Anyone can start a side business

I believe anyone can start a side business that becomes their full-time business.

My first job out of college was writing software in the defense industry for Northrop Grumman. Every day I went to my 9-to-5 job, wrote software that went into enormous radar systems, and then went home to my little apartment. While I had dreams of starting my own business, my head was always filled with stories of hot tech startups raising millions of dollars. (The hot company back then was Friendster, raising $12 million in 2002.)

While I dreamed of a venture-backed startup, I started a personal finance blog to chronicle what I'd learned about managing my money after getting my first job. I discussed everything from the best photo printing services to how a 401(k) worked to my net worth.

It would eventually become successful enough that I could quit my full-time job.

I didn't go to college for business (it was for computer science).

I wasn't a certified anything, let alone a Certified Financial Planner.

I scored a 450 on the SAT II Writing exam, so I wasn't a writer.

I was just a regular guy who read about personal finance and started a personal finance blog. I was passionate about it and willing to learn, but I was by no means an expert.

Here's the crazy part: my story isn't unique. I know several people who have built a multimillion dollar-businesses while working a full-time job. You don't read about them in the newspaper but they're out there.

As it turns out, so do you.

J.D. started Get Rich Slowly while working full-time at a box factory! He paid off twenty years of debt, quit the box factory to pursue GRS full-time, and the rest is history!

If you want more proof, Noah Kagan (of AppSumo fame), on basically a dare, started a beef jerky of the month business in just a few days. Then he hired a guy to run it.

Anyone can start a business and the only requirement is that you have the guts to do it.

How do you start?

Just start it. I recently asked nearly 80 successful bloggers to reveal what they'd tell themselves if they could go back in time.

One of the most common answers was, “I wish I'd started sooner.”

No one said, “I wish I'd waited.”

That's telling.

Sometimes businesses sprout out of simple ideas. Jon Rimmerman is a supertaster and a big fan of wine. In a letter he faxed to his friends across the country, he'd tell great stories about interesting wines. Eventually, he decided to start selling wine through his letters. In time, these letters became emails. As of late 2012, Rimmerman sells $30 million worth of wine a year.

What's something you are better at than anyone else you know? Is there a way to differentiate yourself so that you can stand out? Do you have a compelling story that makes it easy to share?

Stay lean and test your idea in the real world. The Lean Startup is an idea proposed by Eric Ries in 2011 and the basic premise is that you should ship a minimum viable product (MVP) and then improve it based on feedback. Don't try to build the perfect product and then sell it.

Take your idea and boil it down to the MVP, then try to sell it. If you can sell it, ask those customers for feedback and improve the product or service. Then use the money from your first customer or client to get your second customer and client. If you can't sell it, you need a different idea.

Don't be afraid to fail. We go through life-fearing failure because it's painful. It's hard to ask someone out; what if they say no? It's hard to ask for a raise; what if they say no?

We focus too much on “What if they say no?” and the pain and fear that comes with it that we don't actually answer the question.

If you ask someone out on a date and they say no, you will feel sad for a little bit, but when that subsides you will start thinking about the next person. If she won't go out with me, then I can stop wondering what that would be like.

If you ask for a raise and they say no, then you need to start looking for another job. Or you need to improve your skills and demonstrate that you are worth a raise. Or you need to learn a better way to ask for a raise!

Failure is a good thing because you can learn from failure. Businesses fail all the time and it's the failures that make them better.

Pursue your business on the side. When J.D. started Get Rich Slowly, he did it while still working full time. That's a recipe for success. With regular income from a full-time job, he could pursue his passion without the pressure to make money quickly. He could focus on the long term. He could focus on building a solid product, the blog.

When you start your business, keep your job. This will let you test without fear of losing out on income because your job will be paying you. This will let you test different ideas without the pressure of having to make rent.

For every “Hernan Cortes burned his ships to motivate his men” story, there are probably a hundred untold stories where everyone died. There are even more stories of leaders who didn't burn their boats and succeeded all the same. Isn't it telling that in the millennia of looting and plundering, there's only ever been one story like this?

