From Employee to Business Owner - Make the Leap!

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” ~ Thomas Edison, General Electric Co-founder

Your heart sinks when you set your alarm Sunday nights, and the thought of another week of working 9 – 5 is already making you tired.

You want the creative freedom to bring your own ideas to fruition, and don’t want the constraints of working for somebody else.

You know you’d be happier if you could make good on that great idea you have for a new business.

The problem is, your full-time job eats up most of your time and you can’t afford not to work.

You also can’t risk not knowing if and when your business will be profitable.

Other than your current job, you don’t have a rescue plan if your business fails.

But this doesn’t mean you have to give up your dream of starting a business even if you are working full-time.  

No, we’re not going to tell you that starting your business will be hard work that’ll be worth it in the end and leave it at that (though it’s true).

We’re here to help you create a solid plan and give you 10 concrete steps that will get you to the day when your business becomes your primary job.

1. Learn to Appreciate Your Day Job

Even when you’re stuck on a train or sitting in traffic, even when you have to get up early on a dark, cold morning, and even when it feels like your colleagues are making your job impossible, do your best to be grateful.

Don’t resent your day job for taking away from the time you could be putting into your business.

Money is the number one reason new businesses fail, and the job you already have is going to play a huge role in fueling your business and teaching you about the business world.

Jody Porowski, CEO and founder of Avelist, advises:

“Observe the way your current employer operates. Watch the managers. Watch the processes. Network. Meet smart people. Ask tons of questions. Learn, learn, learn! And enjoy the time while you’re there.”

Remembering that your job is a blessing will help you during the time you’re in transition and will make the next 9 steps easier to follow.

2. Figure Out if You Should Tell Your Colleagues About Your New Business

One of the most difficult aspects of balancing a job and a business is figuring out the overlap between the two.

Since you’re grateful (we hope) that you’ll be in your current job for a while, you don’t want to betray your employer.

So how much should your colleagues and your supervisor know about your plans?

It depends.

Janet Granger, who started an embroidery business while working as a library assistant, wasn’t sure if she should tell her employers.

“My employers knew nothing at all of my business plans – I don’t think it would have been sensible to have talked about it until it was really off the ground. . . I kept being vague about what I did in my spare time, which must have seemed suspicious. At times I tried to make sketches for designs at work and if anyone came across these it was difficult to explain without me appearing to be some sort of alien. I wouldn’t recommend keeping secrets – it’s very hard work – but in my situation it was better to keep quiet.”

Of course, everyone’s situation is different, and only you know what’s best.

Why You Should Tell

Starting a business is exciting.

If you feel that sharing your good news and finding more sources of support will help you stay motivated, let everyone know.

It’s likely that your boss and your colleagues will respect you for doing something so courageous and impressive.  

They may also have practical advice and valuable connections.

It’s also very difficult to keep secrets. Things slip and rumors fly.

Why You Shouldn’t Tell

If you’re afraid that your supervisor might question your loyalty to the company or question your ability to handle a business and a job, you might want to keep quiet until your business takes off.

You might also be worried that your current company will see your business as competition.

It’s a good idea to look through your contract to make sure you don’t run into any legal issues. The last thing you want is for your current employer to accuse you of stealing ideas or using company time to work on your own projects.

Here’s more advice from the Young Entrepreneurs Council.

3. Figure Out How Much Money You Need to Earn Before You Quit Your Job

Without a crystal ball, this may be a difficult task.

However, calculating your living and business expenses to figure out how much money you need to live comfortably is an essential step to putting yourself on the right track.

As of now, you’re lucky to have income from your day job. You’ll have to make separate calculations for after your resignation.

Decide which expenses you’re willing and able to cut to save money and calculate again.

You’ll see how important it is to document everything.

Gina Horkey, a successful freelance writer and the author of The Horkey Handbook, has a lot to say about keeping track of how much you earn:

“One of the best things I did for my business was to start a PNL or “profit and loss” statement early on. I knew that come tax time, it’d be helpful to know how much income I made, my total expenses and the net income my business brought into my household.”

Her careful record keeping paid off, literally and figuratively.

On the two year anniversary of her business, Gina posted this update from April, 2016:

“Last month, I had my best month ever and grossed almost $25,000.

I grossed about $6,000 per month at my old day job. That’s more than a 400% increase in income. (Mind you my expenses are higher, but that’s by choice.)

And that seriously BLOWS MY MIND.”

If you’re not sure how to go about creating your own profit and loss statement, you can use free online templates like this one:

Your financial calculations and predictions will give you a better idea as to when quitting your job will be a financially responsible decision.

