5 Tips (and 4 Warnings) for Starting Your Own Business While Holding Down a Job

It’s the age-old dilemma: How are you supposed to start your own business (a full-time job itself) while holding down another job already? It’s hard to take that leap of faith knowing that if you leave your current job, you may struggle to pay your bills until your business starts bringing in enough income.

It’s also hard sometimes to find the time and energy to do the responsible things while also following your passion. As an entrepreneur myself, I’m passionate about encouraging others to take the leap. Here are 5 tips (and 4 warnings) that will help give you some direction and much-needed focus. They can help spark the motivation and practical organization you need to make progress towards owning your own successful business.

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Identify your MISSION and COMMIT to it

Why do you want to start your own business? Write down ALL the reasons – personal, professional, financial, and anything else you can think of. Keep these reasons handy to motivate you on tough days (and there will be plenty of tough days). These are your motivators.

Then, from your motivators, create your mission and vision for your business. Your mission should be your purpose. What does your business help you do for people? What do you want to create from your business? Your vision is how you carry out your mission. For example, maybe collaboration is really important to you. Write it into your vision. Perhaps having the latest technology will play an important role. Maybe it has to do with how you relate to and treat your clients. Decide what’s important to you about HOW you’ll do business and write it into your vision.

Finally, COMMIT. Commit to making your mission happen. Committing will strengthen your resolve to make it happen. Your vision and your motivators will provide the guidance to make it happen.

Do market research to establish a need for your business – and to differentiate yourself

How will your local market react to another tax business? Is there a need in your area? Is there a niche you can specialize in? For example, I once knew a woman who specialized in helping people with at-home daycare businesses prepare their taxes. Many people I’ve known focus on helping small business owners with their specific tax needs. Perhaps you want to focus on individuals and families. Do some market research to find out what kind of tax services people are looking for and use that information to guide how you’ll tailor your tax business.

To be clear, specializing in one area of tax preparation doesn’t mean you have to exclude others. If you work primarily with small businesses, that doesn’t mean you can’t help families with their tax forms. However, having a specialty or two can help differentiate you in your market.

Assess what you are good at (realistically) and what you need help with

Know your strengths and weaknesses. You may think you don’t have the money or the favors to call in to get help with certain aspects of your business. However, how much more will it cost you if it takes you two to three times as long to complete a task or if you do it wrong? Be realistic about where you need help and then find a way to get it. (And get creative! If cash is short, barter services with local business contacts.)

Build your own strategy and timeline

Now that you have assessed your strengths and weaknesses and have a mission and a vision to guide your way, it’s time to create a strategy – a sort of step-by-step road map that you can refer to as you build your business.

Build your road map by outlining specific, attainable goals that you want to knock out. Then, work backwards from the goal. For example, if your goal is to set up an office where you can see clients, go back and create a mini-timeline and directions for attaining that goal. (Example: 1. Run cost-benefit analysis to see if office space is worth it. 2. Secure financing and set budget. 3. Explore real estate options. Etc. all the way through closing.) That way, if you get a little off course somehow, you’ll have your list to anchor you and remind you what the next steps should be.

Your timeline will be a mix of short-term and long-term goals with long-term goals being broken down into smaller, attainable chunks. Some goals will be a one-time or infrequent activity, such as securing and renewing your business license. Other goals will be recurring. For example, you might set a weekly goal for yourself to complete X hours of coursework or to make X numbers of phone calls to clients and prospects.

Having short-term goals in your timeline along with long-term ones will help you see the progress you’re making and keep you from getting discouraged. At the same time, completing the short-term goals will support your long-term goals.

Get serious about time management

Since time and energy are going to be your two most precious resources as you ramp up your own business, you’ll need to get serious about how you manage both.

Sleep. What is the minimum amount of sleep you need to function well? Some people have to have a full eight hours of sleep. Are you one of them? Or, could you scale it back to seven, maybe six and a half, or even six hours, in order to maximize your waking hours and devote a little extra time to your new business? I’m not saying skip sleep. Do NOT do that. However, what I suggest doing, at least temporarily, is figure out what your magic minimum amount of sleep is. That way, you can still rest your body and your brain and gain an extra hour or so for the extra work of starting a business. Then, and this is very important, stick to that schedule. Don’t get four hours of sleep one night only to crash and sleep for ten the next night. You’ve gained nothing. Find the right schedule for you and stick to it.

Give your most productive hours to your new business. You may have come across a popular saying, “Give your passion project the best part of your day.” If you’re a night owl, stay up late and spend time building your business. If you come home from work wiped out, go to bed early and then get up early so you’re fresh and ready to devote quality time to your business road map and actions. Find the schedule that works best for you, so you can go at your project with a fresh, alert, motivated mind.

Evaluate your current time commitments. Make a list of what you’re already committed to doing. How much time do you devote to each? Are you able to shift any time away from these activities and apply them to your new business activities?

4 Warnings

As motivated as you may feel about having an action plan for getting your new business started, remember the importance of balance and keep these four points in mind.

  • Don’t let starting your business interfere with your current, income-generating job. Not only will you put your job and income at risk before you’re ready to leave them behind – it’s disrespectful and unethical.
  • Remind yourself that the sacrifices you make now will pay off in the future when you have more free time and more income stability.
  • Limit contact with people who are negative about your new endeavor.
  • Limiting contact with negative people doesn’t mean avoiding honest feedback. Find people who can really challenge your ideas and give you honest, objective observations. Friends and family are great, but if they’re afraid of hurting your feelings, they may not tell you what they’re really thinking. Seek out objective critiques to make sure you’re not way off base with any of your goals or your strategy.

Want more advice on getting your tax business off the ground and being successful? Check out CEO Chuck McCabe’s Guide to Start and Grow Your Own Tax Business – a great read with a ton of advice from his decades of experience.

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