Saturday, April 4, 2020

Go Ahead and Start a Business — But Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Written by: Dorie Clark

Many professionals dream about becoming their own boss — a full 62% of Americans, according to one survey. They often envision the classic image of entrepreneurship: triumphantly giving one’s notice, and then pounding the pavement to hunt for clients. But that “all or nothing” strategy is needlessly high risk and, almost always, is the wrong path forward. Instead, the correct answer to “Should I become an entrepreneur?” is two-fold: Go ahead and start your business. But don’t quit your day job.

Of course, there are some basic challenges to overcome — making time for a side hustle, and ensuring that your new venture doesn’t violate company policy. You should double check the rules, but most often, if you’re operating a different type of business — say, freelance writing when you work for an investment bank — there won’t be any perceived conflicts.

But once you get started, the rewards of building your own business, while being fully employed, are substantial. Here are five reasons to simultaneously pursue both and ways they can enhance one another.

“Failure” can benefit your career.

When you’re making a binary choice about entrepreneurship — “Should I quit my job to start my own business?” — the financial consequences of failure can be devastating. (The mortgage must be paid, regardless.) But when you have the safety net of income from your job, you can treat entrepreneurship as a learning journey: Even if the venture fails, you’ve still gained valuable skills that can enhance your career.

That was the case for Bozi Dar, a pharmaceutical executive I profiled in Entrepreneurial You. His first entrepreneurial idea — an app to help users change their moods — failed miserably. But he became smarter about sales and marketing in the process, and leveraged those lessons into multiple promotions at work.

You’ll have more time to validate your business idea.

In the entrepreneurial world, the most important initial goal is to find “product-market fit” — i.e., identifying the right audience and the right offering that they will pay for. This process can take quite a while, and without other sources of income, your clock will be ticking loud and fast. But without immediate financial pressure, you can take the time to truly understand your customer and their needs, leading to a far better and more successful product.

Entrepreneur-turned-author James Altucher started a web development company on the side and kept his day job for a full 18 months, even hiring a dozen employees in the process, before he left to run it full-time. That slow buildup ensured he could maintain his salary level and financial obligations with the new venture.

You can more easily stake out a premium position in the marketplace.

When you’re dependent on your nascent business to generate revenue, you’ll often have to accept low-paying or undesirable gigs. Early in my entrepreneurial career, I accepted plenty of short-term projects for a few hundred bucks. But if money isn’t your primary object at first, you can be far more selective, over-indexing on unpaid but prestigious engagements (guest lecturing at business schools or giving TEDx talks, for instance) and avoiding low-margin work or questionable clients that could taint your brand later on.

You can fund valuable professional development for yourself.

In the early days of an entrepreneurial venture, professional development funds are in short supply: All funds go toward creating or marketing the new product. The downside, of course, is that the company leader may be unprepared for certain aspects of the job, and doesn’t have the resources to get the help they need. That’s not true when you keep your day job, however.

I first met Sher Downing when she attended a mastermind retreat I organized nearly four years ago. She was still employed as a university vice provost full-time, and used the retreat to plan out a detailed, two-year runway toward starting her own business. Buoyed by the strategic connections and choices she made during her final years in her day job, she today runs a successful education technology consulting practice.

You can enjoy your professional life much more when you’re operating in both worlds.

An entrepreneurial side hustle adds spice to what might, at times, feel like staid or repetitive activities in your day job. And while you’ll certainly want to take your business seriously, the financial security afforded by your day job helps you maintain perspective: a delay with your new prototype, or a client who doesn’t renew, may be a setback, but it’s not life and death. Working in both realms enables you to tap into the creative joy of learning and experimenting, which can often get lost — quickly — when they’re overlaid with financial exigencies.

To many, starting your own business means leaving your job and your company behind. But many of the smartest professionals recognize that you can — and quite possibly should — keep both. The combination teaches you more, and faster, than would otherwise be possible, and enables you to custom-craft a career that’s uniquely interesting and meaningful to you.

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