Find even more advice on financial planning here.

4. Create a Timeline / Countdown to Quitting Your Day Job

Even after you’ve made your financial calculations, you won’t know for certain when your business will start generating enough revenue to become your primary job.

But you can and should use your estimations and intuition to create a calendar with projected goals, dates, and milestones. (Silly as this may sound, don’t be shy about scheduling rewards for yourself.)

Even if you don’t manage to stick to it 100%, your timeline will help you keep up your momentum and motivation.

After Merrit Baer graduated from law school, she interviewed for traditional jobs.

It didn’t take long for her to realize that she:

“. . . was looking for a position that leveraged more than one side of me: my cyber law and policy knowledge, my love of emerging technologies and my entrepreneurial streak. I saw a need for interdisciplinary work in cybertech. So several months ago I started a cyber strategy consulting firm.”

Here is the six month timeline she created.

If you don’t have a “quit date” in mind, you risk spinning your wheels and using your day job as a crutch forever.

Because things change, look at and update your timeline at least every six months.

For an extra dose of inspiration, check out the timelines of these hugely successful business.

5. Free Up Time

As time goes on, you’ll get more used to your new, much busier schedule.

Until then, one of the most important things you can do for your mental and physical health is develop a routine.

Don’t treat your new business as a hobby. Stick to your routine even if nobody is forcing you to do so.

This won’t be easy, and some of your friends and family members might complain about not seeing you as much as they’d like to.

It’s true that you won’t have as much time for socializing, but you do need to create a support network for yourself.

As difficult as it may be, you’ll also figure out which tasks and activities you can cut from your day.

You might even have to cut back on sleep.  

But remember, no excuses.

If you dig deep enough, you’ll learn what to cut and learn to organize your time and prioritize.

It helps to pay attention to how you feel at different times of the day, on different days of the week.

Ryan Robinson suggests:

“Know which time of day you’re mentally at your best and make that the time you spend on starting your business. For me, both my critical thinking ability and creativity become pretty worthless after 10:00pm, so I prefer to get up at 4:15am and start early on my side business before heading off to work.

Be selfish and give your passion project the best part of your day.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might want to try using a tool like Vitamin R to help you divide your tasks into manageable chunks of time or Habitica, which turns organizing and completing your tasks into a game.

Not sure what your day will look like with two jobs?

Here’s the schedule Jody Porowski, Founder and CEO of Avelist, who started her company while working full-time.

For more help boosting your productivity and managing your time, try some of these productivity tools.

6. Decide if You Need to Outsource

No matter how organized you are and how much you stick to a routine, starting a business is a huge, tiring task.

Every entrepreneur needs support, whether it be from mentors, family members, friends, or colleagues.

You may even find you need at least one employee.

As she looked back at the experience of starting her business, Ambareen Musa reflected that:

“In the early stages, a lot of the growth revolves around the founder, but trying to do it all alone was not necessary. This meant that I had no time off or a break when I needed it. My father, who had started three businesses over the years, had warned me that having your own business is a 24/7 thing– and now I understand that. No holiday or break is a real one –there is no such thing as “switching off”– and it is not that I am only thinking of strategy, but also about execution. Every detail had to be taken care of by myself, which is normal in the initial phase of a startup, but the question is how long is too long to stay in this particular mode?”

Deciding how much responsibility you’re ready to take on isn’t simple.

Your business belongs to you, and trusting others to share your vision and your profits can be scary.

But if you don’t want to (or can’t) do everything yourself, it’s important to be aware that there are some tasks that could be worth outsourcing.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before deciding whether or not to outsource:

  • Can you do it all, or do you need help?
  • Are there things that somebody else could teach you or do better than you can?
  • Is it worth slowing down your financial growth to have help and have a steady start?

If you do decide to outsource, you might want to start by hiring a virtual assistant.

7. Find and Create Your Work Space

According to the Small Business Administration, over 50% of small businesses are run from home offices.

Sooner rather than later, you’ll have to decide whether to rent office space or work from home.

Take a look at your finances and goals, and weigh the pros and cons.

Reasons to Rent Office Space

You should rent an office space if:

  • You regularly meet with clients and you and feel that an office would provide a more professional environment than a coffee shop or your house.
  • You live in a house with a lot of people and very little quiet.
  • You feel you’d work better in an office setting.
  • You work better around other people.

Reasons to Work From Home

You should work from home if:

Of course, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can always rent an office space for a day when you have an important meeting.

You can also find a “third location,” like a coffee shop, for times when working from home isn’t convenient.

