If you haven’t already, you’ll eventually reach a crossroads in your career where you’re faced with three choices: stay with your current employer, find another company to work for, or work for yourself. In my case, I chose the third option and became a personal branding pioneer—and it was absolutely the right choice for me.
So I know firsthand that the prospect of being your own boss can be exciting, and entrepreneurship can give you the freedom to run a business exactly the way you want to. However, taking that leap comes with several challenges. You’re not just taking control of your future, you’re making yourself responsible for building, establishing and growing a company. When you hire employees, you’ll be responsible for them, too, and there is usually no safety net if it all falls through.
As you reflect on your career path and what’s ahead, consider whether entrepreneurship can give you what you seek. How can you know whether entrepreneurship should be your next career move? Start by asking yourself these questions.
1. Do you thrive on solving problems?
Most people solve problems only when they have to—and only then because they don’t have a choice. If you fantasize about creating a low-maintenance, well-oiled system that is free of setbacks and sidetracks, you’re going to be a very unhappy business owner. A true entrepreneur thrives on problem-solving and will seek out challenges that need to be solved or things that can be improved upon. If you obsess over finding solutions to problems, then entrepreneurship may be a good path for you.
This challenge doesn’t necessarily rely on any specific set of skills or traits. You might be highly creative and enjoy thinking outside the box to find solutions. If you’re stronger at critical thinking than creativity, then you might love analyzing the minutiae of every problem and putting together a solution based on how they connect to each other.
When describing the core competency of entrepreneurship, Logan Allec, CPA and owner of Money Done Right, says that it’s “the ability to understand the feelings and needs of others.” If you’re a problem-solving guru, the thing that drives you is offering people a solution to their problems that no one else has provided yet.
2.Do you have the skills needed?
Whether you’re thinking about starting a company from scratch, or acquiring an existing business, you need to know whether or not you have the skills, resources and connections you’ll need to see entrepreneurship through. “You must be clear about your personal brand and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. Being self-aware is the first step in being able to say, ‘I can see growth potential here, and with my background, I’m certain I can carry it out,’” notes Walker Deibel, acquisition entrepreneur and author of Buy Then Build.
To become more aware of your strengths—and specifically how your strengths relate to entrepreneurship—Gallup’s entrepreneurial strengths assessment can help you pinpoint what you’re good at and how that compares to the typical talents of founders. The strengths assessment also measures top entrepreneurial traits like creative thinking, confidence and independence.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to excel at literally everything to succeed as an entrepreneur. You can identify the areas where you’re lacking and focus building your core team up with people who can shore up those weaknesses. That said, your own skills and strengths should be aligned with your business idea—there’s no point to shaping your startup’s business model around your personal deficits. It takes a significant amount of bravery to go from being an employee to being an entrepreneur, and that courage should be buttressed by clear self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness is also the key to successful branding, so it’s not only important to identify your skills that align with those of other entrepreneurs, it’s equally important to unearth the traits that make you unique.
3. Can you accept the risk of instability?
Being your own boss, setting your own hours and controlling the direction of your team may sound liberating and empowering. But entrepreneurship requires you to sacrifice some stability in exchange for that flexibility. The success of the business will be driven by your decisions, and that intense level of pressure might lead to far more stress than you experience as an employee. You may also, at least temporarily, need to forfeit having a real vacation or being able to contribute to your 401(k).
Risk-taking is a significant part of entrepreneurship. “Taking risks doesn’t mean you don’t feel fear, acknowledge fear, or let fear inform you; you just don’t let it stop you,” says webMethods cofounder Caren Merrick. According to a Harvard Business School study, being a risk taker ranks right at the top of the few personality traits shared by most successful business founders. Innovation is second on the list.
Making a career move to entrepreneurship means you’ll need to be comfortable rolling the dice without guaranteed results. If the most important thing about your current career is the safety and security that it provides, you probably shouldn’t try your hand at entrepreneurship.
Few people have enough drive to become entrepreneurs, and fewer still have the ability to see young companies succeed through the startup phase. Before you take the plunge, take the time to “interview” yourself using these three questions.