Having a full-time job is often the consideration that keeps people from pursuing their business ideas. The need for financial security and the benefits of having full-time employment are strong motivators. In a perfect world, you’ll have enough savings to quit and go all-in on your business. You can even afford to have it fail. You can see into the future and know it's a great idea that will be very successful. While this often isn't reality, you don't have to choose either a full-time job or your own enterprise; you can start a business while you’re working full time.
During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, many workers who once commuted to an office started working from home. People suddenly had more time on their hands, as they didn’t have to go into work and couldn't leave the house to do their regular routines and activities. This challenging period led to many new creative hobbies and side hustles. Workers began rethinking their careers. The Great Resignation was a result of people enjoying working from home and not wanting to return to the office. Instead, they decided to think outside the box, whether it was freelancing or finding a way to monetize their lockdown hobby. While some people quit their jobs to dedicate themselves to their ideas, others had effective secondary pursuits while still working full time.
Many entrepreneurs find time outside their full-time jobs to start a business, so they can keep their income and test their idea before fully committing. Starting any business takes a great deal of hard work and dedication, especially when you continue to work full time. You must be strategic with your time, learning to maximize productivity and efficiency.
These are the most important things you need to know about how to start a business while working full time:
- Consider if your current employer has a non-compete clause
- Decide on your business idea
- Address your strengths and weaknesses
- Set SMART goals
- Set aside time in your schedule
- Outsource what you can
- Always be looking for ways to improve
- Don't quit your full-time job right away
- What are the benefits of starting a business while working full time?
Consider if your current employer has a non-compete clause
The first aspect of starting a business while working full time is to see if you can, legally. Check your current contract with your employer and see if you signed a non-compete clause. This type of restriction could prevent you from starting a business while working for your employer or even afterward for a set period of time.
Non-compete clauses can vary depending on where you live. Some states and countries allow for more restrictive and binding agreements than others. Employers use non-compete clauses to prevent employees from taking their clients, trade secrets and other proprietary information and starting their own businesses.
Tip: If you need clarification on your contract or help going over it, you can find contract lawyers and other legal professionals on Upwork.
Decide on your business idea
Once you’re thinking about starting your own business, the first step is to figure out what exactly your product or service is. Formulate an idea, and you can then figure out your business plan and logistics. A good business idea fills a market gap, often making a process simpler or solving a need. It has a clear use case and a specific audience who would want it.
Signs you have a good business idea:
Marketability. You've identified a target audience who would want and need your business and a method for reaching them. This audience could be another business or consumers directly.
Consumer demand. Through research, you know that your audience would pay for your products or services. You can use Google's Keyword Planner tool to see the search trends for your idea and related keywords. If you're interested in freelancing, check out the most in-demand skills for 2023 on Upwork.
Profitability. You can make money from this idea. Think about the initial investment and startup costs and how many products or services you would need to sell to begin making a profit.
Clear purpose. Is your product or service useful? Successful businesses solve wants and needs or make life easier. Be realistic about why someone would buy your idea.
Low competition. Take time to see if your idea already exists and who your competition is. How is your idea better or different? Figure out why someone would choose you over your competition–this is your unique selling proposition.
Scalability. You can start offering more to your customers without sacrificing quality, whether ramping up product production or expanding your services.
Personal passion. Having a passion for your business idea is the most important factor since it takes a lot of time and energy to be an entrepreneur and start your own business. Your business idea should excite you, so you don't mind working extra hours to bring it to life.
Address your strengths and weaknesses
Once you've decided on a business idea, you need to look at it objectively to build your business plan and prioritize your to-do list. You can do this by creating a SWOT analysis, which identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis gives you an overview of your business and helps you make informed decisions. Successful organizations regularly use SWOT and other types of competitive analyses as tools for planning and decision-making.
