The entrepreneurial prerogative is to make a living off of your passion. But with so many ambitious businesspeople breaking out of corporate America to monetize their hobbies, saving your dream career for leisure time might feel like a safer alternative.
Turning a seemingly recreational activity into a solid business takes planning and effort, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Successful entrepreneurs do it all the time, and when they invest in other startups, they look for the same vigor they have for their own businesses.
One of my angel investors and co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, once told me that an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and says, “I’ll make the plane on the way down.” Starting out is fraught with uncertainty, but if you want to live out your passion every day, you have to take the plunge.
To get started on your path to entrepreneurial success, follow these five guidelines:
Jump into the planning process.
Even if you’re working a full-time job, don’t put off planning your big business idea. Make a checklist of things you need to launch, and set specific deadlines. But remember things always change. Be ready and willing to separate yourself from an initial idea and change course if necessary. Most importantly, do some soul searching to make sure you’re still enjoying the hobby after day 10 of planning.
Test your idea on paper (and in the real world).
If there’s market interest for your business idea, you’ll need hard numbers to prove it. That’s where market testing comes in. Test your approach using the Lean Startup methodology.
You should only invest time, money, and resources into a business if the data shows that success awaits. After market testing, you should be able to answer the following questions: How big is the market in terms of dollars and people each year? What does the competitive landscape look like? What selling points do key players bring to the table? Will the market grow in the coming years?
Although you might identify a gap in the market, don’t quit your job to start a cookie company before selling some test batches. To truly validate your idea, you have to get your product in the hands of real users and see how they react.
Reach out to successful entrepreneurs.
Although contacting established entrepreneurs in your industry might feel intimidating, they’re invaluable resources. But they’re also busy people, so be concise and efficient when communicating with them.
Try tweeting a relevant question to them or sending a short, direct email. They’ll appreciate your brevity and be more likely to respond. I was lucky because my brother had already started a few companies when I ventured off on my own. He helped me refine my initial investor presentation and taught me how to think through the business economics correctly.
You don’t need a sibling in the game to learn these valuable lessons, though. Entrepreneurs want to help others succeed; you just can’t be afraid to make the first move.
Build your dream team.
Even if your business model is flawless, you’ll need a well-rounded team to support it. But to rally potential co-founders, interns, and employees around your idea, you have to prove the product is useful and potential rewards far outweigh the risk of being involved. Take the time to nurture relationships. Keen entrepreneurs can convince people to follow their lead, regardless of whether the business exists yet.
Seek validation from trusted sources.
When smart people want to get involved in your business, it’s a telltale sign your idea is worth exploring. If your savvy business-minded friends and associates are supportive, but not eager to jump on board, they might not be giving you their honest opinion.
Make sure they fully understand the model you’re describing, and run market tests to determine whether their critique is legitimate. If you can use a person’s criticism to improve upon your idea, you’ll likely gain a supporter.
The business landscape is constantly changing. Entrepreneurs have to navigate it armed with market research, time-tested advice, and a supportive team to survive. Your cushy day job might pay the bills, but when you can live out your passion, you won’t trade it for comfort any day.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Farbood Nivi is the CEO of Learnist, which allows individuals to read content, review how-to guides, and watch educational videos on virtually any subject. Farbood is a former educator who was named 2001 National Teacher of the Year by the Princeton Review. Connect with @LearnistTweets on Twitter.