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Can you be employed and self-employed at the same time?

Oct 31, 2015 | Human Resources

Note: This article also appeared in Entrepreneur Middle East, and can be viewed on the site here.

Ask any successful entrepreneur and they’ll tell you running a business was a dream long before it became a reality. For many, the biggest hurdle was taking the plunge – giving up the regular pay cheque and going it alone. However, this all or nothing approach is not the only option, with more and more entrepreneurs launching businesses while still in full-time employment.

Getting your startup off the ground “on the side” allows you to test the market with your business without giving up the security of a regular income. And it is more common than you may have thought, with over a third of freelancers getting started while still employed. It has become so popular in fact, that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that around 5% of the workforce is generating a second income outside of their regular job.

For some, a part-time business is enough to scratch that entrepreneurial itch, but for others, it is simply a starting point for getting their business up and running in order to transition slowly from taking a wage to generating one of their own.

For those who see a side-business as a first step, it offers a couple of obvious advantages, including reducing the level of risk by keeping the safety net of full-time employment in place,as well as allowing you to be patient knowing that it often takes a long time to get enough first customers and build up that revenue.

And there are plenty of awe-inspiring side business success stories out there. Take Markuss Personn, who began developing an independent game while working as a developer for a large digital entertainment company. Personn eventually completed his side project and started selling his first game, which generated so much success that PayPal at one point suspended his account after suspecting fraud. Persson then quit his day job, and in the space of two years, his creation – Minecraft – had sold its millionth copy. Just three years later Persson’s company was snatched up by Microsoft for a handsome sum of $2.5 billion.

Even one of the world’s most popular websites started as a side business. In 1995, Pierre Omidyar set up an auction listing site on his own time while working for a large software company. As his site gained popularity, he began to take a commission for every item listed on the platform, and in just nine months his side business income outstripped his full time wage. Fast forward to 2015 and eBay is the fourth highest-grossing website in the world with revenues of almost $20 billion.

Own your schedule

Naturally your time is going to be limited when you are in full-time employment, but that’s not to say there’s not enough of it to give your own business the attention it needs. You just might have to work hard to find it or “create” it.

Make a schedule, be disciplined, and stick to it. Get up a couple of hours earlier each day, stay up an hour later each night, use your weekends, and before you know it you’ve found another working week that you can dedicate solely to your business. Getting a business off the ground is never easy, particularly when you have full-time work commitments, but if you are truly passionate about your idea you will be willing to give up other activities (even sleep!) in order to get it done.

That being said, it is important not to burn out, so be sure to incorporate downtime into your schedule and be honest with yourself about how much time you can really commit to your business. One tactic that many entrepreneurs use is to work with a timer, and once the allotted time has run out, you simply move on. This can be a great way to forcibly set a realistic time investment, and many people say it also helps with focus and productivity.

Goals and task lists

It’s not always easy to stay focused on your business when you have other work commitments, so a great way to ensure you build and maintain momentum is to set yourself clear goals and objectives.

Break your goals into monthly or quarterly milestones: by next month I will have launched my website, in 6 months I will generate X amount of income, by the end of the year I will have five clients, etc. Celebrate these smaller wins – your first sale, first referral, or completion of your biggest project to date, and use them as your driver to reach your next objective.

People under time pressure often feel overwhelmed by the daily tasks, and so it may also help to set yourself a clearly measurable target for each day or week. That is, I will make three new sales calls a day or carry out one interview a week for a potential future hire. Many successful entrepreneurs will tell you that it was the goal setting and working according to a set list of tasks that helped them stay organised and get the foundation in place.

Don’t rush, but know when the time is right

Launching a business while earning a regular pay cheque naturally eliminates one of the biggest anxieties and struggles of entrepreneurship – financial risk. Getting by without the money worries gives you the luxury of building your business gradually and at a pace you can handle, and while you should use that to your advantage, it’s important to know when an opportunity is too good to pass up.

Knowing when to take the plunge and go it alone – if that is your aim – is the single most important decision you’ll make when it comes to your startup. Jump too soon and you risk undoing all of the hard work you’ve put in up to this point, but hold off too long and you could end up missing a life-changing opportunity. While launching your startup on the side may minimise risk, it doesn’t remove it entirely, and at some point you will have to make a decision on whether your business is going to remain just an extra source of income or in fact become your sole source of income.

Another thing to be cautious about here: Don’t view your current job as your “security blanket” to the point that it holds you back from maximizing the effort you need to put into your side business. It is easy to not work as hard at something when you know that you don’t actually have to. If you truly had to get something done – if your well-being depended on it – you would likely get it done. If your dream is to build that side business into something big, then you are going to have to put your money where your mouth is and work like everything depends on it.


Find the balance. Is a side business the right way to go for aspiring entrepreneurs, or should you just jump in the deep end and put 110% into the one thing you want to achieve more than anything? I am a believer in both models, as every situation is unique and life is often about analysing our circumstances and lining up our goals and dreams with those.

Whatever you choose, though, keep in mind that passion is so important for startups, and passion cannot be faked. If you are not working as hard as you think you should be, then you are probably not passionate enough about your business idea, and success has no greater enemy than lack of passion. Another way to look at it is that you will likely always find a way to achieve your dreams if they truly are your dreams – and if they are realistic. So ask yourself if you really want it, and if so, get started. The chances are that good things will come.

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