How to do a SWOT analysis
The first half of a SWOT analysis looks at the internal factors–your business's strengths and weaknesses. The external factors are opportunities and threats. Performing a SWOT analysis requires introspection and self-reflection, which can be challenging. The goal is to be objective; one of the best ways to conduct a SWOT analysis is to ask questions for each category.
Example of SWOT questions by category:
- What is your biggest selling point?
- Why would someone choose you over a competitor?
- What do you do best?
- What are you most proud of?
- What is your biggest barrier to entering the market?
- What could you improve on?
- What's holding you back right now?
- What resources (talent, knowledge, capital) are you lacking?
- What advantages do your competitors have?
- What is the market missing?
- What could your competitors be doing better?
- Could you benefit from any upcoming trends?
- Is there a customer need that none of your competitors are meeting?
- What changes in the industry could help you?
- Could any of your weaknesses prevent you from achieving your goals?
- Do you have any direct competitors?
- What are the negative factors in the market right now?
- Do you predict any changes in your customers’ preferences and behaviors?
- How could projected social and economic changes affect your business?
Example of a SWOT analysis:
Tip: If you need help with your SWOT analysis, you can check out market researchers in Project CatalogTM.
Set SMART goals
What do you want to accomplish in the first three months? Okay, what about six months, a year, or five years? Figuring out your business goals lets you know what to focus on and what actions to take. Goal-setting is fundamental when starting a new business and working full time. When you have a to-do list that never ends, how do you know what to start on first? Set SMART goals and let them guide you.
SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. When goal-setting, you need to create clearly defined objectives that are possible. Dreams and goals are different. A goal should be reasonably attainable within a set timeframe.
Specific. Each goal should be a clear objective. Narrow down your goals based on the different outcomes you want.
Measurable. The goal needs to be quantifiable. You should be able to tell how close you’re getting to monitor your success.
Achievable. Your goals should be doable within reason, so you're setting yourself up for success and not wasting time that could be better spent on another goal. If you have a larger and more difficult goal, break it up into smaller actionable milestones.
Relevant. Stay on track with your vision and make sure each of your goals aligns with your overall mission. Ask yourself why you're setting each goal.
Time-bound. Every goal should have a deadline, so you know the order of importance and which goal you should be currently working on. Having a date you want to reach a goal by also helps you evaluate success.
See an example of how you can rethink a goal using the SMART technique:
Idea: I want to see my products in all of the local grocery stores.
SMART goal: I will pitch my hand-made soap to three local health food stores within the next three months.
While your vision of success may be seeing your products on the shelf at your local grocery stores, you need to break it down into steps that you can take to get there.
Specific. Instead of saying products, the goal narrows down to specify which products.
Measurable. Your goal identifies how many stores you need to pitch to.
Achievable. Instead of having the goal of seeing your products on the shelves, which you have less control over, the goal is to make the pitches.
Relevant. The goal still works on expanding commerce channels.
Time-bound. The goal has a specific deadline of three months.
Set aside time in your schedule
Entrepreneurs and business owners know how to manage their time effectively. You can work full time and start a business, but it requires sticking to a schedule and being disciplined. Start working on your business venture an hour or two before or after working at your job each day and try dedicating time on the weekends if you can. Finding the time to work on your business may be challenging, but creating a set schedule can make it easier.
You don't want your new business to affect your current job negatively. When you're excited about a new business and have a to-do list that you can't wait to start, it's easy to feel less enthusiastic and motivated at your current job. Maintaining work quality is important in case you decide not to pursue your new business and instead stay at your job. Your current employer could also become a client later on, or you may need a recommendation or introduction. Cultivating good relationships as a business owner is essential.
Tip: Make sure you don’t work on your side business during company time or on company property (computers or phones) to avoid any legal issues.
Outsource what you can
Another aspect of effective time management is knowing when to outsource. Building a business takes a lot of time, but you don't have to complete every task yourself. While you could learn how to build a website or use Photoshop to make a logo, what if you hired a freelancer instead? Find independent talent specializing in precisely the skills you need, saving you time and energy.
