Starting a Business While You're Employed

Starting a Business While You're Employed

“I am interested in pursuing my love of art by opening an online gallery and pop-up store, but am nervous about giving up my day job. How do I pay the bills while going after my passion? Can I do both?”

Alumni Association preferred career coach Brad Waters responds:

It’s a great question and one I hear a lot. First of all, I detect some permission-seeking in your question. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! It’s very common, and healthy, for new business owners to question the viability of an idea and seek advice. But there’s a difference between gathering good data to make an informed decision, and secretly hoping someone else will make the decision for us. Sometimes we find ourselves spinning our wheels because we keep waiting for that one great piece of advice or encouragement to come along. Someone who’ll say “Go for it!” or “That’s a terrible idea!” But advice is a tricky thing: everybody’s full of it.

Starting a new venture is scary because it’s an investment of our valuable resources, plus the fear of failure adds the element of anxiety. This fear, like our in-laws, can be an asset or a pain in the asset. Learning how to identify fear—developing a new relationship with it—allows us to determine when to proceed with caution and when we’re facing an opportunity to grow beyond our comfort zone.

You can alleviate some of the fear by conducting a thorough examination of yourself in the role of a business owner. Good business preparation is one that takes into account not just a business plan, but also mental and physical resilience. If you want to turn your creative passion into a creative business, adopt a business mindset and ask yourself:

  • Win or lose, what healthy attitudes and resources can I put in place now that will help me stay level-headed? Find a mentor, coach, or entrepreneur group who can provide unbiased support. Become a spotter of success traits that you see in other successful business owners.


  • What kinds of healthy physical routines can I adopt right now? During those hectic days, weeks, and months, how will you take care of your body? If you exhaust your physical and mental resources, you won’t have much left to give and the machine will lose steam. Only you know your energy level after work each day. How much gas is left in the tank to maintain your website, package orders, promote yourself, stay on top of bookkeeping, and keep up—fingers crossed—with the demand for your product?


  • Can I let someone hold my baby? As the business grows you’ll likely reach a point where you can’t be in all places at once. Even if you take a day “off”, you’ll always be “on”—thinking about your baby. But are you willing to relinquish some control? Hire staff for your pop-up shop or hire a webmaster to maintain your online gallery?  


  • How much do I need to make from my day job in order to support and grow my creative passion? Do you need to consider reducing your hours at work? Can you afford to start paying yourself an allowance that will go toward business expenses? Are you prepared to start on a shoe-string budget and grow slow? Or are you seeking funding such as a small business loan or creative arts grants?


  • What’s my version of a business plan—one that will work for my business and my learning style? Look at your business idea from every angle and don’t be afraid to face the tough questions. You’re a creative individual so use your creativity to develop a strong business plan that makes sense to you. Unless you’re applying for funding, a traditional business plan template may not work for your personal style. But that doesn’t get you off the hook for creating one.

Growing a business takes much planning, patience, physical stamina, and a healthy mindset in order to balance it with a day job. So while it’s absolutely possible to do both, are you willing to do whatever it takes to do both? 

Learn more about Brad and his experiences as a career coach, and find out how you can work with a career coach who specializes in your area of expertise.

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