Becoming a new business owner can be an exciting challenge or a daunting task, depending on where you’re starting from and what you have to work with. While there can be a certain charm to bootstrapping a startup from nothing, the process works out much more smoothly when you’re in a position to invest. This is especially true when you’re starting a new business in an unfamiliar field—something that many established and successful people do, especially when facing uncertainty in the field of their chosen profession. However, this isn’t the only reason why successful people branch out. Some people love the challenge of becoming a new business owner. To ensure lasting success, you’ll want to maintain a clear motive for choosing this new field.
What Are Your Reasons for Turning Over a New Leaf?
Doctors, lawyers and other high-income professionals are likely to start looking at entrepreneurship opportunities in their own fields before looking elsewhere. You may be unhappy with the direction your chosen field’s market is heading, however, or you simply have an earnest desire to be your own boss and respond to a new, challenging landscape.
In some cases, starting a new business in an unfamiliar field is almost mandatory. Professional athletes are a great example: NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal hasn’t played basketball in years, but was wise enough invest in and open businesses using his NBA earnings. As of 2016, he is the joint owner of nearly 150 different restaurants, 150 car washes, 40 fitness centers, a movie theatre and several Las Vegas nightclubs. It wasn’t basketball training that earned him the business acumen to ensure those businesses’ successes—after spending the first million dollars he earned in less than thirty minutes, his banker convinced him to go back to school and earn an MBA.
Depending on your background, this approach may be useful. If you have already achieved a comfortable level of success in your chosen professional field, though, then starting from zero might not be so attractive. Once you’ve determined what it is that’s pushing you to step out of your comfort zone, the next step is determining which of your skills are transferable.
How to Identify Transferable Skills
As a new business owner, you’re going to need to draw on whatever experience you have in order to inform the choices you make. This experience typically takes the form of transferable skills—things you may have learned or insights you’ve developed through your professional career that are applicable to your new one.
By identifying these skills, you’ll be able to achieve a headstart in your new field even when it’s entirely different than your established career.
Typically, you’ll find these types of skills to be valuable in a range of disciplines and fields:
- Communication Skills —These include writing, editing, public speaking and knowing additional languages. If you have experience writing proposals for a company, for instance, you have a valuable skill that can be used to attract investors, customers, distributors and suppliers in nearly any industry.
- Interpersonal Skills —If you’ve held a management position at any point in your life, you have gained important interpersonal skills that give you an advantage when helping others, resolving conflicts, delegating responsibility and negotiating. You can use these to motivate people inside and outside your new business venture.
- Technical Skills —Not all technical skills are transferable, but they often can be utilized in innovative ways. You may find, for instance, that your talents with computers and IT systems puts you in a position to generate a better, faster and more efficient system for operating restaurant payroll.
Often, skills you didn’t know would be useful can be leveraged in surprising ways: Steve Jobs famously drew on the calligraphy skills he earned out of simple college-age curiosity to later design the wide variety of fonts that gave Apple a headstart in its early days.
- Organizational Skills —Can you multitask, manage and coordinate teams of people to achieve goals? If you’ve held a management position in any company, chances are you’ve developed this skill out of necessity. When starting a business, the ability to remain organized and effectively manage both time and resources is an absolute must.
- Research and Analytical Skills —One of the key advantages to having a research or analytical background is being able to discern between good, useful information and poor, distracting information. This translates to data that you can either use to push your new business forward or that you run the risk of mishandling, which will draw you back.
Identifying which of these categories applies best to you generates one of the most important elements of your business plan: your Strengths and Weaknesses chart. You’ll want to keep these in mind as you advance and defer to established authorities on any skillset that you haven’t asserted some degree of mastery over.
Next: Research the Field, Find a Mentor
So you’ve been working in supply chain management for your entire profession life only to discover that your true calling is fashion and haute couture—not a problem. You understand your motives and you’ve identified your skillset, now you need to understand the field you wish to move into.
By far, the best way to gain the type of overarching knowledge of a new field needed to start a business is through a mentor who is an established figure with authority in that field. This can be difficult if this figure is too busy to help or sees you as potential competition, but there are ways around that:
- Consider meeting with potential mentors outside your geographical area.
- Use a entrepreneur mentorship program like SCORE, MicroMentor or a specialty program like Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association. Specialty associations are usually more proactive in helping those who qualify for membership. Or, find someone who’s had success in your chosen market and as them to mentor you.
- Offer a small amount of equity in your company as long-term incentive. Typically, mentors don’t charge for sharing their expertise, but it’s worthwhile to offer some form of compensation, especially to a mentor who consistently spends time answering to your needs.
With this infrastructure in place, you should be as prepared to start a business in an unfamiliar field as any entrepreneur in the industry—and may even find an advantage in your favor. With the proper infrastructure in place and a solid grasp of your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be able to achieve your entrepreneurial goals in any field, regardless of your background. Good luck!