The first step of exploring whether to start your own IT business is todetermine whether it’s personally viable, by which I mean whether you can live a good life doing this job. (viable means “fit for life” from the Latin vita, “life.”) Will it give you what you need? The most commonly considered need is likely financial, but it might also include other things like:
- social interaction
- a certain schedule
- the ability to work from home (or travel)
- intellectual challenges
If any of that is what you want from the business, then those goals should permeate how you run the business, chiefly in the form of which services you will offer and which clients you take.
For example, if you thrive on novelty and solving new problems, don’t take an old fuddy-duddy client that just wants you to monitor his systems and upgrade Windows every 10 years. (Better: Take that client and find another who will give you the opportunity to cultivate your creativity.) Or if you just can’t work certain hours, don’t take clients who often need help early/late, at your family mealtime, etc.
Now not only do you need to ask what you want of the business, but you also need to figure out what it’s going to take away.
For example, running your own business will probably be a constant source of concern, which might be a problem for you if you liked clocking out at 5PM and letting your boss worry about cash flow, insurance, legal changes, deliveries, and so on. But what the business brings you might outweigh what you give up.
At first you’ll probably need to take what clients you can get, but over time your personal preferences can become your business’ policy. You’ll also probably find—a few years in—that you’ve given up more than you wanted and not yet achieved what you wanted. You’ll need to decide on a timeline for your business.
For example, you might decide you want a certain income, number of clients, type of client, or type of schedule in 2, 5, or 10 years. Maybe your goal is to become the family’s sole breadwinner in 5 years or maybe your goal is to build a college fund for your kids.
This will all take time to come together, so you should be prepared for a tumultuous period of growth that is both alternately exciting and dismaying. Being specific about goals and time-frames will prevent you from despairing and wanting to give up on the bad days. Being sensitive to how the business is trending (e.g. by keeping track of and by reviewing how your time is being spent and where your money is coming from and going) will prevent fretting about the business on a daily basis (which is stressful and not helpful) and allow you to make corrections instead of going into panic mode.
Still, have a sense of what failure would look like. Practically, this means saying, “If I don’t achieve X goal by Y time, I’ll have failed.” Now you can revise that, but you should have some concrete limitation on the scope of the business so that, if it’s not bringing about what you said you wanted, you can move on either toward other goals or on other paths toward the same goal.
Personally, well it’s your name on the business. The business is your responsibility, liability, and obligation. Its success or failure will reflect on you and while it’s a great motivation to imagine the success, it may be a greater motivation to imagine failure. This business may be the first big thing in your life with your name on it, so you should be prepared to own its failure as much as its success. Sometimes accentuating the negative helps you avoid it.
Speaking of which, and finally, we all have our vices. Some don’t speak well. Some are sloppy. Some have bad tempers. Others are moody. And on and an of vices and deficiencies. You have some and the business will probably make some demands that push on your weak spots. So whether it’s getting interrupted, multitasking, talking on the phone, writing, or working with an audience, it’ll be your choice whether to push through and improve, or back down.