By Rosalind A. Bergemann author of An Asperger’s Guide to Entrepreneurship
For many of us on the autistic spectrum, employment can or has been a challenge. Whilst we may be intellectually capable (if not ideally suited) to do a particular job, the reality is that the workplace is centered around working with and through other people. Even a job that you might perceive as being undertaken in isolation will still require you to be part of a team. ‘Teamwork’ is a workplace buzzword at the moment, and no matter how much that may be in conflict with the way we might work, this is unlikely to change. For some of us the lack of required social skills needed for teamwork has resulted in our inability to secure permanent jobs and for others it has meant constant tension in the jobs we hold. It is also true that while we may be extremely creative people with great ideas for new markets or products, corporate culture requires this to be presented in a certain way within an organization, and this can end up being extremely frustrating for those of us who can see the potential of something but are unable to directly contribute to its success.
For these reasons (and others) many of us make the decision to start our own businesses and become entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is a career that I believe suits people with Asperger’s extremely well – provided that we are properly prepared and have developed our coping strategies in advance.
So with that in mind here are the top 5 tips I would give to someone with ASD who wants to start their own business.
TIP 1. Ensure that the vision for your product/service and its unique selling point can be shared clearly with others.
Many of us will have a vision of our business in our heads that is very clear and logical to us. Whilst this is great it is important to recognize that when starting a business there will be times that you will be required to share this vision with others. To make sure you can do this, take some time to write down as much detail as possible regarding what your product or service looks like, and exactly what it is that makes your product/service unique. Ask yourself
- What would make people come to me instead of more established companies?
- What am I offering that is different to what is already out there?
Writing down or recording answers to these questions will help you put your vision into a format that can be shared with people you will be working with, such as potential investors.
Another thing to consider (particularly if you have experience in a corporate role) is that a plan for a small business does not require the same level of corporate documentation as a larger organization. You certainly need your plan, but it needs to be brief and to the point. A start-up business plan should really only be 4 to 5 pages long.
TIP 2: Do an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses
Before starting out, do an honest assessment of the strengths you have as a person with ASD, but also an assessment of the weaknesses you have. This will allow you to develop coping or development strategies for areas where you have some weaknesses. Answer these questions as honestly as you can:
- How well do I work with other people?
- How important is it for me to have control of my work?
- Do I have any sensory issues that may create a problem?
- How are my written communication skills?
- What cause me challenges as a person with ASD in the workplace? How could this affect me in my own business?
- How am I at networking?
TIP 3: Consider sharing your diagnosis with those working closest to you
Since you will be working far closer with your own team than you might have as part of someone else’s, it is really important that there is no chance of you creating problems unintentionally due to some social skill problems. It may be worthwhile considering whether you want to share your diagnosis with your team, possibly as part of a development programme promoting understanding and communication.
TIP 4: Don’t allow your new business to take over your life
As people on the autistic spectrum, we do not do things by halves. If we say we are going to do something, we tend to give it all our attention and energy. It is extremely tempting to fall into the trap of making our new business the totality of our lives. Whilst it is expected that we will spend a lot of time on our new project, please make sure that other parts of your life (such as your family and home-life) do not suffer as a result. After all you don’t want to start a new business but lose a family as a result.
TIP 5: Be prepared to experience change
Most of us on the spectrum tend to stick with things that have worked in the past, however as the owner of a small business you need to be open to adaptation and change. If you are a person who struggles with change, I recommend that you spend some time developing coping strategies for change, and practicing when you have the opportunity. Examples of coping strategies include:
- Scheduling regular change adaptation breakaways where you can spend some time alone examining the changes that are happening or that need to be made, and coming to terms with them.
- Developing a change business plan for yourself, where you can highlight areas of your business that may need change in the future so that it does not become sidelined or occur unexpectedly.
- Assess how you have handled change in the past and highlight the coping strategies you used at that time (eg. at high school, when you first started work, etc). Think about how you can adapt these and write them down. Review these when you are feeling overloaded.
Starting your own business can be challenging, but it is also one of the most fulfilling and inspirational things one can do. People on the spectrum can make a huge contribution to the world in this way.
I wish you all the success in your new business!
Rosalind A. Bergemann is the Chairperson of Asperger Leaders and the CEO of a global change management consultancy. She is also the author of An Asperger’s Guide to Entrepreneurship and An Asperger Leader’s Guide to Living and Leading Change both of which are available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.