Starting Up on the Side: Downsides of Building a Business While Employed

Tuesdays is my day where I go to my art studio in the afternoon and work on my illustration and painting work. It’s been hard to motivate myself to walk the 2 miles or so from my apartment to the Gowanus studio now that the weather has turned cold, and I got sidelined from my routine for about 2 weeks after Hurricane Sandy. Regardless, I schedule every Tuesday and Friday afternoon for several hours at the studio, even if I don’t have any time-sensitive art projects that need to get finished that day. For me, it’s about creating time, space and energy to engage in the creative process.

One of the big motivators here is the monthly rent I’m paying for the space. Most of the artists there are painters and sculptors, working on large, messy projects that aren’t quite conducive to Brooklyn apartment living. I draw (and occasionally paint) with ink, watercolor, guache and a few other things that fit easily into a 4″x10″ box, so arguably I could work out of my home. But my creative work is completely separate from my consulting work – they’re two hats, two energies, two totally different skills sets – and those endeavors have totally different motivators behind them that need to be taken into consideration if I’m really going to commit myself to being good and productive at either one. I don’t treat either as hobbies – I treat them both as jobs, aspects of my career that require my effort, talent, time and resources to reach a certain level of success.

Such is often the challenge when you start a business as a “side gig”, or on the side your full time career. I’ve talked about it extensively, why it’s a good idea, how to go about doing it, how it’s the way that most young entrepreneurs (including myself) started out on the road to sustainable self-employment. But there are a number or reasons why this can also backfire on you, and sabotage your entrepreneurial intentions altogether. The good news is that you have total control over this.

If you approach your business with the discipline and work ethic of a hobbyist, it’s going to remain a hobby. It’s too easy to get caught up in the novelty of “I have a business now!”, and forget that a business is also a job. Are you ready to take on a second job at this point in your life? I’m certainly not giving my recommendation to quit a full time career in pursuit of a half-developed business idea that still needs substantial work. I am saying that it’s important to recognize the potential pitfalls of trying to build and manage a business alongside a full time career, and how you can set yourself up well to avoid them and thrive as a budding entrepreneur!

Consider this…

Just Because Something is a Passion, Doesn’t Mean it’s a Priority
Some people have no problem coming home from a 9 to 5 work schedule, and hunkering down and dedicating their evening hours to freelancing, moonlighting, or working on their side projects. Many of us however, do, as “life” can so easily get in the way – impromptu invitations to go out, unforeseen overtime at work, family obligations, and of course, general fatigue and lack of enthusiasm after cranking away in the cube all day. Passion might be enough to prompt you to get started, but ultimately you have to make working on your business a priority, the same way you might make going to the gym, cooking meals, and other things you’re less likely to skip over if something more enticing comes up.

Nix the Problem: It’s important to look at the other priorities in your life, the ones you’re hard-pressed to bail out on last minute, and understand what the motivator is behind them. If you’re fully dedicated to the gym, look at the personal motivators that push you to want to be healthy and in shape. If you make it a point to attend a church service every Sunday, what is the personal motivator behind that? In order for something to truly become a priority in your life, something that you treat with the utmost respect and diligence, it has to be something of which you understand the intrinsic value of engaging in it, and hold a certain level of superiority over the smaller day to day things that threaten your ability to follow through. Then set a time or times each week that you are dedicated to spending those few hours exclusively working on your business, whether it’s at the library after work, in your home, or on the weekends at the coffee shop and away from distractions.

Having a schedule will help you avoid unwelcome distractions – the key is to consider that time that you dedicated “booked up”, and to not budge on that. Why is working on your business plan more important than that dinner invitation? Because your goal is to be completely independent and sustainably self-employed by this time next year. Now place yourself in that scenario – doesn’t it feel truly excellent to have accomplished it?

Consider this…

Other People Don’t Share Your Agenda, or Even Your Enthusiasm
Adam and I often have the best intentions to tackle our side projects on the weekend. We always talk about having “work dates”, or spending afternoons working on our creative pursuits, like me going to the studio for 8 hours, and him playing his bass. But we tend to get derailed from that in favor of hanging out together and getting lunch. It’s what we like to do. It’s akin to being on a diet, and trying to deal with friends or significant others who aren’t, and aren’t necessarily obligated to limit their own activities on your behalf. It’s much easier to go with the flow when the prodding of others is involved, particularly when they don’t share the interest in your business. We don’t necessarily view it as negative, but I would argue that we’re somewhat hardwired to behave this way, and it would take a significant amount of willpower to deviate from those patterns. Because…we like it, and we’re accustomed to it.

Nix the Problem: Plan your weekends, or evenings in advance, and shut off your phone and email during and leading up to your “focus time”. That way, you avoid any risk of last-minute peer pressure, and you can give people advance notice that you have obligations scheduled for that day. And finally, educate the people you care about – friends, family, significant others – on your plans for starting and building your business.  Fill them in on why you decided to do it, where you are in the process, what you need, and what excites you.  They may not echo your enthusiasm, but at the very least they’ll have a better understanding of how seriously you take it and how important it is to you. Raincheck?

And consider this…

Life Happens. And Even When it Doesn’t, We Worry That it Might

Perhaps one of the biggest roadblocks to aspiring independents is the financial responsibility of pursuing a career where your income is completely reliant on your ability to generate it from often unsteady sources. This is one of the big components of the Exit Strategy, the uber-planning phase where you map out every possible scenario of how you’re going to make this work financially, personally and professionally, and then put a plan in place to follow the best one. And so far, you’ve done well on your goal to sock away $500 per month toward your $5000 startup fund goal. But then your best friend decides to get married. In Italy. And surprise – you’re also the Maid of Honor. Assuming you can’t, and don’t want to, turn it down, you’re now going to have to figure out how to adjust your income and savings stream accordingly, and perhaps even dip into that startup fund. A trip to Italy sounds great, but you’ve now had to push back your exit date from your job by about 3 months, and that’s a bit of a blow to both your confidence, and your wallet.

Being an entrepreneur often means getting creative with your finances. Even if you don’t have a last-minute or emergency expense come up, you’re often living in the fear and anxiety that you might, and that’s no better for your motivation, your creative drive, and especially your health. Financial bumps in the road need to be taken into consideration, so that you can handle the day to day events without sacrificing either your plans or your well-being.

Nix the Problem: Revisit your extra strategy at least once a month to assess your progress, but also make sure that the plan you’ve laid out to transition out of your career and into your business is working for you. It is also a good idea to set up a separate savings account that you can contribute to so that you’re covered for any kind of incidental or unexpected expenses that may arise during your transition time. I personally like ING Direct, as it’s low-cost and yields a decent interest rate.

Accountability is key – time management, will power to dedicate yourself when you feel compelled to engage in other things, the ability to say “no”, and uphold your enthusiasm and motivation in the face of adversity from others, and proper planning that allows you to set yourself up to work through the inevitable bumps in the road that can easily sideline your side gig.

What challenges have you felt through the process of building your business alongside your full time career?

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