Employee to entrepreneur: how to become your own boss

Employee to entrepreneur: how to become your own boss

Do you dream of the freedom that comes with being your own boss?

Former La Trobe student and Devil-in-Chief at Dos Diablos Bill Jacobs did, and now he’s doing just that. We discuss his insider tips on how to start your own business.

Don’t be afraid to back yourself

If Jacobs had his time over, he wouldn’t have waited so long to buy that old CFA canteen truck and start Dos Diablos, a mobile cantina that rolls around Melbourne serving up a variety of Mexican street food. He advises anyone who’s been putting off starting their own business to get out there and give it a go.

‘Before launching Dos Diablos, I used to have the misguided mindset that every single aspect of the operation had to be absolutely 100 per cent before we could open,’ he says. ‘Once you’re in it you realise that perfection does not exist within any business, and anyone who claims it does is lying.

‘Modification and refinement are an ongoing process – every day you’re striving to improve on the last and as detailed as your business plan and modelling may be, there are some things you’ll never be able to identify and get right until you’re out there in the heat of battle.’

Jacobs says it’s never too early to get out there and start testing your ideas, even on a small scale. At the end of the day, every potential failure is an opportunity to learn, refine and improve.

‘You can also never do enough research about the industry you’re looking to get in to. The more you’re able to get your head around your particular industry, the better positioned you are to understand just where your product or service may fit within that landscape.’

Play to your strengths

Before starting Dos Diablos, Jacobs was a Bachelor of Media Studies graduate with a Diploma of Education. These qualifications may seem incongruous with a career as a street food merchant, but he was able to capitalise on his existing skills within the context of the new business.

‘The media degree was really helpful in understanding how to gain media exposure and promotion, and through connections made in the film and television world, we’ve catered for many productions as well as appeared on screen in several TV commercials, short films and TV series.’

Jacobs says his Dip Ed has been most useful when it comes to ongoing staff training and development programs.

‘But generally, and probably more importantly, the discipline and time management required to complete a degree (especially when combined with full-time work) have proven to be essential skills in building a successful business.’

Get ready to be an all-rounder

Armed with a passion for hospitality and a background in operations management for a catering company, Jacobs assumed he was well equipped to start and run his own food truck business. It was only when he was behind the wheel that he realised how much he still had to learn.

He says he started out with a general awareness of all the areas he needed to be across, but discovered the full scope of running your own business doesn’t hit until you’ve jumped in.

‘Aside from the core area of the business – ordering, prepping, cooking and serving food – there’s so much more I’ve needed to learn or upskill on in a hurry. General admin, bookkeeping, legals, leasing, finance, tender writing and submissions, marketing and promotions, taxation and payroll and truck maintenance are just the tip of the iceberg on a never-ending to-do list.’

‘Even now, five years in to the Dos Diablos journey, there’s very rarely a day where new challenges are not presented. There are always new skills to acquire.’

 Enjoy the ride

Despite these daily challenges, Jacobs says there’s a lot to love about running your own business.

‘I love that no two days are the same. I’m continually forced to think on my feet and problem solve on the run. I enjoy the rush of being in “game” mode during service, and have always loved the team aspect of working in hospitality at the coalface – I liken it to the feeling I used to have playing football.’

‘The immediacy of response and feedback from happy customers at the truck is also immensely rewarding.’

‘Also, with around 80 per cent of our business now coming from private and corporate catering, I love that we have had the trust placed in us and privilege of being invited to share in so many of our clients’ special and significant life events – weddings, engagements, milestone birthdays, etc.’

‘It’s a genuine thrill to be able to play a part in such big occasions. We work in an environment where people are likely to be at their most relaxed and having fun – naturally that’s a good vibe to be around!’

It might take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point, but watching your hard work and perseverance payoff is part of what makes being an entrepreneur so rewarding. As Jacobs puts it, starting a small business requires a huge amount of self-discipline and motivation.

‘Ultimately the buck stops with you. In most situations, you’ll be involved in absolutely every aspect of the business and pulling some really long hours. That said, in my entire career, I’ve never felt anything close to the satisfaction I’ve derived from running my own business.’

Want to take the next step towards becoming your own boss? Apply for a Master of Management (Entrepreneurship and Innovation), or browse our full course list.