Going It Alone: A Roadmap to Starting Your Own Business

Going It Alone (Guest Post by Pamela Schopp, JD 2007) 

Not liking your job is not a business plan. 

We’ve all been there: bad day at the office with demanding bosses, frustrating clients, annoying staff, late hours, etc. and you think to yourself, “I should go out on my own!”  It sounds so magical.  If you’re your own boss, no one can tell you what deals or cases to take.  No one can tell you that you have to work late.  You can work in your pajamas, if you want.  You’re in control! 

If only it were that simple.  Before quitting your job and entering the world of people with their laptops at the local Starbucks, you need to have a plan.  It’s the same as if you decided you wanted to make partner at your firm or accomplish any other goal in life, you need to talk to people who have done it, come up with a realistic strategy and implement it. 

I originally came up with my business idea six years before it became reality.  One of my mentors said that he noticed I had a gift for advising people and asked if I’d ever thought about being a career counselor.  That got me thinking about counseling and advising people who wanted to apply to law school.  Obviously, I had successfully gone through the process myself.  And, since graduating, I had helped many of my friends who were interested in law school explore the idea.  I had read personal statements, given tips on resumes and discussed the pros and cons of different schools.  One of the highlights for me each fall was interviewing prospective students for my alma mater, Northwestern Law School.  My interviews always ran long because I enjoyed speaking with the students so much.  

Now that I had the idea, I spent time honing the mission.  Many people skip this part in starting a company.  But, by not nailing down the company mission, it’s easy to get distracted and run down rabbit holes that waste precious time (and money).  It’s okay to have ideas for expansion down the road, but you’ll never get “down the road” if you’re wasting timing on expansion ideas before you even have your core idea off the ground.  Focus is key. 

Next, I set about putting together a business plan and a budget.   A business plan needs to include all the factors that will help you be successful.  Research the market.  Just because you want to do something, doesn’t mean anyone else wants to buy it or pay the price you want to charge!  Pinpoint your competitive advantage.  What unique qualities do you bring to the table? Develop a marketing and sales strategy.  You need to know where you will find potential clients and how you will let them know you exist. 

On the budget front, you need to ascertain if you can make any money doing your idea.  It sounds mercenary, but is critical.  You need a general idea of start up costs and run costs.  Once you have those numbers you can determine if you can start the company on your own or if you will need to seek investors or a loan.  If you ever plan to quit your job, you need to make sure you can still pay for basic life expenses.  Keep in mind that it often takes three years or more for a new company to break even.  Are you able to go three years without income?   

The main point is that starting your own company is a process, not a split-second decision.

This isn’t to imply that it’s been smooth sailing since.  The pros of being your own boss, no can tell you what to do, can also be cons, no one is making sure you do anything.  You need to be self-motivated.  Set aside work hours.  You are your own boss, so it doesn’t have to be 9am-5pm, but if you don’t set aside specific times to work on your company, it’s amazing how suddenly nothing gets done in a day or a week or a month!  Also, don’t get discouraged.  Success won’t happen overnight, but keep pressing.  If you planned properly, it’s a matter of time and effort.  Keep it up and success will come.

About the Author: Pamela J. Schopp (Clements) received her J.D. cum laude from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in 2007.  She practiced real estate law at Kaye Scholer LLP (n/k/a Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP) before moving to Chicago Title Insurance Company where she focused on commercial real estate and energy projects.  Pam started JD2Be LLC in 2018 to counsel pre-law students through the law school application process.  Pam is admitted to the NY Bar and is a member of the New York State Bar Association and the Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors.  In her free time, she enjoys sailing in NY Harbor, running, reading, and singing.


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