Dear Danielle: Is It Possible to Start an Administrative Support Business Part-Time?

Dear Danielle: Is It Possible to Start an Administrative Support Business Part-Time?

In view of last week’s Dear Danielle question, here’s another post that I thought would be helpful as well

Dear Danielle:

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 practicalities and 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, education, and commitment while the other is more of a hobby. You want to understand that running a real business and freelancing on the side are two completely different things.

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 obviously you’ll want to discuss your decision/goal with any spouse or partner you have and (hopefully) get their blessing and support. There is nothing more difficult than starting a business when you have to also battle a resentful, unsupportive family.

4. Imagine your life while supporting a full roster of clients, what that will look like 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.

5. Be clear about your finances. 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 that 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 a millionaire overnight. Hey, I won’t say that’s impossible (anything is possible, right?); 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 because the overhead is so low, it’s one of the most inexpensive kinds of service businesses to operate!

15 Responses

  1. Verleene says:

    This is great advice, because I’m in this situation. Right now I’m focusing on my website, policies and pricing. My goal is to transistion onto my business full-time, so I can go on and create even more revenue, and hiring people to run the business for me.

    Thanks for the sound advice.


  2. Judy Reyes says:

    Excellent advice, Danielle. This page is a keeper. Especially about making the leap. I’m getting closer! But website development is the next step. I also agree, I’m working fulltime and it’s hard to devote adequate time to marketing and planning, much less client service!

  3. So the person who originally asked the question let me know she was disappointed with my answer. I wasn’t sure why so I asked. In her response (which I really appreciated her taking the time to share), she said, “It is the same demographic politicians ignore by assuming that the only people on the planet are married with 2.2 kids, house with a white picket fence, dog, cat, extended family, friends they have known since they were five years old, etc.”

    When I sent her my reply, she felt it was “MUCH more helpful” so I thought I would share it here as well. Here’s what I wrote:

    Well, I’ll share with you my personal circumstances when I started and maybe that will help shed some light as well…

    I started my business working on the side while still employed in a day job. However, while still working, I could never earn enough money that would have allowed me to quit my day job. That’s what I meant when I said that at some point, you’ve got to make a leap and quit the day job before you’ll really begin to earn any kind of serious money.

    Eventually, I engineered my own layoff during a company-wide layoff (they were looking to cut back on staff and I volunteered) and being as I had a well-paying corporate gig, I received a very nice severance package. That was what financed my business along with the unemployment I was able to collect for being layed off.

    Unfortunately, what happens a lot of times when people enter this industry is they think they will automatically or magically get clients overnight and earn enough to live on, and it just doesn’t happen that way most of the time.

    There’s always some level of learning curve, depending on their background, as far as learning how to be a business owner (because doing the work and having the skills to run a business successfully are two different things).

    Now, you have to appreciate that you didn’t give me much information about yourself or your circumstances. I don’t know you from Adam or Eve, and I’m not superhuman so I have no powers of clairvoyance. 😉 But I’m not sure how you think my advice doesn’t apply to you just because you are single. There is no shortcut to starting a business and you’re simply going to have to be able to have something to live on while the business gets established. I don’t care if the person is alone or has a spouse or what. But that’s always your job as the business owner to figure out how you finance things.

    So if you don’t have a spouse, as I stated in my answer, you’re going to start needing to set aside savings now or come up with some way to pay the bills once you do take that leap until you are actually getting clients and earning enough money to live on.

    You set yourself up for failure if you don’t because you then put yourself in position where lack of money and desperation causes you to take on work and clients that are less than ideal. And that only short-circuits and delays your business growth.

    And by the way, I was a recently widowed, single mother when I did all this so I’m extra passionate about the advice I give because it DOESN’T come from the assumption that everyone is married with 2.2 kids. It’s the single people and especially the single women trying to support their children who only have themselves to rely on that I am particularly speaking to. 😉

    And I should add that even women who have spouses can find themselves on their own due to death or divorce. Or they may find themselves the primary breadwinner due to a spouses illness or layoff. Which, again, is why I’m so very passionate about wanting to help women build strong, REAL businesses that can take care of them and their children and families all on its own without having to rely on any other income.

  4. Arlene says:

    Danielle, this was well put on both accounts. I will agree with you that it’s not easy starting out on your own and can relate to the lay off as it helped me jumpstart my biz. The ironic thing is that my biz from what I initially planned to what I am doing today is totally different, motivational speaking and Chairmanship. I didn’t think I would ever host EA|PA|OA conferences as a Chairperson|Motivational Speaker yet this is what my onine biz is generating. I feel like the cart has been put in front of the horse however in hindsight realised it is a perfect opportunity to hand out my biz brochures and biz cards. Funny how opportunities present themselves. I was also asked to present at an all male conference and this really is going to take me out of my comfort zone but I will peservere and look upon it as an opportunity. I was also realistic enough to realise that whilst I am waiting the 1-3 years for my biz to really take off, I need to supplement my income by contracting so Danielle, you are SUPER*********, DUPER, SUPERSMART and I remain privileged and honoured to have met you virtually in 2009. I will always say ‘God does things for a reason. 🙂

  5. Stephanie says:

    WOW!!! Danielle this is very good advice on both accounts – It has always been my goal to be able to support my family on my own, Yes I am married and yes my spouse is working but just like he can support us if God forbid I couldn’t work, I have always wanted to be able to carry my family as well. All this to say that you are extremely correct and it doesn’t matter whether or not you are single, married and/or have children. It really boils down to being able to sustain yourself and ultimately having something to show for your business. Starting a business while still working full-time is one of the *hardest* things I’ve ever done and I always tell people at some point a decision must be made…Great read Danielle!

