MONEY Small Business

The 5-to-9 Startup: How to Launch a Business Without Quitting Your Day Job

Startup Coach Antonio Neves offers advice on how to make the most of moonlighting.

These days, entrepreneurship is all the rage. And you want in. Well, just not all in.

Maybe you already have a 9-to-5 (or more like an 8-to-6); maybe you even love this job. Or perhaps you aren’t out to disrupt an entire industry or create the next Facebook; you just have an idea and want to see if it will work.

Does this sound like you?

If so, I have good news. Having a job doesn’t mean you can’t take a dip in the entrepreneurial pool. (Doesn’t that sound refreshing?)

Instead of diving all in, you can build a “5-to-9,” or a company you can start to run in your after-hours. This lets you test the waters and bring out your inner entrepreneur on your own terms. As an added bonus, building your 5-to-9 may make you better at your 9-to-5.

Here’s how to do it right:

1. Pick Your Project

Odds are, you have an idea of what you’d like to work on. Maybe it’s something that’s been languishing on your hard drive or in a journal for years. Whether you’re looking to launch a web-based business, self-publish an e-book, or offer consulting services, the key is to choose just one project to focus on—this is critical. You have limited time after your regular work day ends, and the more you cram into it, the less likely you will be to succeed.

2. Establish a Brain Trust

Working on a new business idea and making decisions on your own is challenging. Don’t operate in a vacuum.

Instead, identify three to five people whose business expertise you value and ask them to be on your personal “board of advisors.” These could be co-workers, former classmates, family or friends, who you think would provide you with frank feedback, special subject knowledge, or mentorly guidance. In particular, seek out people you think would be able to help you develop your idea, find hidden opportunities, identify new clients and market your product. If your circle is small, consider hiring a business coach or joining a local Meetup group.

Once you establish a board, stay in regular touch with them. Making a habit of being in contact with these folks will give you a sense of accountability, which you may need to keep you motivated on the second shift of a 16-hour workday.

3. Fill In Your Knowledge Gaps

If your new biz is in a different field than your current gig or it will require skills you haven’t applied before—like product marketing—you’ll want to get yourself educated. But “I’ve got a job,” you say, “and I don’t have time to get an M.B.A. or a certificate in product management.”

There’s a hack or two for that: Online education platforms like Creative Live, General Assembly, and Skillshare offer free and paid courses on a range of topics like coding, photography, marketing, art and design that are easy to work around your schedule. Or, you can also book time with subject matter experts on platforms like Clarity and PopExpert.

4. Set Targets

If you don’t put down some benchmarks, you’re starting a race without knowing where or when it ends. Establishing goals to hit will help you measure progress—and can provide the rush of small victories that you may need to keep going (especially when you’ve had a rough day at your 9 to 5).

To do this, break down your project into small parts and establish dates of completion for each portion. Take some pressure off yourself by breaking big projects down over three 5-to-9 work sessions.

5. Look for Infrastructure Cheats

When it comes to selling your product or collecting money, you don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel. Especially for a part-time business, you’ll probably find it more efficient to utilize existing platforms like Elance, Etsy, Gumroad, or Fiverr to sell products and services like Dwolla, PayPal, and Square to process payments. Once you’re more established, you can think about going out on your own.

Antonio Neves is an executive coach to top startup founders, speaker and award-winning business journalist.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of promising young entrepreneurs. YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.

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