Q: I've been a consultant in my own business for about four years, and while I'm making a decent income, I've reached a career plateau. Recently, a new opportunity has arisen that, in the short term, will cost me a lot of time and money, but has tremendous long term potential. I'm torn between playing it safe and risking what I already have to build something more.
I know times are tough, but opportunities to advance one's career only come around once in a while. In the current economy, is it still reasonable to take a career risk, or are the consequences of failure just too great?
A: While we all groan when people use cliches, there's no denying that they do have a basis in fact. It does take money to make money. It's also true that the willingness to take risks is a key ingredient in achieving success.
When you started your consulting business, you willingly invested both time and money in a fledgling project that had no track record. Your perseverance and expertise brought you to your current plateau. Further expansion will require the courage to take a risk again.
You probably have vivid memories of those first two years when you sweated to pay the bills some months, and sometimes longed for a nice, safe job with a salary. Are you ready to take on that challenge again? Keep in mind that unlike in the past, that "nice, safe job with a salary" won't be as readily available as a fallback. On the other hand, do you also recall the enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment you felt as your business grew from a dream into reality? Do you miss that feeling?
Moving up the ladder, whether it be in an entrepreneurial or corporate environment, requires some sacrifices. You trade the comfort of a familiar situation for the thrill of a new challenge – and the risk of failure. Growth is scary and uncomfortable, yet many people feel most alive when they're pushing themselves beyond their current boundaries.
Four years ago you trusted your instincts when you began your new business. Now you have a track record and a good deal of experience in the do's and don'ts of building a successful enterprise. In addition, while the current economy means that you won't have as much of a safety net, in many ways the opportunities for entrepreneurs are greater than they've been in years.
If you're still having trouble taking the plunge, try deciding in advance how much time and money you're willing to devote to your new project, and put together a specific plan of action so that you can minimize your risks. However, you must ask yourself, "Will it be exciting, fun, and personally satisfying?" If you can say "Yes" with conviction, then go for it. If you can't, the potential rewards aren't worth the pain.