I often coach on the topic of career change, including the option of starting a side business or project while maintaining your current job. This is a strategy I advocate whenever possible because it lowers the financial risk (you have money coming in from your day job), emotional risk (you try out your idea and/or interest before making too drastic a change) and transition risk (you have time to build experience and skills before migrating 100% to your side pursuit).
This strategy is not just for aspiring entrepreneurs but also for people looking for traditional employment. You can consider your job search or career change as your “side business.”
People like the benefits of this strategy but have problems with execution. So this post is the first of three to answer the most popular questions I get around balancing a job and a side business.
Lisa asks: How should I balance my time and energy so neither is neglected? Should I very slowly take on one client at a time?
I recommend a clear timeline for how long you plan to juggle the two and decide what success markers you want to see along the way to ensure you are on the right track. If you take on new business very slowly, this enables you to get used to the balance, but it isn’t an accurate portrait of your actual new business.
In addition, it is hard to ensure such measured growth. Businesses launch in fits and starts. You don’t always know what works, much less how to control your marketing so you only get as much business as you can handle. You might find that your efforts to grow a small business are not what you need for the actual business you want. So your experiment doesn’t get to the heart of what you’re trying to do.
Another option is to go full out on the side business right away but for a set period (say six months) and then review at that point whether to continue as is, dial down, ramp up or quit one or the other. Yes, you will be busier but for a shorter time period. You can freely explore the business, see what works and what doesn’t, and get a feel for what you enjoy or not. This option may not be feasible if your day job has unpredictable hours or long hours. If you find the prospect of going full out on both the job and the business too daunting that you never get started, then forget this suggestion and go for slow growth.
You also need to decide your objectives for your current job. Do you want to just get by, or are you going for a promotion? Is there restructuring or other changes afoot where you have to pay closer attention? The job/ side business juggle isn’t only for people who hate their job. Maybe you like your job enough but want an extra and/or different stream of income. If you like your job, you need to be clear about your goals there as well, not just for the new business.
Depending on what you decide to do with your business and with your job, the time and energy requirements are different. The slow growth side business takes less time than the full out side business, but in both cases you still need to carve out time. This means that something else has to go: you might use vacation days, you might reserve specific evenings and weekend hours, and you might have to inform family and friends that you will not be around as much. When you have to do things during normal business hours, carve out lunch and breaks to do this. Do not do your current job on autopilot and work through these break periods!
With energy, pay attention to when you do your best work. If you know that you are just too unfocused after a full day of work, then you have to get up early for your side business. Or you have to clear your weekends for it. Joining an entrepreneurs group or other support group of like-minded people is one way of keeping your energy and focus high.
For your day job, keep in mind that managing your career overall is separate from what you day-to-day. So you need to reserve time and energy to prepare for performance reviews, read up on industry news, network with colleagues in and out of your company and other professional development activities. If you are not committed to your day job, these are activities that you can switch out for your new business activities. But if you like your day job, these activities are in addition to what you do everyday.
This post also appeared on my new blog for Forbes.com Work In Progress: