Have you at some point thought about branching out on your own? Let me tell you right from the start that it isn’t for everyone. The sense of security that you feel from having a job and a stable income will quickly be replaced by risk and uncertainty. You’ll be investing blood, sweat, tears, and resources into creating a business. You need to ask yourself if this is for you. What are your strengths, and can you thrive in an environment that involves constant learning and adapting across various areas?
A good friend of mine studied medicine and became a doctor, but realised it wasn’t fulfilling him. He loved helping people, but wanted to do it in a more effective way, which got him excited to work each morning. He created his own platform that deals with health and preventive medicine, and is now building his brand through public speaking, TV appearances and a book. For some people, branching out is a way to diversify their learning, to express their different strengths, and to explore their passion. Does this sound like you?
When you branch out on your own, you’re steering the ship – for yourself, as well as for your employees and clients. It is a huge exercise in personal growth. On your journey, you’ll need to confront your fears of failing, your feelings, your issues around money, power, and competition. You will have to question who you have become and what you are learning from this. The decision to branch out will force you to step up, be confident and be resilient through it all. If you’re thinking of branching out or just wondering if it’s right for you, then you need to ask yourself some vital questions before you take the plunge.
Branching out involves a great deal of investment: time, energy, effort, and resources. You’ll have to give a lot to your business, especially in the initial stages, which will impact those who are closest to you. You might even find yourself sacrificing time with your loved ones as you work longer hours. Finances at home might be strained.
Unless you’re clear about your ‘why’ and are able to share it with the people closest to you, you will find yourself being pressured both at work and at home. For example, I spoke to a woman who runs a rescue centre for victims of child trafficking in Cambodia. Her ‘why’ for starting the centre is clear: she was a victim herself and believes that she is in a position to understand the children’s needs and connect with them in a way that others cannot. For her, helping the children gives her life a sense of meaning; it’s her mission. And so when she encounters challenges, the questions she asks are not “is this worth it?” or “should I keep going?”, but rather “How do I overcome this challenge and what do I learn from it?” Is your ‘why’ strong enough to keep you going in the face of adversity, or is it based on factors like money or status, in which case you are more likely to walk away if faced with big challenges? To help narrow down on your ‘why’, you can start by looking at who you are.
Before you start your business, be very honest about who you are and what works for you. If you’re making decisions solely on the basis of financial gain, you might find yourself unhappy in the long run as what you’re doing isn’t aligned with who you are.
Ask yourself, “Can I be who I am in that environment?” For example, I know I couldn’t be myself in a big law firm environment. In this entrepreneurial space, I can be myself even when things aren’t going well. However, for other people, they don’t want to stress about other aspects of a business, like overheads and payrolls. The reality about branching out and starting your own thing is that you’ll end up having to wear many hats and solve problems across various areas of your business – marketing, sales, HR – on a daily basis. As CEO, you’ll also have to spend a lot of your time at work. Your state of mind will have an impact on your team and in turn how you do business. If you’re miserable, you’re not only stressing yourself out, but also adversely impacting your employees and business. You can avoid all of this by being clear about what works for you from the get-go.
Another thing to consider is values. What are the values that you live by? Will branching out give you the avenue to express these values? My core values are learning and growth. At a big law firm, my learning would be very specific and focused. On the contrary, starting my business allowed me to learn a wide array of skills: branding, scaling, and advertising. This excited me. What matters to you? What excites you? If you’re not excited about starting a company, or with your idea, you’ll find it difficult to stay on course when the going gets tough.
At some point, I took stock of my life and saw that I had built a successful law firm that was growing steadily. I ran a film company and our second film won an Emmy and received a BAFTA nomination (British Oscars). I was working on other real estate projects. On paper, I was successful. Yet I wasn’t feeling successful. I had this nagging feeling that something was missing. I didn’t feel fulfilled. I realised that I didn’t have a definition of success that was truly mine. I asked myself, what would have to happen for me to feel successful? All of my definitions were borrowed from culture, tradition, or even movies.
Ask yourself what success looks like to you. Make a list of the top three scenarios in which you would truly feel fulfilled. Is building a business on your list? If branching out creates a lifestyle that prevents you from doing things that make you feel successful and fulfilled – spending time with your children, or having a sense of stability, for example – then perhaps it isn’t for you.
I always say that your business should be treated like your child. When your child is crawling, you’re not going to expect them to stand up and start running all of a sudden. Nor would you get upset and force your child to stand up before they’re ready and push them to run. You wouldn’t do this because you know it would harm your child. Similarly, a business requires patience and an understanding that good things take time. If you’re looking for instant gratification or immediate results, you might need to re-think your decision to branch out on your own.
