and promotional partners and turning our ideas and assets into solutions. It’s absolutely addictive, it’s what I want to do all day, but - is it a business? After months of deliberation and prep, I’m convinced it is and here’s what I’ve experienced in the process of quitting.
The Start -
It starts with a business plan. Or, at least, a vision of what you want to do and how you’ll make enough money to eat while doing it. I had two unfair advantages when it came to forming my business. First, I had a loving and supportive wife who encouraged me to follow my dream. That sounds Disney-esque, but what that really means is that she is on board for a temporary income drop, “staycations,” “quiet dinners in,” etc. If your household isn’t solid, stay on your current course. My second unfair advantage is that I’ve seen this movie before. Six years ago, my wife and I built her business - storiesframed.com. While I went to a steady corporate job, she suffered the slings and arrows of pricing, billing, busy seasons and soul-crushing “why does everyone hate me, should I be doing this with my life,” moments. She is an absolute inspiration and seeing her go through what I will go through has prepared me for what is to come.
The other item of note is the gestation period of creating a new business. In the course of creating Small Step Solutions, I went through several iterations of the company. I had the luxury of time and I recommend you do the same. Your initial idea WILL transform the more and more you think about it. I kept on coming back to my founding premise: I love solving problems for clients. As I would imagine a flashy angle on that premise I found the business drifting away from the core. It took me months, not weeks, to fully bake what you see now. Here’s another reality: What I will eventually do with this company probably hasn’t appeared, yet. I’m bracing for opportunity that will transform the business. It will happen and I need to be ready for it.
I could add a bunch more on getting your LLC or setting up your website and business-guy stuff but there are 8 million links on the web about that - if you have questions just email me.
I love my current employer, Scripps Media. I love my coworkers. I love radio. You don’t do radio unless you love it. So, the thought of leaving was never the quitting fantasy of dropping the resignation on my boss’s desk and walking out with a mushroom cloud behind me. My challenge with quitting was the decision to leave the industry after spending the majority of my life in radio stations. Before quitting, I had done all of the things you must: cleaned my digital and hard copy files, readied myself to leave that day if necessary and stocked the fridge with beer to console myself or celebrate the event. What happened next was special. My boss and I talked about my impact on the organization and how we could work together to create a transition plan to help the team. We laughed and yes, I cried about what was and what will soon come to an end. He was a great boss and mentor. I loved my teammates. I was filled with gratitude.
The thing about quitting is that life gets real, FAST. You set a final day and the clock is now ticking. X weeks of salary and health insurance left. X weeks to summarize everything you do and share it with coworkers. X weeks until you’re officially on to the next thing and there is no turning back. You’ve jumped out of an airplane and the earth is rapidly approaching.
Once word got out that I was leaving everyone came by to talk about it. One of my coworkers called it “watching your own funeral.” That was surprisingly accurate. Almost all of the coworkers and partners went through the same pattern: “Sorry to see you go,” “Tell me about the new business,” “What do we need to do before you leave.” That was the standard interaction. I found this time to be a great place to practice my elevator speech for the business. In my case, I probably told 100 people about my business and what I was going to do. If you can’t explain what you’re going to do in two sentences, you need to keep refining the pitch until it’s so simple your dog gets it on the first try.
One thing that surprised me about quitting is the number of people who were “jealous.” Not jealous because I was leaving a great organization. Jealous because THEY have always dreamed of starting their own business. I heard stories from people I’ve known for years who carried ideas and passions I didn’t know existed. I heard frustrations and dreams and plans left on the shelf. All of the conversations were instructive and it built my resolve that I was doing the right thing to pursue my dreams. If you can’t sleep at night because you have a dream you want to follow, I’ll quote a very wise person who once said “Do it. Or don’t.” Thanks for the advice, Mom.
The business is formed, the boss and coworkers are aware and now I’m operating my new life. What does THAT feel like? If feels like I’m on the hunt. If you’re dreaming of doing graphic design on your own and imagine a day filled with creating art and drinking coffee you’re not looking at this the right way. Owning your own business is really getting into the sales field. You, as a graphic designer, would be a graphic design sales person who then fulfills the orders you take. Think long and hard about your tolerance for sales. If you’re allergic to hearing “No” - keep your corporate gig.
I also feel alone. Not sad and depressed, but, alone. This is my road to walk and I need to use every ounce of personal discipline and guts to walk it. In six months, I’ll be paying the mortgage and feeding the kids - or - going through orientation at some other corporation. It’s go time.
There is so much I need to learn and do to make Small Step Solutions a success. I’m sure I’ll look back at this post and laugh in the future. I’m sure there are veteran business owners who are laughing right now. Please understand, this post isn’t a new business owner feeling like he has all of the answers. I’m just sharing what it has felt like so far. Your guidance and advice is always welcome.
If you’re thinking of starting your own business, or you have started your own business, I would welcome your comments or thoughts. If there is a way I could share my experience that helps you take your next step, I would be honored.