That more methodical approach may be about to pay off if you have reached the midpoint of your career and, finally, feel ready to start your own business, says Stephen E. Gerard (www.stephenegerard.com), an entrepreneur and the ForbesBooks author of Stuck in the Middle Seat: The Five Phases to Becoming a Midcareer Entrepreneur.
“That time in the corporate world gives you the opportunity to build on your knowledge and abilities,” says Gerard, who started his first company when he was in his 40s. “I like to say that you learn in your 20s, you lead in your 30s, and in your 40s you can leverage all that to start your own business.”
Different factors may cause you to consider branching out on your own. Maybe your company downsized, leaving you jobless. Perhaps the mid-career doldrums set in and you need to feel energized again, or you have stumbled into your big idea.
Regardless, once you decide to start a business, a question arises: How do you determine what that business should be?
Gerard has a few tips for how to settle on a business idea and make it succeed:
- Figure out what it is you love to do. You could launch a business based on what’s trendy or where the most money seems to be. But Gerard recommends the business connect to something you love doing. “Reflect on what gets you excited and think about how that could be turned into a business,” he says. “Is there an activity you get so caught up in that you lose track of time? What’s an example of something you do that you would get angry if someone interrupted you while you were doing it?” As you play with such thoughts, what you love to do and potential ideas for your business will emerge.
- Refine the idea. After you settle on your idea and begin working out the details, you may be tempted to try to be everything to everybody, Gerard says. Bad approach. “If the idea is too broad or too vague, you run the risk of having no differentiated appeal,” he says. “The more you narrow and crystallize your business’s focus, the more you will actually broaden your appeal. By being very sharp about what your business does and does not do, you’ll succeed more quickly.” So, whittle away at your idea. Adjust and tweak it so that potential customers and clients will be clear about what you offer and how you differ from competitors.
- Be precise in describing your business. How would you explain to others, quickly and simply, what your business does? Too often, businesses develop “about us” descriptions filled with jargon and fuzzy language. The more precise and direct you are, the better. “Look for three or four key words that describe your business, and then link them together,” Gerard says. “Be clear in your own mind what your business is and what it is not.” Develop an elevator pitch, a quick summary about your business that could be stated in the brief time it takes to go up or down a few floors. “If you have trouble doing this, you’re probably too close to it and overcomplicating it,” he says. “That’s natural, so ask for help, either from a professional consultant or a colleague.”
- Be ready to adapt. Times will change, the market will change, and customer habits will change. That means the original idea for your business could need an adjustment at some point. “When necessary, you must be ready to pivot so that your idea fits into the vision and market you are trying to create or compete in,” Gerard says. “Some pivots can be small tweaks, while others can be profound. But if the business goes too far afield from what you love doing, you may need to rethink whether you want to continue.”
“By midcareer you will have achieved the 3 L’s (learn, lead and leverage) and hopefully developed a good network in your industry and market,” Gerard says. “That’s another sign you have reached the point where you are ready. There is nothing like taking full charge of your future and making it happen.”
About Stephen E. Gerard
Stephen E. Gerard (www.stephenegerard.com), an entrepreneur and the ForbesBooks author of Stuck in the Middle Seat, worked in the corporate world for nearly 20 years before launching his first business, TGaS Advisors, in 2004. TGaS Advisors became an Inc 500/5000 winner for five years in a row and is still a thriving business. Since that time, Gerard has launched and invested in numerous other global businesses and remains active as an entrepreneur, investor and author.