It’s tempting to want to put 100% of your time and effort into plans to launch a new business from Day One. But jumping in with both feet is far riskier than working the business on the side while you hang onto the income and security of your day job.
Here are five tips from entrepreneurs who have successfully started a business while working full time.
1. Just get started
Fear of failure and becoming overwhelmed are two common roadblocks when starting a business. The key is to do something small every day and build on it, says Diane Melville, founder of Skin Care Ox, a skin care blog.
“Even if you’re just figuring out what your domain name is going to be, if that’s all you have time for today, some progress is infinitely better than no progress,” says Melville, who previously worked as a marketing consultant specializing in digital content production.
She also advises budding entrepreneurs to find ways to avoid burnout by having fun during the planning stage, since you’ll likely be working nights and weekends to get your business going.
“I just tried to change my mentality to make it fun,” Melville says. “I would tell myself, ‘This is my baby and I’m going to build this thing.’ Eventually, you get excited and can’t wait to get back to work on it.”
2. Build expertise and test the market
As you get going, build knowledge and skills and develop relationships, says Wilma Nachsin, co-founder of Life Working, LLC, a resume and career coaching business.
Nachsin, a former human resources director, and Arlene Wanetick, her former co-worker and current business partner, learned resume writing, trained as life coaches and signed up clients before they launched the business full time to practice their skills and gather feedback.
Nachsin and Wanetick also sought help to set up key systems, such as software to manage customer relationships and invoicing. They continued to work their jobs for 2½ years before quitting to focus on their business.
“Slowly but surely, we filled our toolbox up with what we thought we needed to build a successful business,” Nachsin says.
3. Avoid conflicts with your job
If your business is in a field unrelated to your job, you may not need to talk to your boss before starting up. If you think there may be a conflict, check with your human resources department to see if you signed a nondisclosure or noncompete agreement, which prevents you from working for a competitor or against the company.
The employee handbook where Nachsin and Wanetick worked barred any two employees from going into business together. But their office director agreed to sign a letter giving them permission to start their business.
“We promised the highest ethics and standards in keeping our business separate from our day jobs,” Nachsin says.
If you need to talk about your new business, restrict those conversations to appropriate times, such as during lunch breaks or outside of work hours, says Pam Farley, founder of Brown Thumb Mama, a home and garden blog.
“I didn’t want [colleagues] to come to a project meeting and think, ‘Oh, good heavens, she’s going to go off on a tangent,’” says Farley, who started her blog while working as a marketing writer for a health insurance company.
Your boss or co-workers may also be able to share expertise that will help your business grow — or even become its first customers, as was the case with Farley.
4. Set realistic targets
Achievable goals will help you stay motivated and encouraged, says Linda Pophal, founder of Strategic Communications, LLC, a marketing consulting and content marketing firm.
“I aim for 10% to 20% more business each year as opposed to 100% or 200%,” says Pophal, who sets annual sales targets and breaks them down into monthly and weekly goals.
Be sure to keep an eye on profitability by including expenses in your targets as well. For example, Pophal works with freelancers and contractors on certain projects, and now tracks costs versus revenue for each project, aiming to keep at least 25% of revenue in profits.
5. Know the right time to leave your job
If you’re generating enough income from your business to cover your living expenses and are feeling unfulfilled by your day job, it may be time to give notice.
“For me, it was a combination of having wanted to strike off on my own for a long time, and also not really feeling that challenged,” Pophal says.
When you’re ready to take the leap, look at factors such as whether you have other sources of income, emergency savings and health insurance coverage.
More on starting a business
Steve Nicastro is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Steven.N@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @StevenNicastro.