  6. Judy Reyes says:

    A strong testimonial. One of the reasons I am here is that finally in my life I have the possible resources and support to make this work (establishing my own admin consulting business). We sometimes have to make choices and for more than 30 years, my choice has had to be steady, reliable employment. Almost all women these days have gone through challenges in making career choices due to personal circumstances. I worked in jobs steadily but not easily! Childcare, divorce, health issues, teenager with severe problems… they all impacted me. We all respect that for many people, timing and resources make employment the sane choice. I can say that I also resented the so-called “normal” woman with the husband who supported her, or had resources I lacked. This was born from envy and lack of self-worth on my part. No more of this self-pity. I’m now old and wise enough to see through my old patterns.

    For us budding entrepreneurs, there is nothing better than hard work, preparation, which lessen our risks, and then, eventually, recognizing or creating the resources and opportunity to finally make the leap. Then doing it! One other barrier is our internal fear of change and failure. Even with the resources, we have to overcome these feelings. Opportunity knocks. It finds those of us who are ready to answer the door!

  7. Brigette says:

    Danielle, this response is so timely. I was thinking about this dilemma myself. My employment is what covers my family’s health insurance and other benefits since my husband is self employed in a podiatry group. Your guide is great. Prepare the backbone of the business – strategy, policies, ideal client profile, accounting, etc.- then take the plunge. I would add that having a regular job may actually help fund your startup capital account. For example, budget a set amount from your paycheck to automatically go into your VA business savings acct. This way when you’re ready to quit your regular job you have the funds to help with startup costs.

    Thanks for all your resources on your sites.


  8. Judy Reyes says:

    It’s nice to see this post again and see my old comments too. More than a year later, I’ve done my planning and foundation and now it’s time to fly. This September I’ll finally be going at my business full-time and leave my full time job. My startup has taken time,I started this in late 2010 and had a few setbacks along the way. I feel right now like one of those racehorses at the gate. Let me run!

  9. Ann says:

    I expected to retire this year with a nice little incentive from my current employer to finance me along with unemployment for the year or so I expect it to take to get my business off the ground. Unfortunately, that may not happen in the near future. I work for the large quasi-federal agency and anything and everything dealing with finances is up in the air for the organization. I am hopeful, but the hope is more like 70-30, not in favor of the incentive.

    So I’m continuing to work on all aspects of my business, and I’m trying to develop a Plan B, C, etc.

    One of the things I have been working on is networking, which is difficult because of the hours I work. Marketing my business to get that first client will be the challenge, I think.

  10. That’s great, Ann 🙂

    Remember, too, that networking doesn’t need to all be in person. If you know who your target market is, you can more easily and quickly determine where their online hangouts are (e.g., forums, listservs, blogs, etc.). You can network virtually on those any ol’ time you like, at the times that are available to you and without having to spend huge amounts of time. Simply participating by contributing to the discussions, being helpful and asking questions are the key.

    Have a great signature line with a call to action that will lead people to your website. As the folks in those places get to know, like and trust you (because your participation nurtures their familiarity and curiosity about you), that will lead more and more of them to your website, which then takes on the task of educating them about what you do, how you help your clients and what the next step is to learn more (i.e., your call to action for a consultation).

  11. Ann says:

    Thank you, Ms. Keister, for your helpful comments.

    I am to the point where I think I am reading more than might be necessary or really helpful and putting little to action–because I’m afraid. I live in Kansas, and, from my research, it appears the middle of the country is difficult to start a VA biz. I’m trying hard to remain positive while trying to answer all the questions that come at me. I get one question answered but more questions follow as a result–and to make it worse, I get side tracked which just compounds things.

    So, your helpful comments give me encouragement. Thank you.

  12. Hi Ann 🙂

    My guess is that it’s not the reading too much that isn’t helping, it’s the undirected reading. There is no reason you are locked into your geographic area to get clients. Instead, what will help you tremendously is getting a target market and focusing there. Be sure and download my free guide to finding your target market. It’s called Get Those Clients Now! Here’s the page:

  13. Ann says:

    Thank you, again, for the suggested link. I will definitely check it out; and you are right–deciding on my target market is the biggest headache of all! LOL.

  14. Willi C says:

    First of all, I think it’s funny that she assumes it’s automatically less stressful to do a full-time job and start a business while single. I can attest that I was just as exhausted before I found my fiance as I am now! 🙂

    Thanks for this post! Will definitely Tweet this and remind myself to check back on this in a year to see if I have reached my point of leaping! I’m still working full-time and tweaking everything.

  15. sheila petelo says:

    Very interesting read and I love every content!

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