A few years ago, I published a post on starting a business while keeping your full-time job. I listed a number of reasons why this makes sense. I even included some practical steps.
But I didn’t go far enough.
So here’s a guest post from Ryan Robinson, an entrepreneur and marketer who teaches people how to create meaningful self-employed careers. (His online courses “Launching a Business While Working” and “Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal” can teach you how to start and grow your own business while working a full-time job.)
Never before have we experienced such a rapid growth in the number of young entrepreneurs who have begun working for themselves. From app developers to freelance content marketers, business consultants, writers, and startup founders, there’s no shortage of people willing to take large, calculated risks in the name of creating their own self-employed dream careers.
What’s more, many of these solopreneurs are very quickly growing their small businesses into the millions.
In a recent study at Bentley University, over 66 percent of Millennials said they have a desire to start their own businesses. Yet, as of 2013, only 3.6 percent of businesses in the U.S. were owned by people under the age of 30. Clearly, there’s a large disparity between the number of young people wanting to be their own bosses and those who are actually managing to pull it off.
It’s not for lack of education. Global access to free and inexpensive online education resources on platforms such as CreativeLive, Lynda.com, General Assembly, and others, have helped drastically cut the learning curves and barriers to entry in many industries. With valuable online learning opportunities as readily available as an internet connection, there’s no excuse for not picking up new concepts and building powerful skills, if you’re motivated enough.
Through my work, I’ve found the three most common reasons people don’t follow through on starting their own businesses: a lack of confidence in themselves, a perceived lack of necessary resources, and, most of all, a lack of motivation.
Starting and growing a successful business is very difficult. Pulling it off while you’re still employed full-time and bringing in an income for yourself is even more trying. (I should know; I’ve done it four times.)
Starting a business while you’re still working full-time can also afford you many luxuries and securities that go straight out the window when you quit your job to pursue a business idea. From the obvious advantage of having a steady income to fund your new venture to additional benefits, such as being forced to focus only on what delivers the highest impact and lessening the pressure on yourself, I’ve personally experienced positive benefits from launching while working.
But to do that you need a plan. Here are my 10 steps to starting your own business while you keep your full-time job.
1. Ask yourself how badly you want it.
Starting a business will be difficult, will strain your relationships, and will continually force you to make tough decisions.
Write down a list of all the activities and commitments you have in your life, with the amounts of time you devote to each during a week. Take note of the ones you can afford to lessen your involvement with, and let people know you are stepping back a bit to focus on a new project that means a lot to you. Think of the easy stuff first: time spent watching TV, playing video games, or surfing Facebook and Instagram.
The more time you can free up, the quicker you’ll be able to start seeing results.
2. Inventory your skills, abilities, and weaknesses.
Which skill sets does your new business idea require? You likely possess at least some of the necessary skills to make your business happen, but if you don’t, you’re faced with a tough decision. Spend time learning a new skill or outsource to someone else who can help.
In this Skill Assessment, you’ll list out every asset and skill your business idea requires and map those needs to what you can or cannot do for yourself right now.
3. Validate your business idea.
Fortune magazine recently conducted an intensive study of 101 failed startups, looking at the question of why startups fail according to their founders. The No. 1 reason most businesses fail, Fortune found, is a lack of market need for their product (this was cited by over 42 percent of the failed companies).
This really highlights the need to fully validate your idea and get honest feedback from potential customers before you start building, creating, and spending money. It’s human nature to think that we’re right and that our ideas are always amazing.
Unfortunately, our business concepts and product ideas are often not fully thought out, useful, or even properly researched.
4. Write down your competitive advantage.
A competitive advantage is defined as a unique advantage that allows you, as a business, to generate greater sales or margins and/or acquire and retain more customers than competitors. It’s what makes your business your business.
This can be in the form of your cost structure, product offering, distribution network, customer support, or elsewhere in the business.
5. Set detailed, measurable, and realistic goals.
Without setting attainable goals and realistic deadlines for yourself, you’re going to spend a lot of time spinning your wheels. It’s hard to get anywhere if you don’t know exactly where you’re going. In my experience, it works best to set daily, weekly, and monthly goals for myself. It helps me to stick with both the short-term and long-term objectives.
In the beginning, your daily goals are most likely small wins or to-do list type of items, then you’ll gradually start hitting milestones as you get closer to launching your business.
6. Map your gameplan to launch date and beyond.
It’s one thing to set your goals and an entirely different activity to map out exactly how you’re going to get to point B, C, D, and beyond. You need to be particularly proactive with this step. Nobody can do this for you, but you won’t be able to do it all on your own, either.
WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann is a strong advocate of “always knowing your plan B.” It’s how he’s adapted his co-working space communities into a multi-billion dollar business.
Your ability to problem-solve and navigate around your obstacles will determine the level of success of your business.
7. Outsource everything you can.
This is all about focus. Look for opportunities to outsource every possible part of your business creation that you can.
Obviously, you don’t want someone else planning your goals, roadmap, or telling you 100 percent what your product or service should look like. The real point here is that you need to be doing only what you do best. While it would be great if you could code your own website to test out your online service idea, if you don’t already command a knowledge of developing, you’re looking at a few months of dedicated learning time just to get to the point where you’ll be able to understand the basics.
8. Actively seek feedback.
Your goal is to build a product or service that provides value to people. It does no good to build something that nobody wants. It’s important that you seek unbiased, outside feedback to make sure you’re building something that’s actually marketable.
Do this from day one and never stop. To find your early feedback group, you want to target people you know will give you only an honest opinion. Reach out to them personally. My go-to group consists of a handful of close entrepreneurial friends and a few mentors I regularly keep in touch with.
From here, you can start to widen your scope for feedback and begin incorporating Facebook, LinkedIn Groups, Reddit, ProductHunt, GrowthHackers, and your local Starbucks.
9. Don’t blur the lines between personal projects and work.
It may seem tempting to create a “better version of Company You Work At,” but unless your employer missed some major lessons along the way, your contract probably clearly stipulates that you’ve agreed not to do just that. Plus, that’s just bad practice and it can (will) destroy a lot of relationships that could instead be very helpful for you one day.
If you’re under any non-compete clauses, assignment of invention clauses, or non-disclosure agreements, then it’s best to consult your attorney for personalized advice on this matter.
It may seem obvious, but don’t work on your project during company time.
You’ll also need to refrain from using company resources on your personal project, no matter how tempting that may be. This includes not using your work computer or any online tools, software, subscriptions, or notebooks, as well as not seeking the assistance of other employees.
10. Reach critical mass before quitting your day job.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate of only doing things that I’m passionate about, and doing those things with 100 percent of my energy. That said, I’m willing to take my time in fully vetting an idea, discovering my target market, and testing that idea with them, before making the solo decision that “this must be great!”
Having the time to continue thinking things through and seeking the advice of others will greatly benefit your new business.
Even more importantly, unless you’re working on a high-growth startup and can secure investor funding (or you’re able to self-fund), you’re realistically going to need some form of sustainable income before your new project is able to be that sole source of sustenance for you.
Starting your business while working a full-time job will undoubtedly be difficult, but it’s doable. There are as many paths to entrepreneurship as there are entrepreneurs in this world. Take these steps into account, and you’ll be well on your way to being your own boss.
Imagine that awesome feeling.