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Richard Branson on How to Be Your Own Boss


Q: When is the best time to leave a day job and start your own business? Also, do you think that some people are just cut out to be employees and work for corporations their entire lives? — Nick B. Kiremire
I have been lucky enough to be my own boss since leaving school at age 16, so I’ve never faced the decision of whether to leave a day job. But at Virgin we’ve started hundreds of businesses, so I know that turning an idea into a successful enterprise requires a lot of hard work. I also know that it can sometimes feel like there’s never a good time to start another company.
Launching your own business is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you can do. And while thoughtful risk-taking is something to be encouraged, it’s important to keep in mind that most new businesses fail within the first year and a half. So before you give up the security of a steady paycheck, you need to be as sure as possible that the risk is worth it.
For example, back in 1972 our team started Virgin Records alongside our first business, Student magazine. We eventually changed our primary focus from the magazine to the record business, but only after we were certain that there would be a strong market for records. Back then, the decision was an easy one because demand for our records was growing so fast that it quickly outpaced requests for our magazine. We had proof.
Today, proving that there is demand for your product or service (while keeping your day job) is easier than ever. Crowdfunding websites such as Indiegogo, for example, let you test out your business idea through videos, and if it’s an idea that viewers like, they’ll put money toward it (often before you’ve even created your first product). If you strike a chord with potential investors and are able to collect adequate funding, you’ll have proved that a market for your product or service exists, and you’ll have enough money to start building the business you want. So seeking funding for your business before giving up your day job is a very smart move.
We recently launched Virgin StartUp loans in the U.K. to give entrepreneurs the funding they need to get set up, as well as guidance on creating a realistic cash flow forecast. Often, this forecast shows that a business will not bring in enough money to support the entrepreneur for quite a while, so it’s wise to preserve a regular income before you dive into running a new business full time.
That said, at Virgin we encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in our staff, and many of our employees have gone on to launch successful businesses in a range of industries. But just as many have stayed on to celebrate 10- and 20-year anniversaries with Virgin.
Just because a person enjoys the benefits of working for someone else doesn’t mean he isn’t cut out to be an entrepreneur. For a long time, students were taught in school that their goal upon graduating should be simply to get a good job, and that’s what most tried to do. This sort of thinking was shortsighted — not everybody is cut out for a 9-to-5 job, and little consideration was given to supporting the job creators of the future.
Things are changing, though. The most recent recession saw tens of thousands of people suddenly lose their jobs after spending most of their adult lives on the same career path. This prompted many to consider whether it would make more sense to work for themselves rather than for a company. These days, more people are deciding to take their future into their own hands and become their own bosses.
This focus on entrepreneurship has filtered down into education systems, as well, which is a great thing. We’re doing our part to expose young students to entrepreneurship through initiatives like Virgin Money’s Fiver Challenge, which provides 5 pounds to children aged 5 to 11 in the U.K. so that they can set up minibusinesses and see if they can make a profit. Programs like this can help to create more entrepreneurs in the future and might even prevent some people from believing that their only option is “to work for corporations their entire lives,” as you put it.
Of course, no business is guaranteed to succeed. But if you’re looking for an excuse to stay in a job rather than focus full time on your business, you’ll always find one. When you do eventually cut away the safety net and put everything into your startup, it is key that you launch it in an area that you’re passionate about. Remember to have fun, and if the venture doesn’t work out, learn from your mistakes so you’ll be better equipped the next time. Good luck!

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