For as long as I remember, I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own business. However, like many others on the corporate treadmill, I was never willing to give up a stable income for a risky startup life. It wasn’t because I don’t believe in my business or my own abilities, it was because I wanted time and financial buffer to test out different business ideas before I committed all my resources. To me, it was just practical diversification of risk. As the saying goes, never put all your eggs in one basket, unless you have plenty more golden eggs in your family reserves.
If you need to scratch that entrepreneur itch but still need a day job to keep going, here are five tips on how to get started:
1) Be prepared to sacrifice your leisure time
No pain, no gain. If you don’t want it bad enough to give up on Netflix and Korean dramas, you need to rethink your priorities in life. Refocusing 2-3 hours a day makes a vast difference in your life. 2011 was a huge year for me. I started two businesses on the side while I was working at a digital agency. Six months in, I resigned my agency role to focus on the businesses, but received another great job offer I could not turn down. As a result, I transitioned from one corporate job to another while trying to juggle two businesses on the side. Time became an extremely scarce resource for me and I would often work till 2am daily and throughout weekends in order to keep things going.
Be prepared that sleep will be the first thing to go out the window for the first few years of starting a business.
2) Launch, test and repeat many times
In my mind, it would take many years of working in a corporate role before I saved up enough capital to start my own business, but because of the flexibility and low startup cost of online business models, i was able to start my first business much earlier than I expected. Due to the advancement of technology, there are now a ton of business opportunities out there that does not require much funding to get started. Put in a low investment amount that fits your appetite for risk – test, refine and then test again. If it doesn’t work, move on to the next idea. Moving fast is critical to gain experience and optimize your way up the steep learning curve of entrepreneurship.
3) Plug into the right networks
Starting a business is not just physically hard but also emotionally and mentally demanding, so be sure to surround yourself with people who inspire you towards your goals. Remember, you are the average of 5 people you spend time with. In 2010, blogshops were starting to take off in Singapore, and one of my close friends was raking in a healthy side income selling online. She inspired me to put my free time outside of my office job to start researching on market trends and needs. At that time, I was also shuttling regularly between China and Singapore due to my full time job and that allowed me to tap into the amazing world of Taobao. In fact, I secured my first main supplier through the generous reference of a random Taobao seller to his supplier.
Attend industry events, socialize, find out about others and explain your ideas to people. Even if your immediate contacts do not seem interesting, you will be surprised at how often a random contact can open the door to important partnerships much faster than other seemingly influential contacts.
4) Tread the grey areas around your job carefully
Due to my job, I was able to learn a lot of insights and meet a ton of great folks who shared tips on how to grow my business. Of course, you should be extra careful about any potential conflicts of interest and not do anything dodgy that may cause you to get fired.
Unless your business is already raking in big bucks, or in direct competition with your existing employer, I do advise against telling everyone about your side project. Employers with traditional mindsets may view it negatively as a lack of commitment to your job and if your business does not work out, it will be a double whammy to your career progress.
5) Keep your motivation levels high
There were quite a number of people who told me in my face that as a woman, I should be settling down to have a family instead of building a career or a business. My advice to is to reject people and environments that silo you into an imaginary glass ceiling. Immerse yourself in motivational self-talk and remind yourself why you wanted to do this in the first place.
No matter what your age is, go for what you believe in and what makes you happy, instead of what society expects you to do. You only have one life, so live it by your own rules.
There you go. Since plunging into entrepreneurship full time, I have met so many amazing business owners who went down the same route – starting and nurturing a business while juggling their full time job. It’s is not an easy feat, but its not impossible as long as you have the grit to persevere and constantly push your boundaries. You will never know if you never try.