Even if you don't have the budget and startup capital to hire a staff, you can still find independent talent to work within your budget. On Project Catalog, you can shop fixed-priced projects, so you know exactly how much any project will cost. See which freelancers are available for your price range for each project you need help with.
What to consider when deciding to outsource a project:
- Does this require any specialized skills?
- If so, is this a skill that would be beneficial for you to learn?
- Do you have the time to learn it?
- If so, how much time would the project take you to complete?
- And what other tasks could you be finishing during that time?
- If you had to pay yourself your hourly salary, how much would that cost?
- Could you hire a freelancer for less?
Always be looking for ways to improve
Successful entrepreneurs are lifelong learners, continuously looking for ways to improve. When starting a business, you can't know everything; no one does. The top business people are lifelong learners who stay up-to-date in their industries, keeping up with trends and new technologies. They are also able to look at themselves and their companies objectively to see what could be made better.
Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft, carves out time in his busy schedule co-chairing the Gates Foundation and focusing on philanthropy to read over 50 books a year, even reading for three hours a day on vacation. Reading helps him learn about new topics and technologies that he wants to understand in greater depth, usually to make better-informed decisions about which philanthropic investments to pursue.
One way you can improve is by asking for feedback as you build your business. Listen to your customers and figure out what works and what doesn't. Ask the people around you if they would do anything differently. Having an open mind helps you to see other people's points of view. Someone on the outside may notice something seemingly obvious that you can't see when you're in the middle of the action.
Being able to accept feedback and look at yourself objectively and self-criticize is a powerful skill. As a business owner, you have to be able to separate yourself from your business and not take feedback personally. Even if the input is negative, use it to improve your product or service.
Tip: Freelancers can keep competitive and offer more services to their clients by upskilling.
Don't quit your full-time job right away
When you start a brand new business, it rarely starts earning money on day one. It may even end up putting a big dent in your savings at first. While you may want to quit your job and go all-in on your business, unless you have the financial security to live off your savings until your business starts to thrive, avoid quitting your full-time job.
Ideally, wait until your new business brings in enough income to support you before resigning. Not all businesses succeed and become profitable. Sometimes even the greatest ideas fail or need to be readjusted and reworked. Avoid leaving your job until you can safely project that you’ll make enough at your new business to meet your living expenses without having to stress financially too much.
Tip: You can hire a freelance financial planner to help determine a budget and evaluate your business's profits.
What are the benefits of starting a business while working full time?
Working full time and starting a business may mean you need to make sacrifices to your personal life, like working on a Saturday morning, but maintaining this dual role has many benefits. Staying at your current full-time job for as long as possible can help you build up the capital you need to fund your business and give you a safety net.
Consider these benefits of working full time while starting your business:
- Steady income. You can invest any extra income you have into your business.
- Benefits. As a full-time employee, you may receive healthcare and retirement planning benefits that you’ll need to pay for out of pocket once you leave.
- Less pressure. You can take more time making decisions and planning because you're not solely relying on your new business for income.
- Forces you to be strategic. Because you have limited time, you must prioritize and be as efficient as possible, which often leads to innovation.
- Afford to take more risks. When you're still working, you can take risks that you may not be able to if you need to support yourself with the business.
- Networking. Working in a professional environment can present networking opportunities. Your coworkers or employer could offer valuable advice and even become a customer one day.
Find top talent to help you achieve your business goals on Upwork
You can find the help you need on Upwork for everything from accounting to customer service. Build a team of freelancers, your Virtual Talent Bench™, with the right skills that you can turn to. You can hire by project, working with the best independent talent, even if you don't have the budget for employees. Explore Project Catalog and find fixed projects in your price range or post your project on the Talent MarketplaceTM and see what proposals come in. Maximize your efficiency by working on what you do best and using specialized talent for everything else.
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