Should You Change Careers or Start a Business?

By: Caroline Ceniza-Levine

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While I’m a big fan of starting a business on the side, while keeping your day job, it’s a time-consuming strategy and not suitable for everyone. Another strategy is to switch day jobs to where you can closer to your ideal business (thus trying out your idea without starting a new business outright). This is what one reader is thinking about doing.

Tony asks: I am considering leaving my career that I have been doing for the past fifteen years and starting a coaching business. Should I get a job related to consulting and training first?

If Tony were to migrate to a training job first and then start a coaching business, it makes the leap from day job to a full-fledged business a two-step process. Instead of quitting your job for a business, first you have to get a job closer to your business interest and then you would start the business later, presumably once you have some credibility and contacts in the new area.

This may seem like a less risky step, but there are still some costs to this strategy.

[Related: Five Ways to Avoid Building a Cash-Strapped Startup]

You still need to launch a job search around your current day job, and this takes time.

Starting a side business while balancing a job takes time, but so does looking for a job while still employed. In this competitive market, the branding and networking required to land a good job is similar to the branding and networking you need to expend to start a business.

Your job search still has a heavy sales component,because as a career changer you will not be doing exactly what you did before.

As a business owner, you have to convince the marketplace to buy your services amidst alternative offerings. When you change careers, you still have to convince the marketplace (of prospective employers) to buy your services (hire you) amidst alternative offerings (other candidates who have already done the job).

There is still risk in making a career change if you decide to go back to your first job.

If you start a business and decide you want to go back to your day job, entrepreneur-to-employee is a big return trip and not guaranteed. However, making a career change and then going back to your original career is also not guaranteed. There is still a risk that your skills, experience, expertise, and contacts will migrate enough when you change careers that it will be difficult to re-enter your former career.

[Related: Are You Prepared for a Job Change? Five Strategies That Can Help]

There are good reasons to change jobs before a move to entrepreneurship, but it is not necessarily easier.

Changing careers from one job to another does enable you to develop your skills, backed by the resources of an established company, rather than only what you can bring as an entrepreneur.

Establishing a new career ensures you have a network of contacts that could be helpful to your business later on. Changing careers does keep one anchor constant (you are still an employee) while you shift other things (your industry and/or functional focus) in your life.

These are all good reasons to opt for a career change to another job over jumping straight into entrepreneurship. But if you are expecting a job change to be easier or less risky than starting a business, that’s not true and not a good enough reason to go this route.

[Related: Seven Corporate Skills to Take With You Into Entrepreneurship]

Caroline Ceniza-Levine specializes in career change (her latest adventure is running Costa Rica FIRE). She is the author of Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career and a contributor to, where a version of this post originally appeared.

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