Don't burn your boats — that's stupid!

Build a strong support network. Finally, I want to leave this one last bit of advice: build a strong support network. This includes finding a mentor but also finding peers you can confide in, both professionally and personally.

Starting and running a business will come with a lot of challenges. Some will be financial while others will be emotional. Having a strong support network can help you overcome them both.

Now go start that business today!

J.D.'s footnote: As you all know, I'm a huge fan of personal businesses. I've recently been reading a great book that might be useful to those who are interested in pursuing something like this. If you have a chance, check out Josh Kaufman's The Personal MBA.
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MoneyAhoy
MoneyAhoy
6 years ago

Jim,

Great post! I really like your points about not being afraid to fail and starting it on the side. By doing this, you take very low risk, and you get a chance to test the waters before jumping in. I love your new blog btw 🙂

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago
Reply to  MoneyAhoy

Hi Derek!

Thank you for the compliments, I hope it’s been helpful for you – I think being “in the trenches” gives me a good perspective on the challenges regular people face.

Failing is such a negative word but once you get over it you learn that it’s such a valuable learning tool.

Cheers,
Jim

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates
6 years ago
Reply to  MoneyAhoy

Totally agree–especially since I was able to ditch my day job, and more than replaced my day-job salary–and did it during the economic meltdown (while working full-time, with a family). I started a consulting business, and within about 15 months was earning over 6 figures, and working less than I did at my old job. If you think the whole start-a-business thing is a scam, it’s not. Yes, there are lots of scams out there, ready to prey on your hopes, dreams, and fears, but creating a viable business can become a reality with hard work, focusing on the right… Read more »

Matt YLBody
Matt YLBody
6 years ago

Great post. Building a dream on the side is exactly what I’m doing myself. You made a great point about not being afraid to fail either. Failure is a part of success. And all you really need is a simple idea. Just look at Twitter. I was just reading about the creator of Twitter whose idea actually came to him about 10 years before he even started the project. Keep on truckin: building a side business may take some time and may not be a straight road to success but if you can do small things each day they will… Read more »

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago
Reply to  Matt YLBody

I’m glad the “not being afraid to fail” point resonated with you, I think it’s one of the most valuable lessons I learned in business (and life).

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

Egg and Bacon
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Egg and Blog
Egg, Bacon and Blog
Egg, Bacon, Sausage and Blog
Blog, Bacon, Sausage and Blog
Blog, Egg, Blog, Blog, Bacon and Blog
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Bacon
Bacon
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I have no idea what this comment means, but I’m liking it because it’s far more interesting than the article.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  Bacon

oh, ha ha– it’s a monty python thing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anwy2MPT5RE

bacon
bacon
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Lol – great video. I’ve seen it before, but had forgotten about most of it.

That’s a very clever way to comment on this ‘article’. 🙂

Jenzer
Jenzer
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

El Nerdo, you just made my morning.

Ryan
Ryan
6 years ago

I really enjoyed this post. I jumped in feet first and started my online business this year while still working full time. There is hardly any financial barriers to start an online business. Domains/hosting are cheap and there are tons of free tools and a community full of helpful people. My blog hasn’t made any money yet, but it is a topic I am passionate it about so it doesn’t feel like work.

Lonnie
Lonnie
6 years ago

I have a business idea that I think is a good one but do not know how to begin.

Is there a resource out there that helps answer questions like, how do I determine if there is a market, how to figure out pricing, etc?

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago
Reply to  Lonnie

Find 5 friends and ask them to pay for whatever you’re selling. Then find five more. Just go out and do it and the “market,” even if it’s just 30 of your friends, will tell you how good your idea is.

Don’t worry about resources to read or books to study. Personal experiences trump books.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  Jim Wang

No way. Your friends will tell you that everything is magnificent and you can do no wrong, then offer inflated prices for your imaginary goods. When you meet the real world you’ll suffer terrible disappointment as a consequence–people who don’t care about your hurt feelings will dismiss your overpriced and defective product. If you believe Dan and Chip Heath (I do), that’s how terrible singers end up trying out for American Idol– nobody in their close circle dares to tell them how much they suck. We all suffer from confirmation bias, and friends are no help there (unless you have… Read more »

imelda
imelda
6 years ago
Reply to  Jim Wang

Also, I think trying to market to your friends is pretty crappy. Especially using them as (paying!) test dummies.

