So you want to start your own business but you’re working full-time. It can be hard to balance the demands of a nine-to-five job with the time and effort required to start something new. But it is possible. In this guide we’ll provide you with some crucial tips to help you make the journey from employee to small business owner.
1 – Do your research
There’s a lot of groundwork to do before you launch your business. And the fact you’ll be balancing things with a full-time job makes it even more important that you know what you’re doing – if you have to deal with problems that arise due to lack of research, you’ll end up spending time putting things right instead of working on your business. And that will make it a lot hard to build a successful company.
Here are the areas you should be looking at:
We’re going to assume that you’ve already got a strong idea of what area your business will operate in and how it will operate. But before you go any further you need to make sure there’s enough demand for what you’re planning to offer. Identify potential customers and ask them if they need a product or service like the one you’re planning to offer, and how much they’d be willing to pay you.
You may find that you need to tweak your idea to ensure there’s a market for it – that’s fine. It’s better to make that change now than it is to launch a business and discover no one’s interested in what you do.
Although technically an element of market research, competitor research is important enough to warrant its own section. It’s vital to understand how other businesses operating in your chosen niche do things. This will help you identify gaps in the market and also stop you from throwing money at something which is already dominated by a major player. Again, you may need to change your initial idea after this stage but that’s not a problem.
Research potential business names
Even if you’ve already come up with what you think is the perfect business name, research in this area is vital. If you infringe someone’s trademark with your business name, you could face a costly legal battle and the expense of rebranding an established company.
You’ll also want to make sure that the relevant domain name is available for your business. That’ll make it easier for your customers to find you online.
Research your position at work
You also need to understand what restraints your contract places on you in terms of running your own business. It’s highly likely that if you intend to operate in a similar area to your current employer there will be restrictions on what you can do. For example, there may be clauses which prevent you from taking clients from your employer.
Ignoring the content of your employment contract could damage your business and it may also lead to you being sacked from your job before you’re ready to go it alone. If there’s anything in your contract that isn’t clear or that you’re concerned about, it makes sense to talk to your work’s HR team, or to a legal expert specialising in employment law.
Research what subjects you’ll need to learn about
If you’re planning to go it alone, then the chances are you’ll need to learn some new skills. If you don’t know how to build a website, or how to run online marketing campaigns then you’ll either have to pay someone to do it for you, or plug those gaps in your knowledge.
If you want to assess your current skill level, then we recommend taking our Digital Skills Assessment. We also have a range of free Online Business Training courses, which you should check out.
2 – Plan your time
If you’re not going to be able to work on your business full time, you need to ensure that you’ll make the most of the time you can spend on your business. Map out what you need to do during the early stages of your business and draw up a realistic timetable that details how long you’ll be spending on each element.
Make this plan as detailed as possible – use a calendar so you can allocate specific evenings and weekends for specific tasks and then try to stick to it as closely as possible. If there’s something that can’t be done on an evening or weekend, then ensure your plan also covers time off from work. If you use a tool like Outlook calendar, available with Office 365, you’ll be able to set up reminders to help you stay on top of things. You’ll also be able to share your schedule, if you need to.
3 – Be open and honest with your employer
This might not always be an option – for example if your relationships at work are strained then you may want to keep things under your hat. But if things are going well in your current position, it makes sense to let people know about your plans.
By doing this you’ll ensure that you don’t burn any bridges when you do eventually take your business full time. This is particularly important if your current employer could send work the way of your new business.
Secondly, you’ll also be able to explore the possibility of working flexibly. This is likely to make it easier for you to manage time commitments. Of course, you won’t be able to work on both your job and your new business simultaneously – expect to run out of goodwill pretty quickly if you’re constantly fielding business-related phone calls while you’re working your day job. But if you can take two hours out of the day for meetings and phone calls and then make up that time later on, it can help you get to grips with things.
4 – Look into automation
The less hands-on you need to be with your business the better. One of the great things about the internet is that your website can act as your sales tool while you’re busy with other things. Spend time and money ensuring that your website does everything it needs to. Here are some ideas to consider.
Contact forms (and email responses)
If you’re providing a service rather than selling a product, then make sure your website uses contact forms which, when filled in, send pre-written emails as a holding response until you can reply in person. Make sure anyone who contacts you via one of these forms knows how long they’ll have to wait before you get back to them (48 hours is probably the maximum here) and then make sure you get back in touch within that time period. You can use something like the 123 Reg Email Marketing tool to create contact forms and send automated responses.
Open source your calendar
If you’ll be booking appointments to consult with customers either over the phone, via Skype or in person, then consider adding an open calendar to your website. Simply indicate when you’re free for these meetings and let people book a time that suits them. It’s a great way of removing a step from the process of organising an initial meeting.
If you’re selling a product a basic ecommerce site will allow you to make sales while you’re busy elsewhere. That’s straightforward enough. However, you’ll need to come up with a plan to stay on top of your dispatches and your stock levels. If you’re starting small, then this shouldn’t be a problem – just remember to be clear with buyers about how long it will take them to receive their goods and always ensure you’re sending products out as soon as possible after an order is placed. (We’re talking hours, rather than days here.)
If you find you do struggle to dispatch goods on time – either due to other commitments or because of a high volume of orders then you could look into drop shipping. With drop shipping, orders are placed via your business but fulfilled by a third-party. That means you don’t have to worry about holding stock or dispatching goods. Obviously you’ll need to pay the company which fulfils your orders, but it might be worth it depending on how much of that cost can be passed on to customers. You can learn more about drop shipping in this guide.
Obviously if you’re selling a homemade product, drop shipping isn’t an option. But people generally tend to wait longer for bespoke goods anyway, so you may not face too many problems.
If you’re not drop shipping, make sure you have a plan in place to dispatch your goods if you’re on holiday or tied up with your day job. People won’t forgive you if you don’t deliver on your promises.
Although it’s not directly part of your website, social media automation can help you maintain an online presence when you’ve got other stuff on. The idea is to schedule content so it’s published to your social profiles even if you’re not around to click post. To get the lowdown on social media automation, check out this video.
If you’re not sure which social network(s) your business should be on, then read this guide first.
5 – Revisit your plans
Once your new business has been running for a couple of months, it’s a good idea to take stock of everything and see where you are.
Is your business doing as well as you predicted? Is there a real demand for the product or service you provide? Will the income it provides be enough to live on in the near future? Do you need to dedicate more time to your business in order to make it a success?
Be realistic with yourself. If your business is struggling, don’t pretend that sales will suddenly rocket just because that’s what you want to happen. If you need to change things, change them. It may mean delaying the point where you get can go full time with your business. But if that delay means a stronger business in the future, then it’s worth it.
6 – Get ready to take the leap
Precisely when you’re in a position to give up the day job and go full time will depend on how your business is doing and your personal circumstances. You should also consider whether phasing out your day job is the right way to go about things – working for three or four days a week and spending the rest of the time on your business might help ease the transition.
Whatever you decide to do, good luck.
Need more inspiration? Check out Barry Adams’ series of article on starting your own business. Or read about how to launch a profitable business in your spare time.
Any questions? Tweet us @123reg.