Can People From The Public Sector Survive In Business?

Today we have a guest post from Margaret Adams who is an expert in all aspects of business communications.  She started her career in the public sector but has gone on to run a successful business.  You can find out more about Margaret at this link

I get very cross when I hear radio interviews asking THAT sort of question.  You know the sort of interview I mean.  The subject of the discussion is how someone who has just left a job in the public sector is struggling in the “real” world.  The implication is that people from the public sector can’t survive in the business world. 

I would like to disagree.

I spent my employed life in the public sector – in the education world.  Just for the record, I’ve been in business for almost twenty years.  That means that, at one level, I’m living proof that ex-public sector employees can survive in business.

From my standpoint – having been in business for a long time – I would like to remind people in the public sector who are about to launch themselves into the business world, that they have three great advantages when they decide to set up their businesses.

You have large organisation experience

If you’ve worked in the public sector you’ve worked in a large organisation.  Even if you’ve worked in an outpost of a local authority or health establishment, you’ve been linked to a large organisation.

You know that large organisations have systems, processes and procedures to help them to function.  That means you understand the value of adopting a systematic approach to getting things done.

Lots of people who set up in businesses don’t have this type of experience.  They often end up trying to complete every task that needs doing in an ad hoc manner.  They do things in one way on Monday and they adopt a very different approach on Friday. They struggle with systems and processes.  They don’t like to be constrained by rules.

As a result they work extraordinarily hard and use up lots of energy.  However, they often work inefficiently.  They don’t treat their customers very well, because their customers never know quite what to expect of them.  When they grow their businesses, they can make poor employers, because they hate rules.

These are mistakes that you’re not going to make.  You know about the benefits of organising work.  You value your experience of functioning in a structured working environment, and you know how to make use of your knowledge now you’re starting your business.

You know negotiation comes with the job

As someone who has worked in a large organisation you know that you often have to negotiate with people to get things done.  You don’t have formal authority over every one who you need to interact with and work with.  You know that if you’re going to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for, you must become an expert in setting up win-win situations. You must be able to explain the benefits of co-operation and collaboration to other people.  You must be able to persuade and influence others.

You’ll need these skills again, once you’re in business on your own account.  Congratulations on having developed them to a high standard already.

You know that plans are important

Strategic plans, new projects, strategies for implementing the requirements of white papers and instructions from government departments are things you understand.

You know how important plans are.  You’ve seen how bigger plans are broken down into chunks to be implemented in different units and departments and by different teams.  You also know that you need to stick to a plan once it’s agreed.  In short, you know that plans and planning matter.

Again you’ve had some excellent training.  That means that once you’re working in your business you’ll be less likely to be blown off course than the business owner who doesn’t have a plan and doesn’t value planning.

And the downside

Every one has lots to learn in the early days in business.  That applies to people leaving jobs in the private sector to start businesses just as much as it applies to people leaving the public sector to become business people.

People leaving the public sector have different things to learn because their experience of employment is probably different from that of many of their private sector counterparts.

In neither case does the fact that new business owners have a lot to learn mean that they’re not going to survive in business.

The challenge for you is to learn enough to ensure your business survives before your cushion of resource or savings runs out.

Therefore, don’t listen to the people who tell you can’t build a business, because of your background.  Show them you can succeed by learning what you need to learn quickly and making good use of the experience you already have.

Margaret Adams helps businesses to find the right things to say about themselves both online and offline.  She specialises in helping solo professionals to succeed in business.  Find out more about her work at:



Leave a Reply