Use the opportunity your day job gives you to work on your future start-up with little risk, and be grateful you don't have to start from scratch, the writer says. Picture: iStock
Use the opportunity your day job gives you to work on your future start-up with little risk, and be grateful you don't have to start from scratch, the writer says. Picture: iStock

I often have sessions with aspiring entrepreneurs in the corporate world, coaching them on the options available to them as they try to devise a plan to follow their dreams and venture off into their own businesses.

A theme that has emerged is that they are ready to leave but cannot do so just yet, especially in view of the state of the economy.

They are waiting either for their family's financial situation to change or for the next bonus, or they are saving up to cover the early days of self-employment.

So, each day they go to work, despondent and disengaged, existing to drain energy from their work projects and their colleagues.

In her bestselling book Lean In, the chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, popularised the expression "Don't leave before you leave".

In her case, she was referring to how professional women opt out of so many growth opportunities because they one day aspire to settle down and have a family, even though that reality might still be decades away.

I find the same expression even more relevant to these aspiring entrepreneurs, who are, in effect, choosing to leave before they have left by continuing to work but being completely uninvolved because they have decided that there is a greener path on the other side — even though it might be quite far out.

There is nothing wrong with making a decision to leave your job, but until you do so, you are still accountable for what you are responsible for.

This is not only pure business sense — it also plays a huge role in influencing how successful you will be when you do eventually start your own venture.

We almost always rely on the networks established with internal and external stakeholders from our previous jobs to help us get started, especially when we are operating in the same industry.

The reputation you create while on the job is the one that will follow you when you are on your own.

It's a small world, and it can be even smaller when you choose to go out on your own.

Your current employer might just become your biggest client.

Reputations are built over a lifetime but can be lost in a second.

Unfortunately, that second tends to coincide with that moment when you are despondent and disengaged because you can clearly see the finish line on the other side.

I see many quality people make the mistake of mindlessly jeopardising their good reputations this way, only to become aware of the true cost of their behaviour when it is too late to do anything about it.

The short-term inconvenience of staying in a role you do not want can be painful. But think about that long-term pain your new start-up will suffer as it is affected by your past mistakes.

Look away from the pain and focus on the excitement that comes from the goal you are working towards.

It is even better if those months spent in the current role are being efficiently used to generate cash flow for the future and towards ideating, planning and piloting your business concept.

Use your time to build the proof of concept after work and at weekends and be grateful that the job you have allows you the opportunity to test your ideal dream on the side, with very little risk — unlike when you are starting out from scratch, when the stakes are even higher.

I can personally vouch that using this kind of approach bears fruit when used productively.

By the time I left the corporate world, I had a cash-flow strategy, a proven business concept, a client base and a well-developed reputation — all the things you need to derisk a new business venture.

We are always quick to blame our despondent and disengaged behaviour on the job on external factors driven by others, instead of pointing the finger right back at ourselves.

If we are not happy, why is that so, and what are we going to do to change it?

We need to take responsibility for our own destiny.

• Sikhakhane is a global speaker and business strategist specialising in leadership, entrepreneurship and change management, with an MBA from Stanford University

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