How to leave your day job and start your dream business
By Alison Coleman, Guardian Professional
Fear of failure can stifle wannabe entrepreneurs. People who overcame their fears and took the plunge talk to Alison Coleman
We are a nation of aspiring entrepreneurs, but when it comes to it, we’re just too scared to take the plunge. That was the conclusion of a new report by SME website building firm Moonfruit, in which more than half (56%) of British workers confessedthat a fear of failure stopped them from turning a potentially game-changing idea into a real business.
However, there are plenty who have put their fears aside to follow their dream. In January 2012, Anna France gave up her job as a postwoman to start her own dog walking and boarding business, Best Paw Forward. A few months later, her husband, Dave, left his Royal Mail management role to join her.
Anna says: “I’d done my job for 20 years and realised I wasn’t enjoying it any more. I wanted to try something different, and the clincher for me was when a lady who I delivered post to started her own dog-walking business. I occasionally helped out in my spare time, and I loved it.”
Although they had a financial cushion, thanks to their redundancy packages, the Frances knew that the success of their business rested on good market research and having the right location, which in their case was Heaton, a fairly affluent suburb of Bolton, Lancashire.
Dave France says: “There was no one in the area offering anything similar; a very personal service where we looked after dogs in our own home. We knew a lot of dog-owners in the area, so we started approaching them direct to ask if they would use Best Paw Forward. More and more dog owners are now choosing home-based pet care over kennels.”
Getting the first few customers on board was their biggest challenge, but as their name spread around the local network of dog owners, boosted by their use of social media – Facebook, in particular - the business grew quickly.
“We have dogs in the house seven days a week, so it is quite tying, but we love it, and have no regrets about giving up our jobs to start our own business,” says Anna.
Family illness and bereavement, plus a pressing need for a lifestyle change, prompted Mark and Karen Owen to give up stressful nine to five jobs in the IT and telecoms industries, respectively. They moved to Wales to set up their hand-crafted chocolate business, Wickedly Welsh. After launching in April, the company, which is based in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, has just registered its 20,000th customer.
Although neither had any startup experience, Karen had worked as a chocolatier for four years, while Mark had spent three years in production and manufacturing early in his career.
He says: “We felt we had the relevant, transferable skills to take the plunge, and we did a huge amount of research, so we had faith in the tourist industry in south west Wales, as well as the chocolate factory concept.”
Their biggest challenge was timing: they wanted to open a fully functional chocolate factory, café, and shop by Easter 2014, but at the outset had no premises, machinery, staff, brand, recipes, or packaging. They rallied support from local councils, the Welsh Government, business support organisations, and Pembrokeshire Tourism.
“The worst-case scenario for us would have been to lose all of our savings and the money from the sale of our house and have to start over again,’ said Mark. With hindsight, he adds, the only thing they would do differently would be to allow more time. “We were hugely ambitious and, honestly, very lucky. If we’d known a year ago what we know now we’d have realised how much luck is involved in this kind of life change – and you can’t plan for luck, so you need to allow plenty of time.”
For many entrepreneurs, it is the flexibility of self-employment that spurs them to take a leap of faith and say goodbye to their jobs. After a successful career in marketing, Mindy Gibbins-Klein decided to set up her own publishing business, Panoma Press, from her kitchen table.
While she enjoyed being able to work flexibly, particularly as she had school-age children, she admits to not being disciplined enough with her working hours. She says: “I wasn’t organised enough and probably could have worked a lot smarter in the early days. This resulted in a very volatile bottom line for the business, which was OK while I still had savings, but not OK once they had run out. With hindsight, I was trying to keep the same lifestyle I had before, but on much less money.”>>>