Samantha White should have been content. At the age of 29, the Canadian daughter of Jamaican immigrants was well on her way to a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. After starting in sales, she had moved up to market research and before turning 30 was already the company's Business Development Director. But it still wasn't enough. "I still felt largely unfulfilled," she told the Sapellé blog. "I wasn't truly passionate about the work I was doing."
Like many entrepreneurs, Samantha began thinking about, then working on, her own business. It was only "when the opportunity arose" that she left to work full-time on Anansi, a handbag company that she created in Ghana.
It's a story that's familiar to anyone who's ever felt the pull of being their own boss. Creating your own business feels exciting and fulfilling and free... but it also means giving up the security of a regular paycheck. So many entrepreneurs try to do both: they keep doing their full-time job while starting to work on their own business. As if running your own business wasn't hard enough, they're also working for someone else's.
It's not a bad strategy. But it's hard and it has to be done right if you're going to be able to make the jump... and do it without falling on your face.
Here are five things you have to do to build a business before giving up the day job.
1. Do The Research... But Don't Get Bogged Down In The Research
You don't get paid for conducting research. There's no immediate ROI from creating spreadsheets of rival products, listing their features and advantages, and trying to assess market size. But it's important work and it takes time, so it is something you can do in the evenings and on weekends while you're also thinking about your product.
But it's also interesting work, and there's always more to know. It's tempting to feel that you need to read one more white paper or dig up one more article. And reading that paper can feel like progress when in fact it's sometimes a replacement for progress. At some point, you have to say that you know enough to get started... and start taking action.
2. Make The Time -- And Keep It!
The biggest challenge of working while building a business is finding the time to do both. The 9-to-5 will take eight hours from Monday to Friday but that still leaves two whole days as well as hours before and after work. If John Grisham could write the novel that started his writing career while holding down a job as a lawyer, you can start selling to customers and clients while holding down your job.
Cut back on the television time. Wake up an hour earlier. Give yourself an hour every day, and more at the weekends, to work on your business. Nail that time into your schedule and make it yours.
3. Build Your Client Base
You'll know it's time to knock on the boss's door when you have a list of clients who are already giving you money. They might not be giving you enough to replace the salary completely but they'll be giving you enough to pay the bills with the promise of more to come.
That's your goal. Focus on that goal and start building up your client base. As they come in (and come back), you'll find yourself naturally drifting out of the building with some money flowing into your pocket.
4. Know The Law And How It Affects You
Your current job will give you a great deal: experience, skill, even contacts. But it will also impose limits. Before you toss in the day job, check your employment contract for non-compete clauses and if you need to, talk to a lawyer to make sure that you won't be breaching it. You might think that you can serve your company's clients better than your boss can, but it's unlikely he'll let you.
5. Don't Burn Your Bridges
When that great moment finally comes, it's tempting to walk into the boss's office and tell him everything you've been thinking for months. Don't do it. It might be satisfying. It might be fun. But you might need those contacts. You might need those references. You certainly want your old boss to be saying nice things about you when you've gone and sending people your way.
Building a business requires maturity, steady nerves and a cool head. How you behave when you hand in your notice and become a full-time entrepreneur is the final test of your readiness.