According to motivational speaker and coach Stephanie Staples,

“Sometimes home is not the right place and work is not the right place — even when they are the same place. I need a third location. For example, a donut shop, library — somewhere that even though other things are going on, I don’t have to pay attention or care about it. It is the power of the third location; I think differently, work differently, act differently there, and it really helps me.”

If you’re not sure of the best option for you, try a coworking space as a compromise.

No matter what you decide, what matters most is that you have one dedicated space for the majority of your work.

Once you’ve made your decision, you get to the fun step of setting up and decorating your work space.

You may not have the funds to set up your dream space yet, but add goals and pictures to your timeline.

Meanwhile, get ideas from Pinterest boards, Instagramhow-to articles, offices you’ve seen, and your own imagination.

8. Set Up Your Web Presence

With your office space (wherever it may be), financial calculations, and support networks in place, you’re ready for the exciting step of announcing to the world that you are open for business.

Create your professional web presence by setting up a website, blog and various social media accounts (we recommend starting with basic platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram).

Setting up your web presence is one step you absolutely cannot skip.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to be particularly tech-savvy to do this.

Nicci Blanke created the website for her company, Viva! Dance Center, with Microsoft Office Live Small Business.

In the first month after its launch, the site had more than 1,000 hits.

According to Nicci Blanke:

“Everybody has the Web now. And I think keeping up with technology is just like keeping up with dance steps. People appreciate that and our Web site allows us to do that.”

Her business is still going strong.

Nicci Blanke chose to build her site herself, and has since updated it with different software, but you can always hire a professional.

When your site is up, don’t sit back and wait for people to find you. 

Comment on, like and share posts from social media feeds and blogs related to your own business.

While you’re at it, offer to guest blog and write articles.

You might also want to take online courses or webinars on social media, and learn web design with a site like Codecademy.

Creating a professional email signature for your business will add to your professional persona and serve as a guide to your presence on the web.

Building your web presence is not only creative and fun, it’ll help you “find your voice” and solidify your brand.

Just make sure that your professional web presence doesn’t cross your personal web presence.

While it’s important for potential clients to get a glimpse into your personality and get to know you, your personal life is private.

Use this guide  and these tools to help you get started.

9. Get Your First Clients

Once your website is up and you have a strong social media presence, you’ll more than likely land your first client.

Even if you have only one client, work as hard as you can (which is good practice for you and will help with word of mouth).

Tell everyone you can about your business. You’ll be surprised by how many connections people have.

When Victoria Pynchon left her job to start her own firm, she had zero clients.

She took a surprisingly simple yet extremely effective step:

“I invested in nice stationary and sent an announcement to everyone in my database.

I told the world that I was open for business and ready to take on clients.

I got my first two clients from this single activity. One was a friend’s husband. The second was my mother’s friend (to this day my mom doesn’t know that I did her friend’s estate plan).”

After you’ve let the world know about your new business, you’ll need to narrow your focus and figure out your target audience.

Maybe you have an app that you think might appeal to women between the ages of 20 and 30. Maybe you’re a realtor in a neighborhood with a lot of young families.

Your idea of who your target audience is might be spot on. You may find you need to make adjustments.

In both cases, you’ll have to test the waters with your first few clients before you start expanding.

10. Take the Leap!

What do you do now that you’ve completed the nine previous steps and you’re ready to turn your business into your full-time job?

1. Resign gracefully.

The last thing you want to do is burn bridges and lose professional connections (even if your job doesn’t seem related to your business).

You deserve the praise they’ll give you, and again, the more people who know about your business, the better.

2. Enjoy the adventure and your new life.

Keep going, even when you’re tired and feel like giving up.

Revel in the new opportunities you never saw coming.

Here are just a few ways Anna Lundberg’s life changed after she left her office job:

“Since leaving, I’ve become involved as a mentor in two start-up incubators, run workshops with big companies, worked on exciting projects with big-name brands, and done interviews and guest posts for various blogs and websites. None of these things were even on my radar while I was in my old job.

I’ve also become aware of, and grateful for, an amazing network of people who are eager to make mutually beneficial connections and collaborations. So talk to friends and to strangers, go to networking events, and above all remain open to unanticipated opportunities from unexpected directions.”

pouring champagne3. Most importantly, celebrate!

What you’ve accomplished is incredible, and certainly not easy.

Open a bottle of your favorite bubbly beverage, go out for a nice dinner, or throw a party.

Better yet, do all of the above.

And then, when you’re done celebrating, enjoy the feeling of setting your alarm clock so you can get back to work.

We wish you the best of luck with your new business endeavors. 

If you’ve started a business while working full-time, or if you have plans to do so, share your experiences in the comments.

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