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago
Reply to  imelda

Why is it crappy?

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  imelda

I agree. It sounds very MLMish – invite your friends over to your house, serve them chips and market XYZ to them.

KevinM
KevinM
6 years ago
Reply to  Lonnie

I don’t think there is a site or agency that will hand you the answers. The best way to approach this is to put together a business plan. You can find several examples by doing a quick search. Filling out a business plan will help you come up with the answers to those questions, along with many others. To determine your market, you may have to do some surveys, or get involved with a relevant community and try to get pre-orders. To determine your price point, again surveys or pre-orders can help, along with some math to make sure you… Read more »

Mike
Mike
6 years ago
Reply to  Lonnie

Lonnie, have you ever heard of Quirky? It’s a pretty cool company. Check it out at http://www.quirky.com and here is a good article about it as well:
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-11-13/why-ge-sees-big-things-in-quirkys-little-inventions

I’ve never been much of an inventor, but for someone who has a head full of great ideas and doesn’t know where to start it seems like a possible option.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  Lonnie

Lonnie, I’d start with “Decisive” by Dan and Chip Heath (a basic handbook on making good decisions), “The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur” by Mike Michalowicz (I like his approach to business), and anything by Seth Godin (ecause he’s pretty great). And then there’s the SBA and I’m sure ttons of trade publications that will show you what’s going on in your industry, depending on what you’ll pursue (please please please for the love of Hecate don’t say “PF blogging”).

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

Starting your idea/business on the side is the best advice. If it fails you haven’t put yourself in a bad financial position by quitting the day job.

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago

Exactly! And if it succeeds, you can pick when you leave to best match your plans.

Alan | Networking Secrets
Alan | Networking Secrets
6 years ago

You’re absolutely right Jim,

and these days more than ever before. I believe we are in a very interesting time where things like technology, evolution, innovation, cultural changes, environmental changes and communication are all merging to create possibilities like never before.

There was a time when we needed interpreters or middle-men to help us get our ideas out there (publishers for writers, estate agents for property people, banks for businesses…) but these days you can just get on and do it (or at least get started) on your own!

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago

Yes and it’s cheap and you can try any idea you have very quickly. There’s no need to save up a big slug of cash.

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
6 years ago

Great post Jim! That fear of failure can be a real issue to get over, but it can be so worth it. My wife started our business on the side while still was still working and has blossomed into both of us being able to run it. That said, I do wish we would’ve started earlier and know that fear/apprehension played a significant role in that. What I’ve learned is to use that fear as a motivator and not allow it to hold me back…it would be foolish to allow it to.

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago

If your only wish is that you started it earlier, you’re in a good place. 🙂

Finance and Fitness Dreams
Finance and Fitness Dreams
6 years ago

Starting your own business, blog, workout, all starts with Just Doing It Now. I started a small eBay business and I have learned along the way rather than just trying to start a retail store in some shopping mall. You may have to start small but it’s the starting that’s the most important.

Thanks for the article.

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago

And the lessons you learned on eBay apply to selling in a retail store.

Daniel Donohue
Daniel Donohue
6 years ago

Loved this article, great advice! Number one on your list seems to be the most important in my experience. Can’t win big if you never get started 🙂 And so many people have great ideas, but never get around to trying it out!

Jon
Jon
6 years ago

Thanks for the great and encouraging post! I think the biggest thing I’ve had to overcome is the idea that it has to be ‘perfect’ before you start. Unless you’re doing something really serious you can learn as you go and take lessons from your failures. I always enjoy great posts like this!

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago
Reply to  Jon

Perfect is the enemy of good. 🙂

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

Great reminder! I made an attempt several years ago and though it didn’t go far, I did learn a lot from it. I do fear trying again and failing but I have to remember most people don’t invent GoPros and have it take off at the speed as this company did.

