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If you’re tired of company politics, getting stuck in a rut and hitting the hamster wheel when you least want to, then perhaps it’s time to consider your alternatives. You can start your own business or you can find a better way to do the work you love, where you get to choose the projects that interest you and the people you want to work with.
I’m Torben Anderson, and after 20 years, climbing the corporate ladder, I wanted more and made the decision in July, 2017 to start playing a different game as a part time Chief Technology officer (CTO) for clients who truly value what I bring to their team. The freedom is great but there’s also a bunch of challenges I hadn’t anticipated.
I want to share what I have learned in the hope that it will help you answer some vital questions and give you a framework for deciding whether this is for you and how to go about doing it well if it is.
Where will I find the time and how do I get started?
I spent many years thinking that I was going to have to get up at 4am to carve out the time to start a new business while working full time so I could get it to a place where I could afford to escape the rat race. I had thoughts about selling products online believing the message that it’s easy and it makes money while you sleep, right? Wrong! The truth is, no matter what you set out to do as an alternative to the pay cheque, you will need to invest time to get started, and dabbling in random online products could take you a very long time to discover the one that not only sells but is something you can get excited about in the long term.
Start by getting clear about why you want to make the shift. When you’re clear about the difference it will make to you life, you will have no problem finding the time to make it happen. Are you willing to sacrifice in the short-term to gain long-term success? If so, you’re off to a good start. Then be specific about it. Are you willing to watch less TV, or work on the train, or work an hour in the evening. I took a unpaid sabbatical, which allowed me the runway to test different things out and eventually hone in on the product that was right for me. For others it’s asking permission to go part-time.
Once you have carved out the time, you can take deliberate and regular action to get you there. If you are committed, you will find, like I did, that one decision amazingly leads to another. Before you know it you are out there leading the charge with your new clients.
The second question is also about the why. Whatever kind of business you are starting your personal why is not enough. You need to know what difference you want to make for your customers otherwise you will not be able to differentiate yourself from the competition. It’s not like a job interview where your past experience makes you a safe hire. When it comes to selling, you need to be clear about how you can make a difference to their future.
Write down your two why(s), right now! For me it was freedom to work from anywhere, as I’m a virtual CTO. For you, it might be spending more time with your family. What if the seemingly impossible were possible? What would that be for you? What would make it worthwhile for you and how would your offering be of differential value for your customers?
How will I make the finances work?
Let me guess, you are waiting for that next promotion, or next bonus to get just enough money together to make the jump. Don’t wait, it’s easier than you think. Just do the maths.
In my case I saved for 1 year, which gave me about 3 month of runway. Think about where you could reduce unnecessary costs, and work out how many months you can go with no new income, or perhaps with part-time income. Creating realistic budgets is something you are going to need to get good at so you might as well start now. When you know the deadline you have to work with it helps focus the activity down the the things that matter most. Can you achieve a new line of income in the time you can dedicate to it? Model different success criterion and go into it with your eyes wide open.
It may be that you need to save for 2 years. The point is, entrepreneurship is about finding a way to leverage what you have. Money is just a tool. Too often, as employees, we think emotionally about money because it is the one measurable thing that quantifies our value. The entrepreneurial view is different and it’s best summed up by the great Zig Ziggler; you can have whatever you want if you can help enough other people get what they want. Money is just a system for that exchange of value. Run the numbers. As they say numbers never lie.
What are the biggest challenges?
I’ve already touched on a few mental shifts that need to take place and you will no doubt be aware of the shocking statistics when it comes to startups that don’t get beyond year one. I think the reason for that is quite simple. We don’t know what we don’t know and far too many don’t learn fast enough where their blindspots are and they leave it too late to find out.
The biggest challenge is not having enough challenge to the way we think. Albert Einstein was right when he said that the kind of thinking that got us here is not good enough to get us where we want to go. We have been formatted for employment where as individuals we have defined responsibilities. If you go down this road you ‘own’ it all – the good and the bad. Don’t try and go it alone.
Here are the best decisions I made and would recommend to you whether you’re just exploring this or have already made the jump:
- Find a business mentor – someone who has failed and succeeded and would be willing to share their insights. Someone with the maturity and skill to ask the tough questions and help you see what you may have missed. They could be anywhere. You could jump on a call once a week, or even every day. Share you visions and plans with them. Ask them to hold you accountable. It’s a powerful motivator and you need to find new ways of getting that support so you don’t fall into the trap of letting yourself off the hook.
- Get some training – join a startup bootcamp, sign up to some sales training, learn how to optimise your Linked In profile, get good at the principles of marketing. There is so much to learn. The most important thing here is to keep learning.
- Join a community – The power of a mastermind group is irrefutable. If titans of business need it so do you and I. Don’t just join a few facebook groups. You might get loads of tips tricks and templates but it won’t give you the energy injection you will need to take you to the next level. The best mastermind groups are focused on developing you. Take it from me, you need to upgrade your mental operating system and that isn’t just a quick download. I have had to unlearn certain corporate mindsets that I didn’t even know I had but discovered were the thing that was holding me back. I also had to learn how to fail. Not something corporate does very well but absolutely vital because it is often how we learn our most valuable lessons. You need to put yourself on the kind of learning journey that comes with personal challenge. For that we need people we can be open and honest with. More importantly, when the going get’s tough we need to have the support of people who are for us, who can help us solve our problems and can help us keep going.
- Find a professional coach – this is someone with the wisdom and the ability to help you process what’s really going on for you. Wisdom because they have already walked the journey that you want to go on and understand exactly what it takes to become the very best you.
The old school idea of a job for life has long gone. The portfolio career is no longer just a prediction of what happens next. It’s becoming more and more normal since 2008. Most people who were forced take the step because of redundancy have never looked back but would probably never have had the courage to get out of their comfort zone by choice.
But what about you? Are you ready to take control of your future and to define your work and your terms? Let’s not pretend it’s easy. The corporate world is designed to give you relative comfort and stability in exchange for your time and skills. You know you could have so much more but it’s like standing on the ten metre diving board both longing and fearing to jump.
Hopefully my experience so far might have helped you decide whether you are going to carry on being the best employee you can be or step off and see what it feels like to prove your critics wrong and discover your true worth in the market place of your choosing.
I can tell you, it’s very satisfying when your old company calls you up three months later because they want you back. It makes you wish you had done it sooner.
Torben Andersen was an Associate Director for Strategy and Transformation at Cognizant until he founded Rewired Consulting in 2017. He engaged with FuturePerfect before and after leaving Cognizant and is now building a successful portfolio career internationally as a Virtual CTO.