Starting a business is tough. I’ve been in the e-commerce industry for over 10 years, but I can still remember the early challenges I faced. One of the most difficult parts is trying to manage time and focus. How do you support yourself while also making the time to start a new business? When you’re done working, the last thing you feel like doing is grinding it out in the startup world.
Before I got started in e-commerce, I was a mortgage broker. I felt like I couldn’t truly commit to a startup until I quit my job, so I emailed one of my favorite authors about my situation and, to my delight, he responded:
“Keep doing your job while you start your own gig doing something else. -Seth”
That one comment gave me the courage to get started. My hope is to pay it forward in this article by teaching you some of the important things that I’ve learned after starting three of my own companies while working a full time job.
Solve the simple problem first
I’m a huge believer in keeping things simple and focusing on solving one problem at a time.
It’s intimidating to think that you need to build a massively successful business while maintaining a regular day job. But if you simplify the problem, what you actually need to do is build a company that is successful enough for you to quit your day job.
The definition of “successful enough” can change from person to person. But in my opinion, you need two things:
- Money to live. For an entrepreneur, I’m surprisingly risk-averse. I like to take very calculated risks. Most entrepreneurs have heard the term MVP (minimum viable product), but I like to aim for MSC (minimal survival cash flow). Therefore, I don’t advocate saving up money and quitting your job, because negative cash flow can be a very stressful situation to be in. It’s much better to build a side business to support yourself. You should aim to grow your business to a point that it can pay your most basic survival costs: shelter, food and beer money. When you strip out all the superfluous costs, it‘s surprising how little you actually need to survive.
- Potential to grow. Nobody wants to quit their cushy gig to get stuck running their own high risk business at minimum wage. Minimum wage is fine, but you want to know that you have the opportunity to grow beyond that. For this reason, it’s important that you feel confident enough that your business can grow beyond what it is.
When I started my first company, I quit my job as a mortgage broker once I was able to pay myself $1,500/month and once the business appeared to be growing each month. I didn’t mind that I was taking a major pay cut because I knew that if I could put more time into the business, I could help it grow faster.
Knowing that all you need is a business that can bring in $1,500/month is a lot less intimidating than thinking you need to build a million dollar business.
Validate your idea
I talk to a lot of newer entrepreneurs and the most common mistake I hear is not properly validating a concept. While it’s potentially another example of me being risk-averse, I think this is one of the most important things you should do before investing your time and money.
There are a few reasons for validating a concept.
The obvious one is to determine whether there’s a market for your product by testing your key assumptions. But many times, you aren’t actually making any big assumptions. For example, if you want to sell shoes online, you don’t really need to validate that. I can guarantee you people are buying shoes online.
However, there’s a more subtle reason why I like to validate. Starting a business is hard, and there are going to be some very dark times after your initial euphoria has worn off and you enter the trough of sorrow. In these dark times, it’s insanely important that you remember why you started the business, and the potential that it has. Otherwise, you may throw in the towel after putting in so much time and energy. Pushing through the trough of sorrow has huge rewards, and successfully validating your concept early on will give you the confidence you need to put the long term effort in.
Plant the tree
When you plant a tree, you can’t speed up its growth by working harder; it will grow just as fast with steady nurturing.
After a long day at your 9 to 5, there’s hardly much time to work on your business in between responsibilities at home like getting groceries and making dinner. For this reason, I like focusing on tactics and strategies that grow by themselves over time.
I see a lot of entrepreneurs spending their time doing activities that require ongoing maintenance, and eventually they get burned out and quit. An example might be managing your startup’s Instagram account, or writing blogs, by yourself. You post every day and your following grows and you get the occasional sale. However, you’re so busy managing your account that you can’t work on any other part of the business, so it eventually goes stale, and you quit.
The better approach would be for you to write a strategy document for Instagram, articulating every step that goes into posting a photo, then hire someone on Upwork to post for you each day. You built the strategy document once, and now it grows on it’s own, like a tree.
Make the leap
At some point, you will need to make the big decision whether or not you should quit your day job. I can say wholeheartedly that this is frightening regardless of how successful your startup business appears to be doing. I recommend having at least three months’ worth of survival expenses saved up (and ideally, you have minimal survival cash flow from the business).
And remember, you can always find a new job if things don’t go your way after a few months. If nothing else, you’ll have some great experience under your belt and can continue to grow the business on the side.
Even if things are going well, there are times when you might need to go back to working a job with consistent pay. When I started my third business, cash was so tight because of all the money we were spending on inventory that I had to take on a salaried job. It was a really difficult transition going from years of working for myself to a traditional 9 to 5, but I knew it was ultimately helping my business grow, and that was enough motivation for me to make the decision.
I hope this article has given you the confidence to get started. You don’t need to quit your day job, but you can start building your business today by using some of the above techniques.