Owning a business, in my opinion is the ultimate way to get rich slowly – for a lot of people.

Ryan @ Digital Photography Hobbyist
Ryan @ Digital Photography Hobbyist
6 years ago

Nice pep up article! Some of the examples I’ve heard of, but that Sumo Jerky thing is just awesome!

Lisa Woodley
Lisa Woodley
6 years ago

It’s so easy to get lost in planning and daydreaming that we often forget the most important factor in building anything is just starting it. There is a lot to be said for taking initiative and having the will power to see things through.

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Woodley

And starting it is the hardest part, from there you can just learn from your mistakes, iterate and improve. But until you start, you’re just reading and spinning your wheels.

Micro
Micro
6 years ago

I find the Cortes story interesting but at the same time it creates the inability to quit. One of the things that can be important for a business or product is to see that it is a failure and let it die. This is a lot harder to do if you are depending on it to live. You are more likely to focus on all the sunk cost and not realize the opportunity cost you are losing on another venture.

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago
Reply to  Micro

Knowing when to quit is extremely tough, especially if that decision has to come after years of hard work (rather than, say, a couple weeks). I’ve written about it elsewhere but there is almost never a nice clean answer.

Trace @ Independence Investor
Trace @ Independence Investor
6 years ago

I really appreciate the post. I endorse the idea of building a business part-time while maintaining full-time employment. This approach takes the pressure off and allows enough time to incrementally build the business.

Martin
Martin
6 years ago

It’s important to remember to actually start a business! This isn’t a hobby. You have to make money.

thegooch
thegooch
6 years ago

there is wisdom in not being afraid and not quitting your job before you business takes off. Mine took off the first year, and then the market shifted to favor large corporations. My suppliers cut me off because my volume wasn’t high enough to be worth their time , and the only way to move inventory was to sell it at a loss. I tried to switch from selling goods to selling services bundled with the goods, but that flopped as well. I spent my life savings trying to keep business alive with the hope that I could get back… Read more »

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago
Reply to  thegooch

Those stories only sound good for the ones who succeed, they sound tragic for the ones who don’t. You work unpredictable hours but you have the next hour to do what you want right? Focus on doing 15 minutes of work on your business today. Just 15.

Then 15 tomorrow.

Thegooch
Thegooch
6 years ago
Reply to  Jim Wang

since I don’t have responsibilities outside of work…except I have tons. I’d rather add that 15 minutes to the 5 hours of sleep I got last night. Much better use. 🙂

Gavin Siqueira
Gavin Siqueira
6 years ago

In recent times surviving with a single income can be tough. So one way or other we do try to find some extra income to run our households smoothly. The ideas provided in this article would surely help a ton of people to initialize a stable side business and incur some extra earnings.

imelda
imelda
6 years ago

What if you have no skills? Or, at least, no marketable skills?

I don’t think I do. What am I better at than anyone else I know? Only two things – reading, and listening. I post book reviews online, but there’s no money to be made there. And listening isn’t really a marketable skill either, especially for an introvert, although it’s useful.

Jim Wang
Jim Wang
6 years ago
Reply to  imelda

Are there any things you are learning about or constantly improving? When I started a personal finance site, was I an expert in finance? No. But I learned and my readers learned with me.

Try it with one of your hobbies.

imelda
imelda
6 years ago
Reply to  Jim Wang

Good tip. I’m kind of already doing this. My hobbies aren’t really anything I can turn into a side business, but rather could potentially help guide/advance my career. If done well. (I’m currently blogging about a big interest of mine, privacy rights)

Joe
Joe
6 years ago

I wish I’d start sooner too. It takes a lot of time to get better at anything and the sooner you start the better off you’d be.
I wasted so much time in my 20s…

Ryan Cote
Ryan Cote
5 years ago

Hey Jim, thanks for writing this guest post. I’m a huge fan of side businesses as I’ve had one since 2010. Putting aside the obvious benefit of supplementary income…I think one of the key benefits is the experience and knowledge you build up as you grow and manage your business.

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