Changing careers at any stage of your life can be a challenge. One chapter ends and another immediately begins, something that can be both invigorating and challenging. And the learning curves and roadblocks that accompany career changes intensify when they occur during the middle of your career.
I’ve switched careers as well as started a small business mid-career. I can say from firsthand experience that doing so as a father with a growing family brings unique trials I did not encounter when switching careers as a recent college grad. Regardless of your station in life, if you are considering a career transition or quitting a job to start a business, take time to think through some of the following questions before you make the leap.
Why Are You Looking to Change Careers?
The first question you need to ask when considering a career change is “Why do you want to change?” This is a seemingly obvious question but is an important one nonetheless. Are you:
- Passed over for promotion after promotion?
- Not fulfilled?
- Not earning what you should be?
There may be other reasons why you want to switch careers, but this will give you a good start. You want to use this question to discover the “why” behind your desire to switch. It’s also important not to feel shame over considering a switch – 2 million people quit their jobs each month, so you’re not alone. That’s also not considering the fact that 60 percent of individuals polled would choose a different career if given the option.
As you begin to consider a switch more seriously, you’ll want to look at the advantages and disadvantages of switching careers. Think of this as a pro/con list of your current career vs. the new career you are considering moving into. Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- How does the new career suit me? Is it a good fit?
- Will the new career help me reach my financial goals more effectively?
- Will this new career be more fulfilling?
- How will the switch impact my budget?
- Will the switch require additional training or education?
Answering these questions thoughtfully and honestly is the best way to set yourself up for success.
What to Do Before You Leave
Once you’ve decided to switch careers, it’s critical that you do what you can to leave your current job on a good note. Even if you’re dissatisfied, you don’t want to burn bridges, and you never know when you may work with a given individual again – not to mention use them as a reference.
Leaving on a good note involves networking – seek opportunities to connect with co-workers, vendors and others you may need or want to work with in the future. Also, take the career switch as an opportunity to refresh your resume by adding skills and responsibilities from your current role while they’re fresh in your mind.
On a more practical level, there are a number of other things you will want to take care of prior to making the switch. Some of these are:
- Looking into rolling over your current 401(k)
- Health insurance changes with your new job
- Collecting your stuff – personal belongings, reference letters from current colleagues, performance appraisals, etc.
The final thing you may want to consider before leaving your current role is taking a vacation. This will not only help clear your head but offer a time of refreshment that will help you start your new career with your best foot forward.
Starting a Business
Have you gone a different direction on a career switch and are now thinking of starting a small business? You’re not alone – the Small Business Administration (SBA) reports there were over 28 million small businesses (those with 500 or fewer employees) in America alone as of 2011.
What many small business owners will tell you, myself included, is that starting a small business is not a decision to make lightly. Running a small business is great – except for when it’s not. Everything is on you. Everything your former employer provided – insurance, retirement, educational opportunities, and most importantly, pay, is now your responsibility.
Don’t allow dissatisfaction with your current job be the only reason you start a small business. Instead, have a purpose behind the new business. Look at what you can offer to clients. Look at how you can improve your life with your own business.
More practically, make sure your finances are in order; know your retirement and insurance options, have a healthy emergency fund, and develop a relatively solid base of regular work – you can get this by averaging out what you make on an average month from your larger clients – before making the jump to being your own boss.
Protect Against Failure
Business owners don’t go into business expecting to fail, but that’s exactly what happens to 8 out of 10 small businesses within the first 18 months. Find ways to protect against failure and breed success. Answering these questions can help you do just that:
How will I stay in touch with clients? Client contact is vital. You need to know how you will regularly stay in touch with them, whether that’s by phone, email or other means.
How will I differentiate myself? You will likely have a lot of competitors. How will you make sure your voice is heard in the crowd?
What is my value? What can you uniquely offer clients? Why should they do business with you?
How will I earn income? Cash flow is the lifeblood of a small business. How will you bring in business? How will you ensure a consistent cash flow?
How will I finance my business? This is especially important if you’ll have employees, equipment or supplies. How will you finance these needs? Will you need to take out a loan?
The SBA has a useful list of things to consider as you start out – using these kinds of resources can help ensure your business doesn’t fail.
The Bottom Line
Changing careers or starting a business can be a challenge. But, done right, it can also be incredibly rewarding, giving you more flexibility, more job fulfillment, more time to spend with family, and, in many cases, more money. Take the time to think through why you want to make a career change, and act wisely to ensure that you succeed.