This is for all the Inc. readers who are employed by someone else and have at least toyed with the idea of starting a business of their own.
I can write until the cows come home that becoming an entrepreneur is less scary than you think, if you go about starting a company as the most successful people do, and it still won't matter to some people.
I can point out how serial entrepreneurs only take tiny steps toward their goals, so they are not out very much if the step doesn't lead anywhere, and some people will still read that sentence as "entrepreneurs bet everything on one role of the dice."
And I can add that by taking an approach summed up as Act (by taking those small steps), Learn, Build, Repeat, the best entrepreneurs prove that they are some of the most conservative people on the planet when it comes to dealing with the unknown (like starting their own companies), and it still won't make any difference.
A certain percentage of folks will always think that starting a business of their own is too risky and it's far safer to work for someone else.
But implicit in that decision is that the company you choose to work for will be around forever. That's not such a safe bet.
Been to a record store lately? Dropped off any photos to be processed? Used a pay phone? Read an afternoon paper (or been able to find a local morning one if you live in a small or even midsize city like New Orleans)? Bought a printed map? Placed a call from your hotel room through the hotel's phone system? Ordered a set of encyclopedias? Rented a movie from a standalone video store such as Blockbuster? Used a travel agent to book a simple trip?
Probably not. Those industries have been radically transformed, and literally millions of people lost their jobs.
Unfortunately, I think these kinds of situations are going to become more commonplace, and there is only one way to hedge against them. And that is to have another source of income on the side, or at least be prepared to start something new at the drop of the proverbial hat.
Let's use me as an example--even though this is going to sound more planned than it actually was.
From the time I got my first magazine subscription (to Sports Illustrated) when I was 8, all I ever wanted to do was grow up and tell stories for a living. I thought the idea of writing (and subsequently editing) features--be it for a newspaper or magazine--would be the best job in the world. And it was for about 17 years or so, from the time I graduated from college to when I became managing editor of a major magazine.
Along the way, I started writing books at night and on weekends. It was my version of a second job. Even then, magazine people were not paid a fortune, and I had a lot of kids to feed, kids who would eventually be going to very expensive private colleges, as it turns out.
Well, the magazine business started to get tougher, and Financial World, the place I was helping to run, folded.
I spent the next couple of months frantically trying to land a new gig. But even then, publishing was shrinking, and while people offered me all kinds of elaborate contract arrangements, nobody presented me with a full-time job offer. And so, kicking and screaming, I turned to writing books full time.
Inadvertently, I had created a lifeline, and I grabbed onto it.
In the intervening 20 years--while book writing was my primary occupation--I created other lifelines. So far, they supplement my income. (Again they function as a second job. Authors don't make a fortune either.) But with book publishing in flux, I may have to move on to something else.
This is now the way of the world.
If you don't have something on the side, or the possibility of creating something new very quickly, eventually you are going to get into trouble unless you are very, very lucky.
And depending on luck is no way to plan your future.