After a successful and dynamic corporate career of 7 years, it has now been just over 7 years since I went on my own. Here are 7 lessons that I learned on the journey:
Stability. One of the biggest differences between the two worlds is the stability. Corporate careers assure a steady pay-check, clear career progression, company perks often including a car, travel, corporate card etc. etc. You also know that a company of 100+ years is likely to stay operational for the time being. On the other hand, when deciding to go on your own, you loose all of that. If you have mortgage and kids, the decision may be very tough. I did not have either and took the leap of faith. Although I lost the stability, I had to learn how to operate on my own and be my own boss. After 100+ projects for clients all over the world and across industries, I now feel I have a certain ease of embracing stability and the lack of thereof 🙂 Finally, I have observed a paradigm shift here in recent years, where freelancing is cutting into "safe" jobs. Therefore, I think people in a corporate world also need to learn resilience and be prepared for the unexpected.
Freedom. Many of us choose going on our own due to the perceived freedom. I must say that at the beginning it can be quite the opposite as the stress of getting new clients, cash-flow issues, building a reputation, repeat business, not always being paid etc. are quite destabilising. Once properly set up however, the freedom is wonderful and I, personally, love the fact I can work from anywhere in the world and schedule my passions as I please as well. Working with companies and clients you really value, trust and like are also elements I appreciated later in life.
Structure. This can be a make or break for some people, especially those who are not structured on their own. Learning and operating within corporate structures felt great to me and I think it can help a lot of people to manage their career and, in many ways, their lives as well. Conversely, going on your own and having no structure whatsoever can be deadly. I have always loved working and am disciplined by nature, but I know people struggle with lack of agenda, being able to sleep in, not having direction from their boss, not being in the office etc etc. This can be the biggest deciding factor if you think about making the change, i.e. do not go on your own if you lack structure and discipline.
Network. Being able to network with colleagues, clients, and partners is something that I really enjoyed throughout my corporate life, especially at Thomson Reuters where I spent 6 years and really got to know amazing people across the world. When going on my own, I had to develop a new network in many ways, as seeking new clients, learning new skills, building a reputation etc etc. are completely different as a 1-person business vs 55,000+ people organisation (duh!). It took me some time to meet fellow successful entrepreneurs in Luxembourg and then the world. I felt I came from a different world (and in some ways it is still with me) vs for some entrepreneurship has always been the only choice. I somehow like the balance of the two, but I must admit that the thing I miss the most about the corporate world is the people aspect: the teamwork, leadership and quality time spent together. Freelancing get can lonely, so I am glad to be on the plane to Abu Dhabi now to attend the Finance Week, network and spend time with eToro colleagues. #adfw
Holidays and days off. I was not thinking about that at all when switching. Now I realise how amazing it is to have 26 days or so (paid!) holiday days a year. I do not get paid for a second I am not working (no sick days either) and I tend to neglect taking "real holidays". Although I can design my life with much more freedom now, completely switching off is almost impossible (cannot set OOO and ask a colleague to cover for me). I will test it for few days now, as I am planning on crossing Maldives off my bucket list, and see if I can still do it...
Reputation. I found this one very interesting and I realise that it may sound controversial. What I observed is that corporate people often look down at entrepreneurs (after all, they are small and often not so useful to them), while entrepreneurs look down at corporations (they are slow, inefficient and in a rat race). I guess it really depends on POV, experience, mindset and current position you find yourself in. I tend to admire big businesses for their success and brand equity, but appreciate the impact and expertise a smaller business can have on a wider business ecosystem.
Money. Finally, the ever important aspect of $. Corporate world is, again, much more predictable and has, almost always, a ceiling for the job you are performing. For simplicity reasons we can say a relatively junior level employee will make 50K a year, senior manager 100K and director level 200K. Naturally, there will also be CEOs making millions. When you go on your own, you can make 70K in month 1 and 0 for the next few months (most entrepreneurs struggle in first years)...or you can work few hours a day and make more than you made in your full time corporate job...or you can work for 5-6 weeks like crazy and then live on a beach somewhere for 10% of the cost in a big city. There is much more flexibility in the latter and it can also lead to no ceiling when scaling the business. Personally, I would not advise to make a decision purely based on $. I think it is important to consider all of the aforementioned points and choose the path that is most suited to you.
In conclusion, many people are strong advocates of one career being vastly superior to another. I have to disagree. I have thoroughly enjoyed my corporate career and I love being independent. Would I go back? Likely not, but it all depends 🙂.
I hope this was an interesting read.