7 Tips for Surviving The Leap From Employee to Entrepreneur

Becoming a successful entrepreneur takes more than a great idea and important connections (although both do help). Making the shift from the steady life of a full-time employee to the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship requires a shift in mindset that many overlook. In fact, some of the work habits you so carefully honed as a good employee don’t necessarily translate well into the world of an entrepreneur.

According to the Small Business Administration, only half of new businesses will survive to see their fifth year. Making that mental switch from employee to entrepreneur can help you avoid being one of those businesses that doesn’t make it. Here are seven tips for thriving while adjusting to life as an entrepreneur:

1. Learn to say no

As an employee in a big company, you probably got used to saying “yes” to any and all requests that came your way. After all, “yes” meant you were reliable and a team player and that can-do attitude probably earned great reviews from your manager. However, this approach won’t get you far as an entrepreneur. For starters, with the time-pressed entrepreneurial schedule, agreeing to and doing everything just isn’t possible. But more importantly, as an entrepreneur, you need to set the agenda, not just follow everyone else’s wishes. Get used to saying “no” to everything but your main priorities.

2. Forget about perfection

Maybe you used to have a boss that needed to get a project as close to perfection as possible. Or, there were endless rounds of revisions before something was ready to go. While that may be the way at a large company, a small business or startup won’t have the resources to get something to “perfect” and the whole notion of perfection isn’t possible anyway.

As an entrepreneur, perfectionism becomes a liability. The longer you wait for every detail to be just right, the slower your business will move. Focus on the high-impact, high-priority items, and accept 80% (sometimes less) for everything else. As the poster at Facebook famously says, “Done is better than perfect.”

3. Don’t be afraid of long hours

Many people equate the entrepreneurial lifestyle with The Four Hour Work Week or logging in from a beach in Tahiti. While both of these may be possible, the typical entrepreneur often finds that he or she needs to work longer hours than back at the office. On some days you might be trading in the 9-to-5 for 9-to-midnight. This is why it’s important to start something you love. And remember that you’re working to build your own dream, not someone else’s. You never want to dedicate more time to following someone else’s dream than your own.

4. Get ready to wear multiple hats

As a company employee, there’s someone to call when the server stops working. And you probably don’t think about if the floor was vacuumed or the plant was watered. But, when you strike out on your own, you’ve now got to fill a number of different roles…from tech support one hour to sales and marketing the next, and accounting, even cleaning. With this reality, you can’t afford to have an ego. Before setting off on your own, ask yourself if you’ll be comfortable wearing all these hats, including the less-than-glamorous ones.

5. Cope with the social isolation

When you were working at a big company, you may have complained relentlessly about your colleagues and managers. However, once you leave the office you might be surprised to discover just how much you relied on Jane in accounting or Mike in shipping for your social interaction.

The first few weeks of being on your own can be quite a shock, particularly if you’re working out of your home. Do what you can to combat this social isolation. Keep in touch with former colleagues. Work from a coffee shop for a few hours. Find a shared office or co-working space and attend lots of local networking events.

6. Stick to a schedule

Is your new business largely autonomous project work? Is there no set schedule because you’re building your startup from square one? As you make the transition to working for yourself, try to keep your existing schedule as much as possible.

Being in charge doesn’t mean you should get rid of your alarm clock or take four-hour lunches. Having some semblance of a schedule will help you stay disciplined and productive.

With that said, many professionals choose self-employment because they’re tired of the strict and arbitrary schedule of the corporate world. So there’s no need to recreate the same drudgery in your new venture. If you need some time in the afternoon to take care of your kids, walk your dog, or get outside while it’s sunny, go ahead. Only you can decide what kind of schedule is best for your business and your life.

7. Create an entrepreneur fund

While success as an entrepreneur often boils down to mindset, there are a few practical considerations as well. In one word…it’s cash. You’ll be going from a salaried employee to wondering when your next check will come in. If possible, before you leave your job, put away an entrepreneur fund with 3-6 month’s worth of expenses (perhaps more, depending on the nature of your new venture). Having a solid safety net will allow you to focus your energy on building your new business, rather than worry about how you are going to pay the bills.