A personal tragedy is not my recommended strategy for transitioning from a 9-to-5 job, to running your own business. But it's the event that gave me the final push I needed. I'd known since I started the job after graduating from college, that management consulting wasn't for me in the long term but it seemed like a good, "keeping my options open" path to pursue until I figured out what I really wanted to do.
Naturally, I soon became trapped by the good money, the frustrating absence of a "big idea" for my own business and was paralyzed by the "What else could I do?" question. I found the courage to make the leap when my Mum died from cancer. Two weeks off is not enough to come to terms with something as devastating as that, so I took a six-month sabbatical. On my first day back in the office, I quit. It wasn't exactly how I'd planned it but I knew as soon as I stepped back in the office, it was no longer the path for me.
I started as personal trainer. Hardly the stuff of innovative, big ideas but it was the vital, first step I needed. I'd planned to take it slowly, build up the income as I learned the ropes of marketing, finances and what it meant to run a business. When my husband was laid off a few months later, the pressure to earn an income that covered our mortgage, bills and other basic needs increased exponentially. That's when we had to get really creative.
Drawing upon my previous business consulting experience, I evolved into a business coach. When my husband and I decided to become location independent, I took my coaching business on the road. We headed to countries with a lower cost of living, to relieved some of the financial pressure and maintain a comfortable lifestyle. We did this well before the concept of location independence became as popular as it is today, and wasn't without its additional challenges. As an overall strategy, though, it worked well and opened up a number of unexpected avenues and opportunities for us.
As a management consultant, I'd gained some good insights into what it takes to make a business profitable and successful. Still, the biggest challenge I faced was figuring out how to apply what I knew to my own tiny business. How could I translate concepts like business process management, change management and outsourcing preparedness to a husband-and-wife micro business?
I suspected all along that my business background and previous experience could really give my own entrepreneurial ventures an edge but I had yet to figure out how.
Three letter acronyms (TLAs -- so beloved of consultants), end-to-end processes and best practice innovations aren't exactly the kinds of things you think about when you're trying to make ends meet, figure out how to work with clients half-way around the world from you, while doing everything from tech support, to customer service to financial management yourself.
At some point, I started to unravel the big business concepts in a way that made sense on a smaller scale. In the end, it took almost a year to deconstruct everything I'd learned in the corporate world. I figured out how important business processes are to our business and how to use these as a strength. In the end, I've been able to apply almost all of the big business concepts I was so familiar with to my own entrepreneurial ventures.
Most importantly, I know that those years spent in the corporate world weren't a waste. Far from it, they gave me an edge right at the beginning when I first became an entrepreneur and they continue to do so today.