“If you don’t build your dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs.” – Unknown
Starting your own company can seem like a pipe dream while you’re stuck working Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. You recognize that you need the consistent income from your existing job to pay the bills and put food on the table – and maybe even pay the Cub Scout dues for your son and fees for art lessons for your daughter – but your true love lies in your own company.
Whether you are completely independent or have family counting on you for support, starting something new can be scary, and going from a stable job to a startup can put even the most seasoned entrepreneur on edge. The sheer number of variables that could cause business failure can be overwhelming, to say the least.
There are ways, however, to have your cake and eat it, too. I’m not saying that it is going to be easy – in fact, if maintaining a successful full-time job while working on a startup is ever simple, you’re doing it wrong. Entrepreneurship is not easy. In fact, starting a business while still employed is going to be hard – perhaps the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life – but when done correctly, it’s well worth it.
Here are three tips to help you as you navigate the process of starting your own business. This is not an all-inclusive list by any means, but it’s a good starting point to get you in the correct mindset.
Don’t Break the Law
Making sure that you fully understand your current employment contract is more than just covering your butt – it is a sound business practice that will serve you well throughout your life. While you’re working through the transition from corporate to entrepreneurial life, you need to be exceptionally careful with how you use your time at work.
Some companies require that their employees sign nondisclosure agreements or contract line items that state that all intellectual property belongs to the company upon hire. It’s not as big of a deal if your side business isn’t in competition with your full-time gig, but if the two are swimming in the same stream, you could be in for some legal action if you’re not careful.
Keep any competing ideas to yourself, and use some of your personal resources to hire a good lawyer. Make sure to do all side job business on your own time using your own equipment. Don’t even send an email using your personal account via your company computer – wait until you are home and off the clock. Also, don’t self-promote your new business while you’re on the job. First, it’s tacky. Second, if you’re doing it on company time, you could be in for some trouble.
All of that aside, you probably know your current co-workers and boss pretty well, so you should keep an eye out for potential mentors or business partners. If your businesses don’t compete with each other, your current boss might even be a valuable resource for you down the line – as long as you don’t burn any bridges to get where you want to go.
Budget for the Things that Matter Most
Money is, of course, a necessary evil when starting your company, but it’s actually not your most precious resource; that award belongs to time. Since it’s likely stretched razor thin while you’re working two jobs, you need to budget it out accordingly. Sit down and create a list of personal and professional priorities, and create some goals. Set a few long-term goals to give perspective, then break them into highly specific, actionable, short-term goals that can guide your time. Completing those goals can create a tricky balancing act; you’ll want to stick to them and avoid getting side-tracked, but you’ll also want to allow flexibility for worthwhile changes. After all, you’re new to starting a business and you don’t always know what you don’t know.
The other side of budgeting is, unfortunately, money. First guideline: do not – I repeat – do not quit your current job until your side job can more than replace that income consistently. Until that point, you should be saving as much of your side revenue as you can while investing the rest back into your company. As you decide what to spend your capital on, focus on the most important things: networking, building a quality website, marketing, inventory, and some professionally made business cards. Don’t put too much money into these areas, but siphon off just enough that you have all of the parts of a bona fide business.
Be Realistic and Patient
While you’re gainfully employed, take the time to vet your idea thoroughly. Nothing is more doomed to failure than a product or service that nobody wants. There’s a difference between finding a narrow niche and just being obscure.
Talk to friends, family, co-workers (outside of company time, of course), and send out surveys through Facebook and other social media. Make sure that your questions are specific enough to give you quality feedback and short enough that people will actually want to be honest.
Even if you have overwhelmingly positive feedback, do not rush off and quit your current job. Move toward being self-employed by working your goals as a side hustle. Critically analyze yourself and your strengths and weaknesses to find out where you need to fill in the gaps.
If you can’t afford to outsource yet, take the time to learn the skills that you’re lacking. Take a class, work with a mentor, or find a reliable business partner to round out your business plan. If you don’t have that kind of time, there are plenty of relatively inexpensive outsourcing websites for freelance web design, accountants, and coders that might be well within your budget.
Few things are more exciting than watching your business idea start blossoming into reality, but you need to remain employed by someone else until you reach critical mass. Manage your energy, not your time. Then learn as much as you possibly can from your current job – even if it is just management skills – and keep building up capital, know-how, and momentum in your side job until you can’t hold it back any longer.