This question comes up a lot. And the answer is never straight-forward or simple. Recently I got asked it by a 33 year old guy who was debating whether to stay in his current well-paid job or branch out on his own with a business idea that he had been fermenting for 18 months.

It made me smile. Not for any other reason other than it was the exact same question I asked myself at the exact same age before I started my first business. I had to answer it the same way I answered it (for myself) back then. That is, it depends on how you define secure.

If getting a weekly or monthly pay check defines security then a job hits the mark. But a job is more than just a weekly pay-check and it has risks too. Downsizing and retrenchments, office politics and the fear of being overlooked for someone younger when you hit your 50s and 60s all erodes some of the “security” attached to having a job.

Starting a business carries different risks. At the start – no cash flow, no customers, no income, long hours and financial sacrifice are all the hallmarks of a start-up. And there’s no guarantee that you will succeed. In fact, the statistics say that you won’t. Worse still most of your friends and family will think you’re nuts and many will tell you so. It’s unglamorous too and in the end just bloody hard, unrelenting work. It’s also not very secure until you figure out how to consistently make money.

For me when I left my job to start my first business I had two overriding considerations. Firstly I had to give it a go and find out whether I could do it because I knew that I’d regret it if I didn’t try. Secondly, I didn’t want to be the victim of the next round of organisation downsizing. Having barely survived three restructurings already I considered that starting a business was probably more secure than staying in my job.

What was important for me was to be in charge of my own destiny and I thought, at the time that starting my own business could provide that more than a job could. In hindsight I came to learn that there were big sacrifices involved. I took a pay cut for years, had very little downtime and missed 90% of the social invitations extended to me. I also learned that the success or failure of the venture was ultimately my responsibility. Thankfully, it worked out but there was more than a few occasions when it could have gone either way.

Security is a relative thing. Whether you work for yourself or for someone else the ultimate position to be in is to be able to operate on your own terms, as much as possible. It’s somewhat easier to do that in your own business but it’s still possible in a job. They key is to demonstrate how much value you can create and crucially how indispensable you are, both internally (to the decision-makers in the business) and externally (to the marketplace).

So is a job more secure than starting a business? Having done both I’m still not sure – what do you think?

Feature image sourced from