I started thinking about opening my own shop after 20 years in corporate law. I was nearing 50 and had a sabbatical, then a career move sideways. Those were healthy decisions, and got me thinking what to do with the rest of my working years, as you do.
This piece is not about the business per se. You can find out about that on my website (where you might be reading this) and through my practice. This piece is about the experience of going solo after a long time working for others. If you’re not there now, you might reach that point somewhere on life’s long road. These are my thoughts.
You start where you’re at
1. I have a solid but not superstar CV. Years at a large corporation are a mixed credential – a decent spread of corporate skills, but some perceive you as overly comfortable. Moving to a law firm to run a practice has been a better grounding.
2. I have kids. My parents aren’t getting younger. My wife is flat out with career. I love the bush, getting out of Melbourne. Whatever I do has to fit around those things. Working all hours is not an option, even if I wanted it.
3. Most articles you see on starting business are about big pay-offs, pushing your limits, demanding the best out of yourself and others, the rollercoaster. It took a while to realise – that edgy, pushy vibe is good for some, but it's not for me. I will do work I want to do, hoping I’ll make a living.
4. I admire colleagues who’ve followed their convictions into their career. My next work will be whole-of-self. Some random interests I’ll hook in – Australian landscape, philosophy, European history, green building and sustainable development. See how that goes.
Getting the caravan on the road
5. I have been kicking over ideas, collecting materials and jotting notes for 2-3 years. It's taken me that long to write this very first piece for public consumption. Was all that thinking time necessary? Or prevarication? Will I get better at just bashing it out?
6. I write legal documents for a living. But writing materials to use in my own business, that’s harder. How will I know if it’s any good? No client feedback. No counter-party pulling it apart. Just me, posting into the ether.
7. On my to-do list, what to do first? Seems like a lot of things, at once. Before I publish this article, I need a logo, a business name, a look and feel I like for publishing. But some of those will follow from my non-existent website. Before all of that, I should sound out business partners. Before any of it, I need to get the business structure in place …
8. A gentle transition from full time work is valuable but it’s removed any urgency. I dropped to half-time work 7 months ago. With my “free time” I have run the household, attended 3 conferences, had coffees with people and done sporadic reading and materials gathering. Enjoyable but not hugely productive. That’s OK.
From here to eternity
9. Business launch will be the day my website goes live. I reckon to launch credibly I should have home page(s) plus 5 pieces of copy. I have maybe 50 ideas jotted down. Writing up one a week plus learning how to build a website means launch is say 4 months away.
10. Did I just write that I will build my own website? Or do I outsource it to someone who’ll do it faster, better, smarter and cheaper (if I value my time)? Likewise my business structure, formatting my copy, writing pitches, finding staff … How do I decide what to outsource?
11. Settle on my “voice”. I write professionally at work, messily in Whatsapp posts, passionately on websites, earnestly in my philosophy book I want to finish one day. When I run my own shop, my writing needs to be audience-agnostic. That's my window to the world.
12. Find my confidence. I visualise myself prospering amongst a network of like-minded clients and colleagues. I will go ahead in full knowledge it might not work, and failure will not be humiliation (but what’s my plan B again ….?)
What now? This is a time capsule. If you are reading it, it means I solved enough of those points to get some kind of business off the ground. Stay tuned.