Take the plunge for a life of freedom

First published in the Financial Times on 31st July 2012.

Become an entrepreneur and find independence

Dear 21-year-old,

You have just left university, and you’re wondering what to do with your life. You have struggled to find a decent job and there just aren’t any available that excite you.

My simple advice is: don’t take a job, but make a job instead – your own. Take the plunge, become an entrepreneur and experience a sense of freedom and independence that is impossible to find as an employee.

Here are a few pointers on how to make that goal a reality.

  • Don’t think of running your own business as a career – see it far more all-encompassing than that. Be prepared to make sacrifices if you want to succeed. There will be delayed gratification – you may have to put off going on holiday, buying a home or even having a family.

    It is better to take risks at your age, when you have so few responsibilities, than later. Most great entrepreneurs started young. After all – what have you to lose?

  • Don’t worry about having a great idea – there are thousands of opportunities around if you open your eyes. Find out what has worked elsewhere and introduce it to your community.

    I like the site Springwise.com, which offers tips and ideas for aspiring entrepreneurs. Enlist the web to search the world for inspiration – or simply follow your passion and do what you love.

  • Find a partner or two – teams always have a better chance of making it than solo operators. Together you will have more credibility with customers, backers and suppliers. But choose your fellow adventurer carefully – the journey will have ups and downs and you need someone with the right skills and temperament, whose qualities complement yours.
  • Don’t say you haven’t got any capital – instead find a business that doesn’t need funding. You might use supplier credit or get a grant, or get paid by clients in advance – now is the time to use your imagination to solve the financing gap.
  • Take advice from anywhere and everywhere. There are more resources for start-ups than ever before – from mentor organisations such as Mentorsme and events such as Seedcamp to tips on finding space and the best technology. Do your research and never stop learning.
  • Acquire domain knowledge about your industry. You must become an expert as quickly as possible – understanding your local market, competitors, the margins, sourcing, pricing and so forth. Find examples of case studies relevant to your situation. Doing exams at school and college was a rehearsal – this is the real thing, where you really need to do your revision.
  • Go out and sell. No business takes off without a founder learning how to convince customers to buy. It will require persistence, enthusiasm and belief. Like everything worthwhile in life, it takes practice and self-confidence. You will remember the moment you close your first sale for the rest of your life.
  • Setbacks and failure go with the territory. Every winning company is constructed on the corpses of losing ones. Victory would not taste so sweet if it were easy. The digital world allows one to experiment more cheaply and swiftly than ever before. Kill the doomed projects and move on. You will learn from such mistakes and do better next time.
  • Go global if you can. You might not want to emigrate, but aim to serve the world if it makes economic sense. Via online marketing and modern logistics you can reach hundreds of countries – there is a market of 7bn consumers out there.
  • Write a business plan. Putting your dreams down on paper is an invaluable discipline. It will force you to think through your concept in a rational way and give you a document to present to others who might support you. Somehow it always seems more real when you have written down a plan.

I believe there is a business in most of us, if we only unleash those animal spirits. It might be your true vocation, or perhaps a temporary phase – but unless you try, you will forever wonder if you could have been a contender. Better surely, to have risked and lost, than never risked at all? You will need good fortune and stamina and to stay optimistic no matter what goes wrong, but at least you will be able to claim the credit for your achievements.

Good luck – and go for it!