How to Build a Side Business While Keeping Your Day Job

The saying, "Don't quit your day job," has become all but obsolete. We live in an era of entrepreneurship. Being your own boss is the chic new trend. But while throwing caution to the wind and only having a Plan A is tempting, keeping your day job while turning a side gig into a business is a great way to mitigate risk, learn your market niche, and test ideas and business models.

However, building a business and a brand while working a nine-to-five is tough. Below are a few tips to help you ease your way into doing both. (See also: 15 Ways to Make Money Outside Your Day Job)

1. Consider getting a business partner or co-founder

Taking on a business partner is an excellent way to hedge risks, gain access to additional resources, and split the workload. It is also the quickest way to ruin a friendship and drag your business down before it gets off the ground. Before jumping into bed with your bestie, here are a few things you should consider:

What type of partner do you need?

The first step in getting a partner is to determine the type of partner you need and the role he or she will play. Do you need help with ideas, branding, marketing, balancing the books, procuring finances or additional resources? Or, do you need a silent partner — someone who helps financially and that's it?

How much of the business does your partner own?

Drawing lines in the sand early is essential. The longer you wait, the murkier things become and the harder it will be to determine who owns what. It is critical that you state upfront who is in charge or if everything will be split 50/50. Draw up a contract that reflects this decision. A contract between friends, you ask? Absolutely.

How do you make decisions?

Who has the final say? Establishing how decisions are made during the infancy stages of the partnership is beyond important. If you are the sole owner, should your partner make decisions on your behalf? If so, which decisions? Or should they run all decisions by you? A great way to work through this is by establishing roles and areas of responsibility. Your partner will clearly know his or her sphere and the boundaries will be better defined.

2. Respect your nine-to-five

Understand and respect the fact that your nine-to-five is your main, primary, and most important job. Your side gig has to be done outside of business hours. Until you are ready to divorce your employer and make your side gig your new bride, you must prioritize your day job as such — even if you hate it.

Just remind yourself that your day job is paying the bills and providing you with the means and motivation to launch out on your own. Here are a few ground rules when it comes to respecting your nine-to-five:

Work while you are at work

Do your best to be the best at your current job. Work to be fully present and to always do a good job. This will translate to your business as well.

Beware of conflicts of interest

If your side business is in the same market or area as your current employment, you need to tread lightly. Your employer's clients, business procedures, and intellectual property should not be used for personal gain.

Check what contracts you've signed

If you signed a nondisclosure or noncompete agreement, then you may be prevented from working for a competitor or against your employer for a specific amount of time. Find out exactly what your rights are and what you can and cannot do.

3. Do the hard, boring, and expensive stuff

While you are gainfully employed, it's a good idea to do as much foundational work as possible. Draft your business plan, secure any licenses or certifications you may need, and establish your business as an LLC or sole proprietorship.

It's also a good idea to begin buying equipment and paying any legal fees associated with your business niche. It may feel like a waste of money to shell out this type of cash upfront before you begin earning revenue, but it's worth it. The more you can take care of before launching the business, the more profits you keep and the less capital you'll need down the road.

This is also a great time to work on branding and developing a solid marketing strategy. It's easier to nail these things down before you begin doing business versus winging it after you're officially open. (See also: 6 Simple Ways to Market Your Side Business)

4. Start generating revenue

If it is in any way feasible, start generating revenue while you are still employed. Test out your prototype. See how much of your product you can sell or which services you can provide on a smaller scale before you go all in.

This allows you to test the market, make better financial projections, and properly scale your business before you open. You can tweak processes, find new vendors, and get a sense of your business's flow. It will also help you answer these questions:

  • What adjustments do I need to make?

  • How are people responding to my marketing campaign?

  • Am I properly branded?

  • Are my prices too high or too low?

  • Do customers pay on time?

  • How much business can I handle alone? At what point should I hire additional staff?

  • Is my service or product in demand? How can I increase demand?

Generating revenue before you officially dive into business ownership is also crucial if you need investors. You need to demonstrate the profit potential of your business in order to entice people to invest. And the best way to show that you can make money is by actually making money. (See also: 10 Fundamentals of Naming a Small Business)

5. Use downtime efficiently

The biggest myth concerning entrepreneurship is that you get to set your own hours. As a business owner, your time is no longer truly your own — your customers, the market, and the need to get work done are your new bosses, at least at first. You work when you need to work — or you go out of business.

You've got to learn to use downtime efficiently. Days off from your nine-to-five become full workdays for the business. And yes, you will have to work on holidays.

It also means getting up an hour or two earlier to reconcile the books, answer emails, or order more inventory. You lunch hour is now time for you to nibble on a sandwich while you update your website, post on social media, and generate new marketing ideas (on your own computer). And the evenings — which used to be a time for socializing with friends and vegging out with Netflix — are now devoted to doing whatever needs to be done to keep the business running.

The schedule may sound brutal, and it is. But hopefully, it's only temporary. Success comes at a cost, and in order to make it in business, you have to initially pay up. (See also: 8 Common Myths About Starting a Small Business)

6. Set a date

Make your business Plan A and your current job Plan B. Set a firm date for quitting your day job and work diligently toward that goal. Structure your life around achieving that goal. Restructure your personal finances to help you reach that quit date. Cut back, reduce your overhead, downsize, and save as much money as possible to help stabilize your income while you shift business gears. See if your employer will allow you to work part-time for a while before quitting.

Quitting your job and going into business full time must be your end game. If not, your business will become and forever remain a hobby. With a good idea, proper planning, and a bit of luck, your business will eventually be able to provide you a full-time income, and then some. (See also: Starting Your Dream Business Is Easier Than You Think — Here's How)

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