4 Alternatives to Starting a Business

More than a few small-business owners and entrepreneurial cheerleaders would have you believe that every employee would be happy and financially better off running his own small business. 

The reality is, of course, that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Small business isn’t the only game in town; in some cases, it isn’t even the best option available. 

If, after taking the Small-Business Owner’s Aptitude Test, you feel that you don’t fit the profile of the typical entrepreneur, don’t despair. Some folks are happier working for a company, be it either for-profit or non-profit. Here are several options for you to consider, in lieu of becoming an entrepreneur:

1. Become a better employee

Companies of all sizes need good employees, and worthy companies are willing to go to a lot of trouble and expense to hire, retain, and pay them. (If you’re not presently working for one of those good companies, you have plenty of choices to choose from.) 

So, update your resume and LinkedIn profile and keep improving your work ethic. Your willingness to put in the extra hours when needed and your accompanying willingness to accept more responsibility will bring a smile to the faces of employers. Keep learning. You don’t need a PhD, a master’s degree, or even an undergraduate college degree to succeed in business thanks to the knowledge you can pick up on your own through mentors, experience, and plenty of reading. 

If you haven’t completed your college or graduate degree and the industry you’re in places particular value in those who have, investing the time and money it takes to finish your degree can pay big dividends. (More than a few of today’s enlightened businesses will finance all or at least part of that education for you. Just ask.) Talk to others who have taken a similar mid-career educational path and see what they have to say.

2. Be an entrepreneur inside a larger company

If you can find or create an entrepreneurial enterprise inside (or alongside) a larger company, in addition to receiving significant managerial and operational responsibility, in many cases you can negotiate sharing in the financial success that you help to create. 

Entrepreneurial opportunities can come from within businesses of all sizes, shapes, and forms. One large company — 3M, a Fortune 500 company — has long taken pride in a corporate culture that allows its employees to take an idea and build it into a separate company within 3M. 

Post-it Notes, those handy, sticky notes found everywhere in the offices of the world, is an example of a business started within a business by 3M employees. 

Developing a business within a business can be a win-win situation for everyone. The employees involved can be compensated for the results of their newfound business, the companies, like 3M, add another terrific and profitable product to their empire, and a new business venture may be spun off to make more products and hire more employees, keeping the local economy humming.

3. Move from a large company to a small company

Although we’re not aware of any statistics measuring the movement of employees from large businesses to small businesses (or vice versa), we would guess the scale tilts significantly in favor of employees moving from large businesses to small businesses for several reasons: 

Employees get well-rounded experience working with small companies; small-business employees have opportunities for more responsibility; and employee decisions and actions have 

much more impact on a small business, and that impact is more visible than in a large business. 

4. Buy an existing business

In the likely event that you don’t have a specific idea for a business, you want to start but you have exhibited business management skills, consider buying an established business. Although buying someone else’s business can, in some cases, be riskier than starting your own, at least you know exactly what you’re getting into right from the start. 

The good news is that you often don’t have to waste time and energy creating an infrastructure — it’s already in place, thereby allowing you, the buyer, to dive right into the business, without having to waste time on the peripherals. 

Buying an existing business often requires that you shell out more money at the outset, in the form of a down payment to buy the business. Thus, if you don’t have the ability to run the business and it performs poorly, you have a lot more to lose financially. Part 2 looks specifically at buying an existing business. 

Invest in someone else’s business. If you find that managing the day-to-day headaches of a small business isn’t for you, perhaps a viable alternative would be to consider investing in someone else’s small business — assuming that you have the ability to identify potentially successful businesses. 

In our experience, however, few people have the knowledge and intuition to be investors in other people’s small businesses.

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