From Employee to Entrepreneur: How to Work for Yourself in BioPharma
Pictured: Professional works on computer in office/Gorodenkoff/Adobe Stock
The lure of being your own boss, having a flexible schedule and taking your commute time down to zero drive the interest in saying goodbye to the office in favor of working for yourself. Nonetheless, there are some unique elements to consider for life sciences workers hoping to work for themselves.
Being your own boss in the life sciences frequently looks like leveraging subject matter expertise into a consultancy role or parlaying your skills into work as a contractor.
Whether you go out and work for yourself, become a consultant or contractor or start a company, you need to assess your skillsets and develop a plan before bounding out, Jeff Caskey, principal search consultant at Workforce Genetics, told BioSpace.
Successful contractors “have a very particular skill set, especially from the consulting standpoint,” he said. “They want more freedom to work on different types of projects. They may be motivated by monetary goals as well.”
Caskey recommended potential independent workers determine what aspect of biotech or biopharma they have experience and expertise in—drug development, clinical research, regulatory affairs, product commercialization or something else entirely.
Weigh the Benefit vs. the Cost
Another key starting point is assessing your constitution toward risk aversion. Working for yourself may look less rosy when the glasses are peeled away, and you no longer have the stability of a regular paycheck and benefits corporate jobs typically offer.
“The truth is that you have to be really good at self-managing. You have to
be resourceful and build on your network of contacts,” Eric Celidonio, founder and senior managing partner at Sci.bio Recruiting, told BioSpace. “Many people don't stop and reflect before making the leap. They just say, ‘I want to do it,’ and hit that rough patch and all of a sudden, it's like, ‘How do I pay my mortgage?’”
Besides being able to tolerate risk, Celidonio said you must consider functions like marketing, legal and finance that typically reside as “back of house” responsibilities when employed with an established company.
“You might be great at recruiting or have subject matter expertise, but if you can't get your contracts in order, get your invoices out, get your vendors paid, it’s going to be a problem,” he said.
Make a Detailed Plan
Developing a business plan can help assess the value of your current network and expertise in entrepreneurial skills and identify where you will need help.
A good plan should outline your goals, target market, revenue streams and expenses. This will help you determine if your business is viable and sustainable.
Networking is crucial. Your business plan needs a good network of leads. Consider attending industry events, joining relevant organizations and connecting with potential collaborators, partners and customers.
Caskey said you should ask yourself if you have other people in your network that you can lean on.
“Whether you plan to consult or something else, look to answer questions like, ‘What will I do when a problem pops up in a project I’m not familiar with? How am I going to solve this for my client from a customer?’”
Leveraging your network may help in securing start-up funds. This can come from various sources, including venture capitalists, angel investors, government grants or self-financing.
Depending on the type of business you plan to have, you may need to carry insurance, obtain licenses and certifications or register as an LLC.
“There’s often a demystification process for a lot of people who are good at a skill, but they go to do it and realize, ‘Oh, wow, I have to make a business out of this,’” Celidonio said.
With proper insurance and licensing, clients may work with a contractor.
“This quasi-recession is exposing the naked truth about being an independent contractor,” he said. “A lot of companies don't want to do business purely with independent contractors because there's a liability … from an indemnification standpoint, you might not be insured enough for employers to take on the liability.”
It’s critical, in your self-assessment, to take stock of the protections you’ll need to achieve your goals and pin it to a price tag to plug into your business plan, he said.
You may need to hire a team, provided the capital is there to do so, to expand and bring your services to scale.
“You can make a living, but the old saying, ‘you'll never get rich renting out your time,’ applies. From that perspective, if you want to provide value, you have to work at scale and provide deeper solutions than what you can do as one person.”
Lisa Munger is a senior editor at BioSpace. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on LinkedIn.