By Kathleen Furore
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 5.4 million new business applications were filed in 2021, the highest number on record. But as anyone who has started a business knows, there are many risks involved in launching your own company. Are there ways entrepreneurial-minded people who can’t start their own business can find ways to satisfy those entrepreneurial urges while working for someone else?
It is possible to take on entrepreneurial-style responsibilities without owning a company outright. It just might take strong negotiating skills and a creative mindset to make that happen. Here are some suggestions:
Try investing in the company you work for. “Not everyone should be a business owner with all its inherent risks and headaches — but owning a slice of the company you work for could even be better,” says Rod Robertson, managing partner at Briggs Capital LLC. “Being a part or fractional owner can allow key employees to share the burden of ownership but within bounds. A stake in a company where you are employed instead of being ‘all in’ can be the best of both worlds.”
With companies finding it harder and harder to hire and retain good employees, now might be an opportune time to negotiate, he explains.
“Owners have painfully learned over the last two years that key employees must be retained at all costs — and cash is king,” Robertson explains. “Progressive ownership and management should be willing to harness their employees to the company by letting them invest to their comfort level, be it $10,000 to $100,000 and beyond,” Robertson suggests. That, he says, is one way that companies can help employees fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams. “If your company’s owner is an old school fossil, then take your skills and hard-earned cash elsewhere.”
Seek out a firm that gives stock options and the opportunity to accumulate “sweat equity.” This is Robertson’s advice for entrepreneurial-minded folks who don’t have any investment nest egg. “Find that progressive owner who will share in the riches you build for them,” he says. “It’s a new evolving frontier out there — don’t miss your opportunity to cash out for your labors!”
Consider working for a startup. Marcus Hutsen, business development manager of Patriot Coolers, says this approach allows employees “to feel some of the rush of excitement that comes from an entrepreneurial enterprise in its early stages.” Another option: “See if you can negotiate a small portion of equity as part of your salary offer,” Hutsen adds. “If you are truly financially vested in the success of the business, you are halfway to living the life of the entrepreneur — without all of the responsibilities!”
Look for a position with a small business whose owner might be selling soon. Stan C. Kimer, president Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, says finding a small business with an aging owner is a good place to start. “You will be asked to do so many different things since that is the nature of a small business, and you can set yourself up for the owner to sell or pass on the business to you when they are ready to retire,” says Kimer, who at 67, is in that position. “I’m starting to look at taking on an apprentice to pass my business onto in two or three years when I am ready to retire,” he says, noting that an older owner may even want to stay on part time to assist or to be a mentor.
Help out your boss. This is one of the simplest ways to “exercise your entrepreneurial muscle at your day job,” according to David Walter, founder and CEO of Electrician Mentor. “Take on a new project for him or her. You’ll typically gain a deeper understanding of your business, which could help you [if and] when you start your own.”
Ask for cross-training. “Entrepreneurs have to be able to change on a dime and take on new roles in an instant,” Walter says. “By asking for cross-training, you’ll increase those skills.”
Throw your hat into the ring for a promotion. Taking on new responsibilities and tasks are all part of being an entrepreneur … and getting a promotion is a sure way to take on more responsibilities and tackle new tasks, “all of which will be sure to benefit you once you’re able to strike out on your own,” Walter says.
“One way is to look for opportunities to be innovative and to take on new challenges,” echoes Ashley Chambers, marketing director from ASAP Cash Offer. “Entrepreneurial-minded individuals are often natural problem-solvers, so seek out opportunities to use those skills.”
Build strong relationships with co-workers and customers. “Creating a network of supporters and fans can help entrepreneurial-minded individuals feel a sense of ownership and pride in their work, even if they don’t have full control over the business itself,” Chambers says.
— Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has covered personal finance and other business-related topics for a variety of trade and consumer publications. You can email her your career questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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