Very early in my career, I had the comfort and stability of earning a paycheck when I worked for someone else. I had an incredible leader. Clear goals to aim for. A promotional path. Training. Health benefits. Retirement benefits. Even regular opportunities to stretch me well beyond my comfort zone.
It was really a great experience! Until…it just wasn’t anymore. Eventually, there came a time where it didn’t feel good anymore. I begin to drift. I felt without purpose. I become uncomfortable in a way that was unhealthy and draining. Something just felt off!
After giving my employer close to four weeks of notice, I left my job and started on an entrepreneurial adventure that has been a wild ride! I jumped into the world of third-party sourcing and recruiting!
Here is what I knew: I wanted to build something on my own, doing something I love and that would make a big difference. I didn’t want to have to say “yes” to tasks, projects, meetings, clients, or deliverables I didn’t believe in—ever again.
What I didn’t know: How was I going to do it? I get a few calls almost every week from corporate recruiters, agency recruiters, HR professionals and others who are thinking about hanging their own shingle. What I realized is that people leave the security of their jobs because they are so convicted and called to what they want to do that they can’t stand to do anything else, or they are super clear on what they would no longer do or tolerate in exchange for monetary security.
Regardless of your reason for thinking about starting your own HR, Recruiting, or other related business, there are several things to consider on your journey. Here are some of the steps I took to be my own boss. You can take these steps while you’re still employed. Try not to “should” yourself. If you have to do one thing for 40 hours per week, will you be happy?
Get clear on your why. I like Simon Sinek’s message, start with why. Even before I came across his work, I sat down and asked myself: “why do I want to be of service to others?” I asked: “what is going on in the recruiting industry and what value can I bring to others to ease their pain, increase their effectiveness, or just help them take a load off?” I asked myself “why” over and over again and allowed the layers to unpeel.
Define your who. Get clear on who you would support. This is a lite version of a standard exercise done in marketing.
First answer this: is your buyer the same as your client? Is the person who vets you/your company and decides if they will “buy” it different from the person who ends up consuming your services? Example: The head of HR or Talent Acquisition “buys” training and sourcing support for the company. But the employees are the true consumers of the training and sourcing content. Their customer personas will likely look different.
What does your target customer 1) say 2) think 3) feel and 4) do? This is what should inform the services you provide, your value proposition, messages, and marketing. How do your services support each of these areas?
Clarify your what and how. Ask yourself: what do I do for my clients and how do I do it? How does my what and how align to my customer needs (from the customer persona)? How do I bring real value that is different from others in the industry?
I cannot tell you how many times budding entrepreneurs have shared with me what they want to do (or have just started doing) and I had to be brutally honest and remind them that, “I really don’t have a clue what (or which of these things) you do or how you do them or how it ties to your clients’ needs.”
When you’ve had a solid career and become an expert on many topics in your field, it can be hard to whittle it down. The change here is that you are no longer doing “many things” with the support of the resources your big business employer could back you with. Many of us start out as a solo-preneur. So, be realistic about what you can do well initially and plan to scale over time.
Lack of clarity can kill your credibility! It is wise to start out with your shortlist of offerings or specialty areas and go to market with just one or two. As you win business and stabilize each focus, add another one.
It’s painful to watch recruiter-preneurs try to specialize in too many areas at once and, as a result, not do any of them well. They’re doing a disservice to their clients and themselves. Not to mention, they are accidentally stealing the joy that can be found in the entrepreneurial experience by overextending themselves right away.
Recruit your cheering section. One of the greatest gifts from your years of working inside of organizations are the beautiful friendships and professional relationships that you create. Those don’t go away just because you start your own business. They can morph to be the right kind of support for your new endeavor.
When I first started out, a former boss was kind enough to review all of my original sales presentations, program ideas, proposals, and pricing. This guy was tireless, brutally honest, and totally invaluable!
Later in my entrepreneurial endeavor I hired an executive coach to support me who held me accountable to the internal work of creating a business while I created the parts of the business the world could see. If you thought you’d been stretched and experienced fear as an employee or leader for another company, just wait until you hold the entire bag. Working through your fears and having a partner to remind you of your gifts, your “why,” and generally hold space for you to work through your internal and external challenges is nothing short of a game changer.
Finally, I recommend all budding entrepreneurs extract their contact list from LinkedIn and build their first simple CRM (Customer Relationship Management) database - Just think about how many business leads might be right under your nose.
Be forewarned: Almost everyone you talk to on your way to creating a business will “yes” you to death! They will make promises to you about buying your services or sharing their contacts. Here is the truth: only a fraction of them will actually show up for you. Here is another truth: the ones who do will support you in ways you cannot even imagine. Support is about quality and not volume.
Form formal partnerships. As a mid-sized business, my partners are an extension of my brand so I choose carefully. If they don’t hold the same standards for being organized, responsive, and serving as true experts in their fields, then I don’t hire them. And if I do mistakenly hire them and they aren’t the right fit, then they have to go. Quickly.
My attorney and accountant were essential first partners. They helped me learn some important ropes and protect my business from the very beginning.
I’ve since hired additional partners for support with administrative tasks, website development/management, technology infrastructure, and branding so that I can stay focused on my gifts and the gifts of those around me. (A big time waster that many entrepreneurs create for themselves.) Be strategic about reinvesting in your business in the form of strong partnerships.
Things to keep in mind on your journey. What I know for sure is that if you do the thing you are good at, can explain clearly how it serves your client, deliver on your promises, and are highly responsive and proactive, you’re already leaps and bounds above the rest. The bar can be pretty low in many instances. I know this from trying to hire my own partners or outsource work over the last few years. It would blow your mind how unresponsive people are or how many fail to actually send their proposals after they’ve taken meetings with you.
I had a marketing agency recently come to my office, promise a proposal 2 days later, and then get upset when I went in a different direction after not receiving their proposal for almost 10 days!
You are not going to slay every single aspect of entrepreneurship right away. I do not, and never will have things buttoned up 100 percent. There is no way for me to know everything. The key aspect of running a business is ALWAYS taken care of: my clients are served. Deeply.
It also okay to redefine. We were forced to rebrand after only 12 months in the business! That was the best thing that happened because it led to the launch of my current brand Qualigence. Over the years we have stopped providing certain services, and have added new in order to provide greater client value.
You might be ready right to start your own recruiting, staffing or HR consulting business now. I’ve talked with more than one potential entrepreneur who thought they needed a Masters degree or experience in another job before they took the leap. It is highly unlikely you need to make an expensive investment to get started (especially if you’re offering services and not tangible products). Who really creates the measure of readiness? You do.
Remember: nobody is going to tell you when you’re ready.