If there were one hot topic that is coming up a lot in my coaching enquiries, women’s groups I lead and with Q&A’s after speaking gigs, it’s that of career change. To be more specific, I keep getting questions about how to build an effective exit strategy. In other words – can you please help me get the **** out of this career I hate?!
And whilst it has been a consistent theme in my coaching practice over the past three years, it is definitely heightened at the moment, with more and more women dreaming about leaving their unfulfilling roles to pursue the dream of working for themselves.
You’re not alone if you head into work each day wanting more. More autonomy, more meaning, more flexibility, more say over what projects you take on, more fun and definitely more freedom. So many women are ready for something else. They’re ready to step into their own business. They’re ready to go into a business partnership. They want to go and write a book, do more study, or they have been dreaming for a very long time (like I was) about what’s next.
I see a lot of women who’ve had really successful careers wanting to step out and become an entrepreneur or a solopreneur. I also see lots of women who are at an earlier stage in their career who are realising that it’s nothing like they thought it would be. There are a million things to think of and plan for if you are serious about exiting your career and starting a business. From understanding your current situation and why it’s not working, to clarity of your vision, understanding yourself fully and what you really want, honing your business plan, to the brass tac details around finances, risk mitigation and timing – it’s a long list that can be daunting and overwhelming if you don’t have the right knowledge and guidance. It’s why so many women stay stuck in jobs they don’t love, letting their dreams die in the process.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a path to getting on purpose and doing your own thing, and it all starts with the right exit strategy. Here are a few of the steps you can start building right now, to inch yourself further towards your dream.
Step 1 – Get as clear as you can
Often we leap straight into thinking about what a new business could look like. But before you go there, I want you to get as clear as possible on one major thing; your life vision. What do you want your life to look like? For so many women, this is a bit of a “Hunh?” moment when I ask this question. I want you to be super clear before you start anything else. What does your ideal day look like? What are all the components and aspects that you want in your life (think wellbeing, spirituality, family, friends, community, work, creativity etc). Start journaling or vision boarding about what this life looks like for you so you know what you are trying to create.
I write more about getting clear on your life vision in my book Getting Real About Having It All. I also write about purpose, strengths, passion and dreams – all key things to consider as you build out what you want your ideal life to look like.
Step 2 – What does purposeful work look like?
Once you are clear on your life vision, you can start to think about what a purposeful career or business would look like. What are you doing? Who are you serving? What impact are you having? You need to get to the heart of your ‘why’. Trust me, running your own business is not for the faint hearted. Now don’t get me wrong, it is one of the best things I have ever done, and I absolutely love running my own company, being in charge of my agenda and deciding how and with who I fulfil my purposeful work. But there are also a lot of things (admin, finances, tax time just to name three) that are less than glamorous and can challenge even the most earnest entrepreneur. Being firmly grounded in why you are wanting to do what you do, who you will be helping with your business and why it’s bigger than you, will all help you to stay focussed on the long game, even when the short one is challenging.
Step 3 – Think about your personal brand
One of the most important questions you can ask yourself is this; What do I want to be known for? If you can answer that question, it will dramatically inform your business plan. It can be as simple as that, although it can take a chunk of time and effort to figure it out. What do you want to be known for? I want to be known as someone who has the experience, insight, credibility and tools to empower women in a real and inspiring way. That’s my business. I am here to serve women. When you think of this for yourself, think about these aspects: what is the expertise that sits at the heart of your work? What’s the message that most resonates with you, and your potential audience? How will you deliver these messages and work to the world to support and build your personal brand? The work you want to be doing in the world is the core of your personal brand – and the core of your business.
Step 4 – What knowledge and skills do you need?
Now that you understand your why and what you want to be known for, you can start to work backwards. To be the expert in your area, and to set up a business and build your personal brand around that, what are the knowledge and skills that you need? Even though I wasn’t clear a decade ago what this exact work would look like, I knew that there were areas I wanted to build skills and knowledge in. Seven years before I left I did my yoga teacher training. Six years before I left I did my Masters of Wellness degree, and two years before I left, I wrote my first book. In between there were online business courses, networking events, women’s research, executive coaching qualifications, gender diversity profile building etc. The list goes on. I want you to think about the knowledge that you need. That could be as simple as reading books or doing research on the Internet. It doesn’t need to be a Masters degree or a PhD. You need to think about the skills, knowledge and the expertise that you’re building up within yourself so that you can make this exit a success and support your new venture.
Step 5 – What support do you need?
