Entrepreneurship is becoming an increasingly popular option for many current and former employees. The “pull” to become an entrepreneur comes from the relative freedom felt by those working from home during COVID-19 and the desire to do your own thing. The “push” for those in the Learning, Talent, and Training Development field is a result of two trends that threaten Learning and Talent Development leaders and corporate trainers:
- Many organizations are turning to online pre-recorded training from external providers.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) technology such as ChatGPT is being used to design and deliver content for eLearning, as it can generate customized instructional content, assess learner performance, and facilitate learning through testing and feedback.
Here are some myths and guidelines for those contemplating a move to a career as an entrepreneur based on my more than 50 years as a serial entrepreneur, all in Learning and Development (L&D).
3 Myths and Guidelines
- My time will be my own.
Be prepared to work harder than ever before, although the rewards and satisfaction can be much greater than you can ever imagine. That said, don’t over romanticize being your own boss—you’re not. Your clients will be your new bosses, and you had better minimize your ego. Owning your own company means always being “on,” including during vacations. Don’t meet a client for the first time with a canned prepared solution. Assume nothing, and listen, listen, listen. If you listen to and exceed your clients’ expectations, your clients will become your salesforce.
Motivation is critical. You must love what you are doing. This should be something you look forward to every day, especially early in the morning.
- It will be inexpensive to start and test the waters.
You should have enough working capital for at least one year. It helps if you have minimal overhead expenses. Don’t go into debt to start a business. It may take a year or more before you land your first client. More than 20 percent of small businesses fail in their first year, 30 percent by year two, and 50 percent by year five. Hidden costs can include lawyers, accountants, Websites, conference attendance, insurance, publicity, and more. Becoming an entrepreneur is a high-risk proposition. I do not recommend it for those who are risk averse. Ask those you work with and can trust with a secret to give you their honest feedback on your personal strengths and weaknesses to be an entrepreneur. Ask them if they would hire you. I had no one to ask, so I arranged a meeting with SCORE, which provides free guidance to those wanting to start their own business. In my case, the two retired executives assigned to me told me my company would never succeed and to not waste my time.
I now realize that their advice came from a different generation who could not see what I knew was coming. I believed in the importance of my company’s mission and gave it a year-and-a half. I am proud to say I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of the most distinguished organizations headquartered on four continents ranging from the NBA to Chrysler, Qualcomm, Samsung, J&J, Hilton, The American Hospital Association, The National Academy of Sciences, Delta Airlines, and hundreds more.
If you believe in the importance of your work, give yourself some time to test the waters while keeping your old position if possible. If you wait for the ideal time, you will have a very long wait ahead of you. Anyone about to embark on the entrepreneurial journey needs to be realistic. Get ready for a lot of very hard work, and do not let financial gains be your only motivator.
- Landing a major client is all you need to do.
While landing a high-profile client is rewarding, circumstances beyond your control can end the business relationship abruptly. Over the years, I gained and lost many great clients due to changes in technology (telecom), economic crises (banking), and pandemics (pharmaceuticals). In each case, we were able to ride the next wave in another industry. Don’t burn any bridges. Having exceptional relationships with those you work with is like money in the bank. Many people we worked with in telecom moved to pharma between 1999 and 2005, and they brought us into pharma. One CHRO and Learning leader brought us into five pharmaceuticals, one major manufacturer of heavy equipment, and a top-tier global hotel chain.
No matter how successful you are with your best client, do not put all your eggs in one basket. If the basket falls, you will be devastated. This is particularly important if you are a very small company with a client that is responsible for 40 percent or more of your sales.
The Bottom Line
Owning your own company has extreme highs, where you cannot believe how many great clients you have, and depressing downs, when your best client terminates your relationship because of a “reorganization.” After more than five decades, I can say that the company I founded (Global Dynamics Inc.) took me places I could never imagine and allowed me to meet, learn from, and help some of the smartest people involved in global and diversity success. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Having recently sold my company, I now have the freedom to support those people and organizations I most admire. If you are interested in becoming an entrepreneur or have started but need ideas, please e-mail me at: Neal@NealGoodmanGroup.com. I am happy to respond and support your success.