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Launching a Startup on Sabbatical: How to Get the Most Out of Your Leave, by George Roche

Posted by Amity Sims on 2013-06-24

Led by a desire for social change, George Roche did what many employees dream of - he took a sabbatical. During his four month leave, he took part in the Washington DC Founder Institute and launched Small Small - a benefit company that sells Ethiopian spice and sauce and gives back to Ethiopian farmers with each sale.

George recently shared his experience with Forbes, outlining how to get the most out of your sabbatical, and getting your company to agree to it in the first place.

Below are George’s tips for How to gain approval and be productive during your sabbatical;

1) Figure out what you want to do.

Create something that’s new and bold. Brainstorm with friends, family, and potential customers to land on a progressive idea that’s tackling traditional issues with a new approach. In the case of Small Small, our impact is from creating demand for Ethiopian agricultural products and from reinvesting a portion of every sale to NGOs teaching modern agriculture in Ethiopia. A new approach to an old problem.

2) Make your case impossible to turn down.

Offering sabbaticals is a win-win for the employer and the employee. Outline your goals and tie them to your professional brand, explaining how it will help you and (more importantly) your employer grow. Keep the potential experiences relevant to your employer.

3) Build a network.

Having a group of stalwart supporters and mentors to bounce ideas off of is critical. Use the sabbatical as a way to expand your business network. Make new contacts and put yourself out there. Stay in touch with the people you meet—call, send regular email updates, and meet in person when you can. When you launch the organization or introduce a new product, you’ll be thankful you did. Also, surround yourself with people who have started organizations before—they’ll be able to immensely help along the way and think through your plan.

4) Make a plan and keep it structured (but flexible).

Sabbaticals typically last between one to six months (which go by faster than you might think). Make an outline of how you need to spend your time before you get started. List your activities and goals and create project milestones to match. It’s better to give yourself short deadlines. This forces you to work towards milestones effectively. Remember that flexibility is key with startups—you’ll encounter new challenges that shift your original plans. Roll with the punches. Even if you aren’t able to get everything done, you’ll still be amazed by your progress.

5) Plan for your (inevitable) return and share the wealth.

The sabbatical will come to an end before you know it. But you and your employer invested time and resources, and stopping outright would be a loss for all. Try to find a way to keep the connections alive—nights and weekends but with full disclosure to your employer.

Just like debriefs at the end of work projects, catalog your experiences and knowledge gained from your “time off” and share them with your colleagues. Your employer is counting on you to bring back fresh insights from your experiences. Offer to write lesson plans, host brownbag lunches, and share your knowledge.

If you’re serious about starting or working for a benefit company—while bringing new experiences to your current job—then start looking into your employer’s sabbatical offerings today. You’ll only have regrets if you don’t.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

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