A good hedge against the risks of starting your own business is to start up while you still have a job that pays a regular salary and benefits. If you're in a position to do that, you'll have the best of both worlds. There are some simple Do's and Don'ts that can guide you as you walk a sometimes fine line between your career and entrepreneurship.
1. Do consider running your business as a part-time operation alongside your current job. This is a great model because you'll continue to have income and benefits.
2. Do understand and follow your employment contract to the letter, especially if it makes reference to inventions and intellectual property (IP) that you develop as part of your job. Almost always, anything developed on company time and using company property belongs to the company. If you do not have an employment contract, you're still not in the clear. Check the company's Employee Manual for references to ownership of inventions and IP. No manual? Ask your Human Resources manager or someone functioning in that role to explain the policy.
3. Do set aside cash reserves from the income your startup creates that can sustain you when and if you decide to leave your job.
4. Do be as open with your employer as possible. In fact, if your business is not competitive with theirs, see if you can turn them into a customer or client. You may even be able to get your employer to invest in your startup, or allow you to hold equity in a joint venture. If you think you might go the route of having an employer as a customer, investor or partner, get input from a trusted advisor such as an attorney on how to proceed.
5. Do clear the decks. If you are going to do your day job and your part-time business, that doesn't leave much time for non-essential activities. Decide what's really important and dump the rest.Don'ts
1. Don't use corporate computers or email systems to send any emails related to your business. Even if you log into your webmail account to send email, you still have problems: you are using their property to further your own business, which could present a legal challenge later. They may have the right to read whatever keystrokes you've entered, even if your emails were not entered on the company's email system.
2. Don't feel pressured to leave your job as your business starts to gain traction. New businesses go through life cycles and some early wins do not necessarily mean you have a sustainable enterprise.
3. Don't choose a business that doesn't lend itself to part-time involvement if you can only do it part-time to start. For example, opening a retail food store can be an all-consuming endeavor. If you are not reachable and not hands-on at the beginning stages, you are setting yourself up for potential failure.
4. Don't talk about your part-time business to other employees around the proverbial water-cooler. This could be construed as promoting your business on company time. The silence rule extends to discussions on company time with your employer's clients and suppliers.
5. Don't be afraid to take the leap to full-time entrepreneurship when the time is right. Running a business part-time can be partly successful, but unless you are going to be a passive investor, the business will grow only up to a certain point without the full-time commitment of the owner.