Is there a network you need to tap into like I did through an online business program that came with a whole network of thousands of female entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs? There were some women in this group who were still in the corporate world wanting to look outside and get a window into what it was like. There were people who were just starting businesses, people who had been in business for a long time; it was a network that I could readily tap into. What networks are available to you in your chosen area? Are there sponsors that you need to really help you progress into the space you want to progress? Are there mentors who can help you with the skills, the expertise, the understanding of what it takes? Is there someone you know who has exited already and could be your mentor through that process? Do you need a coach to help you work through the process and guide you with a tested roadmap? (Word from someone whose been there: get a coach!) Have a strategic think about the support, network, sponsors and mentors you can access that will smooth the path for you to exit and speed the path for you to start up whatever it is you’re going to do once you have left.
Step 6 – Get real about your finances
Irrespective of your current personal situation, I want you to be thinking about your finances long in advance of actually exiting. Consider your personal finances: How are you going to pay the rent? How are you going to make the mortgage payments? How are you going to pay for school if you’ve got kids in school? How are you going to put food on the table? What is the amount of money that you need for three, six, or nine months to survive until your business is up and running?
This is incredibly important. People often don’t have an exit strategy. They get sick of their job. They quit their job. They walk out and think that they’re going to start a business and it’s just going to be easygoing with all of this money coming in. Sometimes that happens. Mostly it doesn’t. You need to be responsible. Even if you are single with not a care in the world, you still need to be responsible. You’ve got to have somewhere to live and food to eat. You’ve got to look after your health and wellbeing. I want you to really plan this out. How much money do you currently have? How much do you need? Ideally, I would like you to have nine months of a buffer, at minimum, six months. It may take you longer than you want to exit so that you can set yourself up. But it’s time and money well saved.
The second part of the finances discussion in step six is to start to think about, from a business setup perspective, what you need and what is it going to cost. From a minimum of setting up a business name, all the way through to registering a company, getting a website, getting domain names, to branding and other elements like business cards (yep, I still use them), marketing materials, industry associations, etc. Start to think about forward planning and what you are actually going to need, so that you’re really clear on what it’s going to take and you don’t have rose-colored glasses on around that. That’s finances – critical beyond measure.
Step 7 – Plan out the timing
Once you’ve done all of these other steps, your exit strategy comes down to timing. What makes sense financially? When will you have the skills, the knowledge, and the network, to be able to step out with grace and ease? Is there a sabbatical open to you? Is there a redundancy package on offer? Do you have extended leave that you can take with the agreement of your employer that you’re going to go and try something new with the option of coming back?
My exit strategy took around three years before I was ready to step out. When I did, with much forethought and planning, I negotiated a nine-month sabbatical as my safety net. Do you need a safety net? What could that safety net look like? You might be in a financial position where you are safe to step out. If that’s you, then you go for it. For most people though, that’s not the case. After finances, timing is everything. This is not a time to be frivolous. It’s not a time to just chuck it in and hope for the best. Be pragmatic and rational and plan!
Step 8 – Work on your self limiting beliefs
When you think about leaving your role to move into something unknown, it is only natural that all of your stories will start to come up. Any story you have ever told yourself about your self worth, ability to succeed, to earn money and support yourself, will likely come flooding in, robing you of your confidence and making you question everything about your supposed plan before you even get started. Again, it’s one of the key reasons women stay stuck in jobs they hate, in careers that are unfulfilling. We have to do the work to free ourselves from these self limiting beliefs that will sabotage our success if left unchecked.
I want you to really get in touch with your stories. As you notice them, write them down. All of them. Then go through them one by one and ask the question, “Is that true?” Be honest. Really sit into this. Is what you are telling yourself true? What are the alternate scenarios? How can you address any challenges that are real, and rename any stories that aren’t, so you can take the action you want to take?
A final few words…..
This work will not necessarily be comfortable. After all, it’s the road less travelled. But you don’t need comfort, you need progress. I love what Brené Brown says: “You can have courage or comfort, but you can’t have both.” Part of this process is to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
You also need to expect the naysayers. You may be sitting here thinking, “I really want to exit. I really have this dream to start my own business. I really, really, really, really, really want to go and do it.” And yet you might have people in your life, it could be your husband, a partner, a parent, or a best friend, who is saying to you, “Oh my God, you’re MAD. You’ve got the best job. You earn good money. You’ve got security,” etc etc etc. Everyone you know has their own story, their projection and for many, scarcity thinking based on fear and lack. And others with the best of intentions are just trying to look out for you.
But none of it is very helpful. I want you to hold this dream close while you are working it out. Don’t share it widely. In fact, I advise my clients not to share it at all outside of perhaps one close confidante. Keep it close until you have the clarity and action plan to make it happen.
At the end of the day, we are all here to bring our unique gifts and talents into the world. If your soul is yearning and crying out to go and shine in the world outside of your current profession, then do it. The world needs you to go and shine that light. I believe with every single fiber of my being that if you are being called to do something else, then you owe it to yourself and to the people you’re going to serve through your gifts and talents and strengths to do that work in the world. Don’t deny yourself your opportunity to follow your dreams. Everything is possible, you just have to believe it.
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