In their book, Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting a business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors outline the factors you need to consider when deciding whether to start a full-time or part-time business.
Should you start your business part time or full time? Even if you ultimately plan to go full time, many entrepreneurs and experts say starting part time can be a good idea. Starting part time reduces your risk because you can rely on income and benefits from your full-time job. It also allows your business to grow gradually.
Yet the part-time path isn’t without its own dangers and disadvantages. Starting part time leaves you with less time to market your business, strategize and build a clientele. Since you won’t be available to answer calls or solve customers’ problems for most of the day, clients may feel you’re not offering adequate customer service or responding quickly enough to their needs.
Perhaps the biggest problem for part-time entrepreneurs is the risk of burnout. Holding down a full-time job while running a part-time business leaves you with little, if any, leisure time; as a result, your personal and family life may suffer.
That’s not to say a part-time business can’t work. It can, says Arnold Sanow, co-author of You Can Start Your Own Business—if you have excellent time management skills, strong self-discipline and support from family and friends.
Your plan of attack should start with a thorough assessment of your idea’s market potential. Often, this step alone will be enough to tell you whether you should start part time or full time. You can’t become so caught up in your love for what you’re doing that you overlook the business realities. If you find there’s a huge unmet need for your product or service, no major competition and a ready supply of eager customers, then by all means go ahead and start full time. If, on the other hand, you find that the market won’t support a full-time business but might someday with proper marketing and business development, then it’s probably best to start part time at first.
Investigate such factors as the competition in your industry, the economy in your area, the demographic breakdown of your client base and the availability of potential customers. If you’re thinking of opening an upscale beauty salon, for example, evaluate the number of similar shops in operation, as well as the number of affluent women in the area and the fees they’re willing to pay.
Once you’ve determined there’s a need for your business, outline your goals and strategies in a comprehensive business plan. You should always conduct extensive research, make market projections for your business and set goals for yourself based on these findings. It gives you a tremendous view of the long-range possibilities and keeps the business on the right track. Don’t neglect writing a business plan even if you’re starting part time: A well-written business plan will help you take your business full time later on.
One major factor in the decision to start part time or full time is your financial situation. Before launching a full-time business, most experts recommend putting aside enough to live on for at least six months to a year.
Basic factors you should consider include the amount of your existing savings, whether you have assets that could be sold for cash, whether friends or family members might offer you financing or loans, and whether your spouse or other family members’ salaries could be enough to support your family while you launch a business full time. If you lack the financial resources to start full time, beginning part time is often a good alternative.
The emotional and psychological side of starting a business is less cut-and-dried than the financial and market aspects, but it’s just as important in your decision to start part time or full time.
Begin by discussing the situation with your spouse, significant other or family members. Do they support your decision to start a business? Do they understand the sacrifices both full-time and part-time businesses will require—from you, from them and from the whole family? The time to do this is now—not three months after you’ve committed to your business and it’s too late to back out.
Then work together to come up with practical solutions to the problems you foresee (could your spouse take over some of the household chores you currently handle, for example?). Lay some ground rules for the part-time business—for instance, no work on Sunday afternoons or no discussing business at the dinner table.
If the idea of taking the full-time business plunge and giving up your comfy salary and cushy benefits keeps you awake at night biting your nails, then perhaps a part-time business is best. On the other hand, if you need to work long hours at your current full-time job, you commute 60 miles round-trip, and you have two-year-old triplets, piling a part-time business on top of all those commitments could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
While a full-time business does require long hours, a part-time business combined with a full-time job can be even more stressful. If this is the route you’re considering, carefully assess the effects on your life. You’ll be using evenings, weekends, and lunch hours—and, most likely, your holidays, sick days, and vacation time—to take care of business. How will you feel the next time you drag yourself home, exhausted after a late night at the office … then have to sit down and spend four hours working on a project a client needs the next morning? Carefully consider whether you have the mental and physical stamina to give your best effort to both your job and your business.
Whether to start part time or full time is a decision only you can make. Whichever route you take, the secret to success is an honest assessment of your resources, your commitment level and the support systems you have in place. With those factors firmly in mind, you’ll be able to make the right choice.