Should you quit your job and join a start-up?

That’s the question that can keep you tossing and turning in your sleep — to be presented with an opportunity to get into something on the ground floor or to stay with your job.  The notion that start-ups are often once-in-a-lifetime opportunities adds to the burden of making a good decision.

We’ve all read about the start-ups that make it big, the billionaires that emerge with a new concept and change the culture. The truth is start-ups are exciting and for those who have an entrepreneurial desire leaving the comfort of a paycheck to the unknown of making a ton of money is enough to take the risk.

While the idea of an unlimited payoff is appealing, you need to balance your decision with realistic expectations, not to be discouraging but to help you make a good decision. For every Google or Facebook there are countless others that didn’t succeed, all for various reasons.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind when deciding — if you are basically dependent upon a paycheck with no additional income for support, a start-up could jeopardize your financial future as well as set you back for years with loss income contributions that employers give with your 401k.

From a career point of view, unless you are offered a start-up opportunity with a group that can weather the financial storm of getting started in the marketplace, you probably would make money with a large employer.

Venture capitalists and other groups backing start-ups will focus on getting their investments paid back before you start reaping your rewards.

The once in-a-lifetime moments are true and for you,.Depending on where you are in life, accepting a start-up offer could be your chance.  The older you are, the more likely you will have dependents that are counting on your income, a mortgage and less time to devote on making a start-up successful.

The hours it takes to make a start-up successful vary, but most will agree that it takes focus and hard work outside of your typical workweek.  Expect to be working nights and weekends, therefore it can be easier to take on a start-up position rather than later in your career.

Another consideration in joining a start-up would be your desire to learn.  Reality has a way of cutting through the wishful thinking and nothing is more real than participating in a start-up and learning how it works.

Even though your equity portion might be small, consider the payoff as knowledge in learning what it feels like to go through the ups and downs of getting a business started.

If you lean towards the entrepreneurial side of life and find yourself dreaming about quitting your job consistently for something bold, that could be a big sign that something is missing in your career. You might never know if you are cut out for a start-up culture unless you try it.

There is a difference between corporate cultures and start-ups, and not every personality is cut out for the change. A start-up offers you the chance to develop problem solving skills by making dollars stretch and commitment. Most likely you’ll wear a dozen hats, from ordering supplies to presenting products or services to various customers.

Your start-up experience can give you a broad range of skills earlier in your career, but before you make the leap consider the exposure a large company gives you in terms of resources and people.

You could easily be given opportunities for growth in a corporate environment where the risk is less. Write out the pros and cons before quitting your job. Consider talking to your boss about taking on more responsibility or joining a cross-functional team where you are likely to develop more business experience.

What decision factors would influence accepting a start-up offer or quitting your job?