In my 20 years as a legal consultant, I’ve represented over 2000 businesses and entrepreneurs. I have noticed that there is a tendency, especially amongst millennials, to want immediate results. In a time of shortening attention spans and instant gratification, people expect a business to take off instantly. We’ve all read the success stories of people creating a product that changed the world from the confines of their stuffy garage, before selling it off to a bigger company for a few billion dollars. People want to replicate this kind of success. The truth is that these “overnight” success stories are 1% of the story, and behind the “overnight” success is usually a process that was years in the making. 99% of businesses out there are still struggling. You need to accept that success very rarely happens overnight.
You should ask yourself, how comfortable are you with uncertainty and constant change. Even when you’ve been in business for a while and have reached a certain level of success, you will still need to navigate through constant changes and innovation. In today’s business world, where industries get disrupted “overnight,” there is a constant shift in the markets, consumer demand, competition, new technological developments, as well as political and regulatory changes. You must stay alert, be one step ahead and ready to pivot and constantly innovate. Besides the constant external changes, you will also experience internal changes. Entrepreneurship is the ultimate personal growth vehicle, as it will test and challenge you, force you to face your fears and question your beliefs. You will grow and develop as an entrepreneur and as a person. As you grow, your standards, values, priorities, and needs will change. As a result, your goals will change too. So, as you work towards your goals, you might find - surprise, surprise - that they have evolved and changed. While it’s important to have goals, they tend to be “moving targets” so you must also embrace and enjoy the journey. As they say, it’s not about reaching your goals but who you become in the process.
For example, as I write this, I am preparing for a trip to Tanzania to scale Mount Kilimanjaro, a goal I’ve had for a few years now. However, I know that it will take me 7 days to get there and I will only spend 20-30 minutes at the top before I start my descent. So I realise that those 7 days of climbing the world’s highest free-standing mountain will have more impact on me than the 20 minutes I spend on top. Similarly, entrepreneurial journey is not just about “getting there” whatever that may mean to you (going public, selling or reaching a certain revenue levels) but also about the process of building your team, company and facing and solving the challenges that are certain to come in the process.
If your approach is “I will enjoy/be happy/fulfilled/ when I get there”, then you may never have that as “there” is a subjective and ever-changing place/thing. So, ask yourself, are you ready to embrace and enjoy the journey, the roller-coaster ride of ups and downs regardless of when and if you get to whatever end result you have envisioned for yourself and your venture? Are you comfortable with working towards ever-changing goals or are you someone who is fulfilled when you’ve achieved a set of clear milestones? If you picked the latter, you’d be better off working for a company full-time.
Besides my own law firm, through which we have advised and represented over two thousand entrepreneurs and ventures, I myself am an entrepreneur. I have launched, owned and operated over a dozen start-ups and companies, in various fields such us film production and distribution, real estate development, a car wash chain, lending company, and many others. Some of the ventures did very well and I still own them, some did ok and others failed miserably. As an entrepreneur, you are likely to make mistakes, missteps and experience failure both small and big. I have had all these experiences, more than I would like to admit. But they were also the biggest lessons I have learned, and have allowed me to grow and do better. I look at mistakes and failure as part of the journey and as opportunities to learn and get better. As the saying goes: “Good decisions come from experience and experience comes from bad decisions.” What is your relationship with making mistakes and failing? Are you able to fail forward, learn and keep going, moving forward without beating yourself up and keep looking back?
Have you met entrepreneurs who’ve told you that they know exactly what the market needs, they have the solution and that they know everything there is to know about the industry? Those are the people who struggle the hardest. You can only listen to your customer's needs when you keep an open mind. When you think you know best, you don’t listen to the market and that’s a very dangerous place to be. Are you open to learning, being humbled, falling down, and making mistakes? I guarantee you; this will happen. Unless you’re able to constantly learn, you won’t be in the position to pick yourself up and apply what you’ve learned to improve your business.
Being proactive about learning is crucial to anyone who wants to branch out. The skills you need to succeed most often will not fall in your area of specialisation. You will need to be very hands-on and creative about how you acquire these skills. You might even need to invest your time and resources to pick up the skills you need.
When I started my law firm, I was very green. I was neither a savvy business owner nor a skilled attorney. I was trained to be a lawyer, but suddenly I had to worry about team-building, branding, financial matters, marketing and sales so many other aspects that keep a business going. I started offering free consultations. I took up cases in areas of law that I wanted to learn about and charged a nominal fee for the job. I would sometimes even hire other attorneys skilled in that area of law to look through my work to make sure I was going in the right direction. Do you have the bandwidth and willingness to be proactive about learning a variety of skills while running a business?
Proactively learning will help you to see things through.
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Founder & CEO
VY Law & Ketchup Entertainment