I’ve often heard that you can’t half-ass a startup. While that’s true, not every entrepreneur has saved up between six and 24 months worth of living expenses.
In other words, while you’re laying the groundwork for your startup, there’s still the pesky reality of rent, mortgages and other bills.
Since it’s not always practical to dive in head-first, you have to know how to ease into the waters. That usually means relying on a steady job’s stability and cash flow, while moonlighting as a startup founder (or early employee).
Here are seven tips for helping you balance your day job with your passion.
Define your “time to quit” target,
Decide early on just what it will take for you to commit to the startup full-time. Will it take a monthly revenue target? A certain number of active users? Five committed clients? Funding? If there are co-founders working with you, try to get everyone on the same page for when it’s time to begin.
You can always reassess this target, but it’s nice to have a working goal in the early stages.
Know (and obey) your employee contract,
If you don’t already know the contents of your employee contract, revisit that paperwork. Look for any guidelines regarding a noncompete clause or your “after work” hours. Are you explicitly barred from working a second job? How much overlap is there between your current job and startup?
You particularly need to make sure that any intellectual property you create outside of work is yours and yours alone, and that your current employer can’t try to make a claim.
Be a rock star at work,
It’s going to be obvious fairly quickly if you’re not holding your own in the workplace. Working a second job often means late nights, so it’s understandable that you may roll into your day job later than normal, or yawn throughout the sales meeting. However, you can’t let your performance in the office suffer; both your steady paycheck and reputation are on the line.
You will no longer be able to stay late or work weekends for your day job, so you’ll need to make every minute in the office count. Master the arts of prioritizing and delegating, so you can get as much done as you can during normal work hours.
Make a regular routine,
Develop a steady rhythm for working on your startup; having a fixed schedule will help you stay disciplined. A common routine is dedicating one or two weeknights and one weekend day to the startup. If there are any other early team members, try to keep the same schedule, and ideally work in the same place.
Reserve one day a week for a break,
No matter how much there is to do in either your startup or day job, you have to take some time off. Ideally, you should be dedicating one full day per week as a true break; otherwise, you’ll burn out before your startup ever gets off the ground.
Consider independent contract options,
If your schedule becomes too challenging to juggle a full-time job with the commitments of a growing startup, you should consider other options. For example, you can leave your full-time job, but pursue independent contracting or part-time options to supplement your income while you invest more time in the startup.
Your current employer may even be open to this type of arrangement once you explain you’re looking to fulfill your passion or lifelong dream. Of course, this conversation will be much easier if there’s zero overlap between your employer and new venture.
Don’t fire any bridges (no matter how tempting),
You never know if your business will succeed or if you’ll want to work in your employer’s industry again. Likewise, your current employer could very well become a potential customer, partner, vendor or investor for your new venture.
For this reason, you need to stay respectful and professional, no matter how eager you are to leave. If you don’t treat your employer fairly, karma will always come back to bite you.