We are living at a time of unlimited potential. Never before have we experienced such a rapid growth in the number of young entrepreneurs who've begun working for themselves. From app developers, to freelance writers, business consultants, creative producers and startup founders, there's no shortage of people willing to take large calculated risks in the name of sculpting their own self-employed dream careers.
This post originally appeared on the Crew blog.
And why not? Every single day, many of these "solopreneurs" are growing their small businesses into the millions.
Yet, despite the optimistic outlook, the majority of would-be business owners still fall victim to the fear of turning their side business ideas into reality. In a recent study from Bentley University, over 66 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 cited a desire to start their own businesses. Yet, as of 2013, only 3.6 per cent of businesses in the US were owned by those under the age of 30.
And it's not for lack of education or talent.
Global access to free and inexpensive online education resources on platforms like CreativeLive, Skillshare and General Assembly 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.
Case in point: Over the past few years, I've personally gone from first-time founder of a failed business, to freelancer, to building four successful businesses — all while working a full-time job. Through my work and own experiences, I've found the three most common reasons people don't follow through on starting their own businesses are:
- A lack of confidence in themselves
- A perceived lack of necessary resources
- And most of all, a lack of motivation
Starting a business while you're still working full-time is hard. But it can 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 benefit of having a steady income to fund your new venture, to the luxury of forcing yourself to focus only on what delivers the highest impact and lessening the pressure on yourself.
Now, before you take the plunge, you need to have a solid plan.
Here are my 10 steps to starting a side business while keeping your full-time job:
1. Make the Commitment
This will get difficult. It will strain your relationships and you'll continually be forced to make tough decisions.
Write down a list of all the activities and commitments you have during your week with the amount of time you devote to each. Take note of the ones you can afford to lessen your involvement with and let them know you are stepping back a bit to focus on a new project that means a lot to you.
Then start to cross off 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 Strengths and Interests
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 now faced with a tough decision. Pause to spend time learning a new skill or outsource to someone else who can help pick up the slack?
If you want to discover your strengths as an entrepreneur, try this exercise, which will help you uncover both your soft and hard skills and uncover your unfair advantage in business. Just remember, if your ideas and your skills don't match up, that's still OK. If you look in the right places, there are scores of talented freelancers out there ready to work with you.
3. Validate Your Business Idea
When Fortune decided to ask the founders of failed startups what went wrong, the number one reason that came up was a lack of market need for their product (almost half cited this as the reason their company died).
Early on in your planning you need to validate your business idea. This means getting honest feedback from actual paying customers, because as Basecamp founder Jason Fried explains:
The only answers that matter are dollars spent. People answer when they pay for something. That's the only answer that really matters.
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.
By slowing down and building a very basic proof of concept with ongoing feedback from your target audience, you'll gradually create a solution that's guaranteed to meet their needs. You'll be able to grow from there.
4. Create a Competitive Advantage
A competitive advantage is defined as your 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 come in the form of your cost structure, product offering, distribution network, strategic relationships, customer support or elsewhere in the business.
Get honest with yourself here. Not only does your business honestly have to fill a market need, but it has to do so in a way that's different from what's available now.
5. Set Detailed, Measurable and Realistic Goals
You don't want to take your first steps without at least knowing where you might end up.
Without setting attainable goals and realistic deadlines for yourself, you're going to spend a lot of time spinning your wheels. In my experience, it works best to set daily, weekly and monthly goals for yourself. This constant accountability helps you stick with both the short- 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 side business.
6. Build a Roadmap to Launch Date and Beyond
It's one thing to set your goals, and yet 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 and expect that you'll have to regularly adapt as things change over time. Nobody can launch your business for you, but you won't be able to do it all on your own, either.
Your ability to problem-solve and navigate around your obstacles will determine your level of success with your business. And if you need extra inspiration, check out how some of the top leaders and companies ensure they hit their launch goals time after time.
7. Outsource Your Weaknesses
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 or roadmap, or telling you what your product or service should look like.
The real point 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 Objective Feedback
Your goal is to build a product or service that provides value to people. So it's important that you seek unbiased, outside feedback to make sure you're building something that's actually providing value to your customers.
Do this from day one and never stop.
To find your early feedback group, you want to individually target people that you know will give you an honest opinion. My go-to group consists of a handful of close entrepreneurial friends and a few mentors I regularly keep in touch with.
9. Don't Blur the Lines Between Work and Your Business
It may seem tempting to create a "better version of the company where you work", but unless your employer missed some major lessons along the way, your contract probably clearly stipulates that you've agreed not to do exactly that.
Plus, that's just bad practice and can destroy a lot of relationships that could instead be very helpful for you one day.
That's why the best business ideas are ones that enhance your performance at work and give you the opportunity to continue building your strengths outside of the office. If you're under any non-compete clauses, assignment of invention clauses or non-disclosure agreements, then it's best to consult an attorney for personalised advice on this matter.
It may seem obvious, but don't work on your side business during company time. You'll also need to refrain from using company resources on your business, no matter how tempting that may be. This includes not using your work computer, online tools, software, subscriptions, notebooks or seeking the assistance of other employees unless you've specifically cleared it with your attorney.
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 interested in, and doing those things with 100 per cent of my energy.
That being 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 side 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 business is able to be that sole source of sustenance for you.
Starting a side 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.
Image by Carl Heyerdahl via Unsplash.