By Silvana Avinami
If you’re sitting there, fresh out of college or in the middle of a career transition, trying to figure out whether it’s better to get a job or start a business, I can assure you that you’re not alone.
I grant you that the idea of not having a boss to report to, of working on your own terms and schedule, and of wearing whatever you please to the office (or only your boxer shorts) would tempt the best of us. The question is, as an entrepreneur-in-the-making, would you be choosing immediate comfort over what you stand to learn from working within an organization, which in the long run could play to your advantage?
Based on my experience in the past decade of earning a living as both an entrepreneur and an employee, I believe that working as an employee can add to your entrepreneurial flare. The key to maxing out on your time as an employee is to be deliberate and aware of what you stand to gain.
Here are some clues:
1. Make mistakes on someone else’s tab. The sooner you accept that mistakes are part of your growth process, the sooner that you’ll stop wasting time dwelling on them and spend more time learning from them. The catch is that mistakes can be very costly and it’s through dealing with mistakes that you get better at handling them. As an employee you get a chance to sharpen your skills in handling mistakes. Hopefully you’ll also get a few basic ones out of the way – while someone else is paying for them. Which means that if you plan to one day have your own business, I suggest that you focus on learning from your mistakes so that you make them only once – on your employer’s tab and not on yours when you own your business.
2. Practice your skills. Unlike learning to be a surgeon, in the business world there isn’t such a thing as live sheep for you to practice your skills. In business, you’re either doing real deals, or you’re not. Working as an employee is the closest that you’ll come to practicing your skills on live matter without risking your own money.
3. FREE training. As a firm believer that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, I still believe that one of the perks of working as an employee is the access to training that you get. For that reason, if you’re drawn to entrepreneurship, I suggest that you make sure that you choose to work with a company that offers their staff top-shelf training. And even if you’re not drawn to sales, I suggest that you get some formal training. The bottom line is that sales is what makes up the bottom-line of any business. Your ability to contribute to it is what in large part will drive the success of your future venture.
4. Learn tried & tested systems. If your employer knows what they’re doing, they’ll have sound systems and processes in place. From the templates that the HR department uses, to sales tracking systems, to customer service scripts, you’ll find that great businesses have a framework that allows them to follow well-designed processes. Because a systematic approach is key to delivering consistently without having to waste resources re-inventing the wheel, I suggest that you take a close look at your employer’s framework. Take the opportunity to learn – one day your own business will benefit from having systems in place.
5. Expand your network. Not that I don’t think that your college buddies are smart or competent and would make for great business partners. But I also believe that a diverse team, with multiple points of view and levels of experience is great for business. And what a better way to find a business partner than through working with someone and finding out if they bring out the best in you – or the worst?
6. Establish relationships with suppliers. Similar to meeting colleagues who could be good business partners, working within an organization is a great opportunity to kick the tires of suppliers. I’ve made it a habit to stay in touch with the ones who deliver high quality in a timely manner (with a smile) and at competitive prices.
7. Try before you buy. As an employee, getting regular income, you have less financial pressure. That’s why you can expose yourself to a few industries and roles before locking yourself into a business or industry. Trying several roles is a great way to learn more about what you enjoy, what’s important to you and what you’re great at – before you risk your own capital in a venture.
8. Get ideas. I’m not advocating that you snatch ideas from your employer, but I do suggest that you keep your eyes open. It’s quite common for employees to spot something their employer needs, be it a service or a product, and then turn around and make them their first client. Be open to possibilities, I say.
9. Learn some tricks. As someone in your twenties, the likelihood is that in your first few jobs you’ll be among the youngest one in the team. Although I do not believe in idealizing people or in giving credit based on seniority, I do believe that as a rookie, you stand to learn from those who have been around the block a few times. I’ve personally found that whenever I’ve shown respect to my older colleagues, that they have been forthcoming with their tricks of the trade. It’s then been a matter of keeping what works and ignoring the rest – respectfully please!
10. Learn what NOT to do. Just as an employer does things right – after all they are making enough money to pay your salary – they also have room for improvement. Learn from their weakest links. But do me a favor – do not dwell on their mistakes. There’s nothing more short-sighted than an employee who focuses on what their employer does wrong. Learn as much as you possibly can from your employer – the good and the bad.
11. Save, save, save. An almost guaranteed paycheck is one of the perks about working as an employee. The trick then is to keep your eye on the ball and save as much of your salary as you possibly can. Granted, wearing designer clothes and owning the latest model toys is a lot of fun, but neither one grows your seed capital for a future business.
I’m not trying to be a party pooper by suggesting that you go about being an employee in a deliberate way. Rather, I believe in making the party work for you (and me) and not the other way around.