As I speak with fellow consultants in the computer support industry, I’ve been surprised to find how many are running their consultancy part-time while holding down a full time job. It is understandable after all, with the economy still on shaky legs and the flexibility consulting gives to work during your off-hours. Needless to say, it’s tough to juggle the commitment of a full time job with starting and establishing a side-business. As I make the transition from part-time computer repair business owner to full time entrepreneur, I thought I’d pass along some of the lessons I’ve learned from running a business part-time outside of my “day job”. While my experiences specifically relate to my job as a computer consultant, these tips should apply to most any industry.
Take Baby Steps
Starting a business is overwhelming. The checklist of things to be accomplished is long and intimidating: come up with a name, register your business, build a website, make business cards, buy tools, advertise, etc., etc. To keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed, focus on one task that you need to accomplish and finish it before moving on.
It took me over two years before my business had a website! During that time I was slowly piecing together the various items needed to run my business. When I first started, I had analysis paralysis with all the tasks I needed to accomplish. Once I just starting focusing on one thing at a time, things began to run more smoothly and the vision for my business started coming together. Take advantage of the steady paycheck that having a day job provides, there’s no rush.
Keep Your Work-flow Manageable
Its easy to get excited about starting a business and rush to acquire as many paying customers as possible. After a while, it can be easy to bite off more than you can chew in order to grow your fledgling little start-up. The key is to make sure you don’t take on more customers than you can handle while still providing quality service. If you sacrifice quality because you don’t have time to go above and beyond for your customer, your reputation will suffer.
I never took on more than one or two clients a week. I knew trying to juggle more than that would undermine the word-of-mouth advertising that I was relying on to earn new clients. I also took time before and after the service calls to work on my process and improve the customer workflow. That way, once I did start taking on more customers, I’d have an efficient process in place that would save time and money.
Set Realistic Expectations for your Customers
When I serviced my first few customers as a part-time business owner, I tried to act as though I were running a thriving full-time business. I soon learned that along with that perception came requests to do service calls during the day, or expectations of super fast turn-around times when I had to take a computer home to work on. I was not able to meet these demands and let down a few customers in the process.
Once I started telling my clients that I was running this business part time while holding down another full time job, two things happened, the second of which was completely unexpected:
- Customers didn’t expect me to show up during business hours (which is usually good because they work during the day also), or to have 24-hour or less turn around time on take-home jobs. This ensured that they weren’t disappointed by my not meeting their expectations.
- Customers were impressed at my initiative and drive to build a business part time.
There’s something about a guy working hard on his off-time to build a business that seems to appeal to people. Instead of coming off as a hack (which is what I was afraid would happen if I divulged my true situation) I was perceived as a hard worker and as someone that went above and beyond by simply offering to fix their computer on my off time.
Once the money starts rolling in from your customers, it’s very tempting to spend a little on yourself. Having a steady paycheck from your day job makes that temptation greater since you’re not relying on the side income to pay your bills. However, keep in mind that if you ever intend to take this business full-time, you’re going to need a good reserve of cash saved up. You’ll also need money available to purchase tools and services you’ll need to run your business.
I only felt comfortable quitting my job last week because I had saved nearly every penny I earned from my part-time consulting work. This gives me a few months of cushion where I can comfortably grow my business to a sustainable level without worrying about putting food on the table in the mean time.
If your plan is to keep your business as side income only, then it might not be a bad idea to spend a little on that new 60 inch LED. Just keep in mind that you’ll still want some cash socked away for tools and services or whatever unexpected business expense might crop up.
These techniques allowed me to grow my business steadily over three years, and keep my sanity, to the point where I was finally able to comfortably make the transition to fulfilling my dream of running a business full-time. For those of you still running your business part-time…what techniques have you found that help you juggle your two careers without going insane?