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.
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.”
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!