You can embrace a mid-career change but you will first need to plan ahead before taking the plunge.

By Felix Neoh

Author and motivation speaker Simon Sinek said, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”

If you totally relate to this and are considering a career change after climbing the corporate ladder for the past 15-20 years, you are not alone. It is becoming more common for early millennials, who are now in their late 30’s or early 40’s, to decide to venture out and start a business in a field new to them but which they are keenly interested in. There are numerous different reasons why professionals who have put in some of the best years of their lives into establishing a successful career are now willing to give all of that up.

For the majority of Malaysians, it mainly tends to include a desire for a better work-life balance, more independence and autonomy, less stress and wanting to spend more time with young children. A decision of this nature is clearly not one that can happen overnight nor should it be rushed through.

Many individuals have long harboured ambitions to embrace a mid-career change but due to uncertainties surrounding their circumstances, have been forced to put their dreams on hold indefinitely for fear of the financial impact such a change would make. This need not be the case so long as you plan ahead before taking the plunge.

Before we look at how you can prepare financially to make a career change, it is vital that two pre-requisites are covered. First, you need to already know what it is you want to do and why. This is not the time to dabble in a variety of gigs to figure out your calling; you can afford to do that when you are in college, not when you have dependants, loans and expenses.

Secondly, family support plays a large part in a major decision like this as they are the ones most affected by the change and require assurance that the most important needs will be covered. It is crucial to discuss with your loved ones before taking the next step.

Once this is done, you can proceed to this eight-point checklist to see how prepared you are before taking the plunge:

1. Ensure you have sufficient emergency funds
Your take home pay is going to change but your household bills might remain the same. If both you and your spouse are working, the effect might not be so drastic. But if your spouse is not employed and you have young children, you will need to factor in a bigger buffer. Your family may need to temporarily cut down on non-essential spending such as upgrading a car or going on an overseas vacation.

Don’t forget to take into account outpatient medical expenses which you will now have to foot on your own. A comfortable emergency fund of around two years of annual expenses is recommended if you anticipate a fairly certain cashfow from the new business venture, or more if otherwise.

2. Ensure your family has adequate insurance protection
The current insurance benefits under your employer will cease once you leave. You will need to review your personal coverage to anticipate a range of circumstances so that your dependants will be taken care of. These include family income insurance (in the event of death), total permanent disablement (in the event of disability), critical illness, medical card for hospitalisation and surgical benefits and also personal accident coverage. You will need to consider the insurance needs of your spouse and your children – particularly for a medical card.

3. Business funding
If possible, start with businesses that require lower start-up capital so that you do not exhaust too much of your savings at one go. Should a larger capital be required, consider using “other people’s money”. This does not mean borrowing from banks (or other shadier sources) and getting yourself further into debt.

Try approaching interested investors for funding or seek out like-minded partners to be joint shareholders in the business. This way, you need not stretch yourself too thin to shoulder the entire capital requirements solely.

4. Learn the ropes
In stark contrast to larger organisations with different departments for different functions, once you are a business owner, you will be HR, Sales and Accounts all rolled into one. If your current job function is specialised or niche, it would be timely to start charting a learning path to take you from “employment” to “self-employed” by learning the key aspects required to run a business such as day-to-day operations, finance and marketing.

Also, it would be a good idea to bring yourself up to speed with digital and social media advertising trends as these will provide a more cost-effective way to market a new business. Talk to friends who are also business owners to get some insights into their experiences and the challenges they might have faced when starting out. While they may not necessarily be in the same industry as the one you intend to break into, all new businesses tend to share some common general issues such as sourcing for investors, regulatory and statutory requirements or shareholding concerns. Certain businesses also require certification and licensing from the relevant authorities so if possible, get a head start on this early on.

5. Test drive before jumping in
If the new business venture is not something you are already familiar with, you might want to consider testing it out on a part-time basis to see if it truly suits you. For example, if you plan on getting into the F&B industry, you could help out at a friend’s café over the weekends and gauge if you are indeed cut out for the job demands (long hours, busy weekends, multi-tasking, dealing with customer complaints, etc).

Given that you might be short on cashflow once you’re in the business on a fulltime basis, test out your household’s ability to live on a single income (for double income families) or on a smaller budget.

6. Ask those who are already in the game
Industry experts who have a wealth of experience in their respective fields often give talks to share tips and advice to business novices. You can seek out mentors or coaches in such capacities to guide you in areas that you want to work towards.

7. Be prepared to give yourself time
Success is not going to happen overnight, so you will need to have realistic expectations when embarking on this new chapter of your life. Include patience and perseverance into your mantra because chances are you are going to need lots of it. Business owners face multitudes of stumbling blocks all the time regardless of the industry they are in but many survive and become more resilient as a result.

8. Get clarity on your financial well-being before pulling the plug
Review your financial status thoroughly and stress test your numbers to ensure you have covered all the key areas of your personal finance for yourself as well as your dependents. Engage the help of a licensed financial planner to be the devil’s advocate and make sure you have not overlooked anything.

With the assurance that you have the financial green light to make the switch, you will have less to worry about and can direct more energy into researching and preparing for your new career. All decisions involve an element of risk, especially one where your family’s livelihood and financial security may be impacted the most.

By taking steps to mitigate the risks and increasing your preparedness financially, mentally and emotionally, you can embark on a mid-career change with confidence, knowing that you are one step closer to achieving your dreams.