In view of last week’s Dear Danielle question, here’s another post (originally published April 13, 2011) that I thought would be helpful as well…
Is it possible to start a business like this nights and weekends if you are totally self-supporting and work Monday through Friday, 9-5? Thanks for your advice! —JN
Well, anything is possible. It’s just that there are some practical things as well as some caveats to consider.
First, you want to get clear about your goals and intentions for having a business. Are you looking to create a real business, one that will earn well, take care of you and your family, and support your dreams, goals and lifestyle? Or are you just looking to earn a little bit of a side income while you continue to work as an employee?
Either way is perfectly fine, but the former will require some real work, effort, education and commitment while the other is more of a hobby. Understand that running a real business and freelancing on the side are two completely different things.
And, of course, my advice is always focused on those who are looking to create real businesses. So when that’s the case, the other thing to consider is the client. How much of a commitment do you have to offer clients if you are working part-time? How much time and energy will you have left over for them during the evenings and weekends after you’ve already put in a full work day and week? How long do you think you can sustain that pace? What will you have left over for yourself and your family, friends and other interests? How might the lack of time for self-care impact the quality of your support and ability to grow your business successfully?
I’m not saying it’s impossible. But clients’ stuff is important to them. And it can be really, REALLY difficult, not to mention stressful and exhausting, to provide a professional level of service and care to clients if you are still working a full-time, or even part-time, job. It really depends on how badly you really want this and how smart you go about it.
So here’s what I recommend…
1. While you are still working, set up the foundation of your business. That means, a) getting clear about what you intend to be in business to do and b) who you intend to work with (your target market and ideal client), c) start establishing your policies and procedures and d) getting your contracts and other forms together. All of this will be honed and adjusted over time, but you’ve got to at least get the start first.
2. Start working on your website. The more professional the better. Your business website is THE most important marketing piece in your business so don’t be penny wise and pounds foolish. Clients equate the professionalism of your site with the level of your skill, competence and commitment. If you aren’t the right person to design your professional site, hire a professional to do it.
3. Simultaneously, begin working out your job exit plan. This endeavor will affect your whole family so make sure you discuss the decision/goal with your spouse or partner and have their buy-in. There is nothing more difficult than starting a business when you have to also battle a resentful, unsupportive family.
Imagine your life while supporting a full roster of clients and how you will establish boundaries for clients, family and even yourself. The goal is to help everyone understand when it’s business time and when it’s family time. And for yourself, the goal is to honor your standards and boundaries—because we have equal culpability when we resent others by allowing them to step over those things in the first place. So those are going to be really important.
At some point, once you have your foundations in place, there will come a time when you simply have to make the leap and decide to commit to the business. But you never want to start broke. Magical thinking doesn’t pay the bills. So you want to figure out now how you will finance the business until it becomes self-sustaining and profitable. Do you have another income in the household you can live on while the business gets established? Do you have savings (or perhaps a severance) you can use to finance the business? Where else can you get capital for the business?
You want to understand that generally it takes any business about 5 years to get there and most fail in the first three years. This is probably the biggest mistake new business owners make. They don’t calculate what they need to earn and they don’t realize that they MUST not only earn a living, but actually a PROFIT, in order for the business to survive. I can’t stress this enough.
You want to go in with no illusions that you’re going to become an overnight millionaire sensation. Hey, I won’t say that’s impossible, but it’s not likely. It simply takes time. Go into it with your eyes wide open about that fact and you’ll be far better prepared for your success.
The good news is that the need for what we do as administrative experts has no shelf life. EVERY single business requires administrative support so there will always be a need for what we do. And it’s one of the most inexpensive kinds of service businesses to operate because the overhead is so low.