Riding in the big boat while carrying the little boat …

There was a great article in eLance’s blog today (AJC: I didn’t know they had a blog, but I used the site to find my research assistant, Muhammad, who lives in Pakistan and is doing a great job for me at $4 an hour!) …

… here is a summary (with my thoughts in italics):

Tips for Incubating your Small Business Idea While Still Working Full-Time

Have you considered starting a business while still employed?

My Shanghai-born friend, Annie, says the Chinese have a term for this: “riding in the big boat while carrying the little boat.”

Some entrepreneurs only launch their business officially once they leave employment. However, they incubate the business concept while employed.

Other times, they actually launch the business and run it on the side while still employed. They may continue to run it as a side business for a period of months or even years. Only later do they leave their jobs.

No matter how you do it, I’ve got 6 practical tips for starting a business while you’re still employed:

1. Consider Your Employer Your Banker
I am a huge fan of bootstrapping a business, i.e., using personal money to fund growth. One form of using personal funds is to set aside a portion of your salary to fund your business. That means you need to protect your funding source — your job — until you are ready to cut the cord.

The author of this article suggests that you need to canvass your employer on ‘moonlighting’ otherwise you should wait until you leave your job to start the business – I would suggest that if the business is critical to your financial future (and, if you’re reading this blog, it probably is) then you should take steps to find a replacement job asap – and, let the new employer know that you are “working on a business ‘on the side’ to improve your business skills” … they might even see that as an asset!

2. Write a Business Plan
Sure, much of your plan will turn out to be incorrect (same goes for most startup business plans). But it’s not the plan that’s important … it’s the planning.

I agree – to an extent: as with your Life’s Purpose, having a Plan for your business is a great idea … but, trying to plan every detail is (at least for me) a waste of time … but, don’t let me stop you! If you want to see a practical approach to planning for any business – certainly, fast-moving startups – read Guy Kawasaki’s Art of the Start.

3. Get your Spouse’s Buy-In
Your husband or wife needs to be committed to your startup. If it isn’t a shared dream, or if your spouse is resentful of the time you are spending away from family, you’re adding stress on your relationship.

You want to stay married and have a business that sucks up all of your non-working time?! ‘Nuff said ….

To secure buy-in from your spouse, talk frequently about your dream. Paint a picture in words. Get him or her involved, too. Nothing creates buy-in better than being actively involved in business decisions.

4. Choose the Right Business

Here are some examples of businesses that can be operated on the side indefinitely for years, or eventually taken into full-time businesses:

  • Software development
  • Web design
  • Freelance writing
  • Online businesses
  • Graphics design
  • Consulting
  • eBay business
  • Event planner
  • Any hobby that you can turn into a business

The author recommends these because you can often be flexible in hours and/or hire outside staff/contractors … the catch is that a number of these businesses aren’t dramatically scalable, which is the #1 criteria that I look for in a business …. remember: scalable = salable.

5. Set Aside Dedicated Schedule for Your Startup

Many entrepreneurs who have successfully started a side business do it by setting aside dedicated hours each day for their startup. I’ve known budding entrepreneurs speak about going home to “start the second shift.” That’s exactly how you have to think of it. Commit to spending X hours per weekday and/or on weekends on your business. Stick to a regular schedule – it makes it easier. P.D. James, the novelist, worked for years as a hospital administrator, arising early to write for 2 hours each morning before work.

This is the best piece of advice in this already excellent post … it is hard to come home from work, only to have to go to ‘work’ … but, it must be done (hence, the prior discussion with spouses and bosses).

6. Turn Your Employer Into Your First Customer
Think of your employer as your first big sales target (assuming your product or service is relevant to your employer). Many a business has gotten off to a great start when the owner’s former employer became the first customer.

Good luck on this one! Still if you CAN get your employer to become your first big customer, it’s a great start: not sure how the whole employee/supplier co-existence thing will actually pan out … I think it will be better if you are able to transition from employee to supplier

If yuor objective is to build a second income stream to support your investing activities – or, perhaps to build up capital to start That Big Business of yours [AJC: I would never let a little issue of capital stop me from starting that one NOW 😉 ] – then this article provides some great suggestions …

… however, if you want to build a ton of money, fast, then you may have building the next Facebook in mind and this article (along with this one) presents a way to get off the ground with minimal risk.