For many entrepreneurs, starting a business full-time is not an option. Developing and launching your business idea as a moonlight career can be a good alternative, but requires an even more concerted effort to remain on track.
The advantages of moonlighting your startup are significant. Because you are still gainfully employed, your risk is greatly reduced. You don’t have to worry about feeding your family only Top Ramen for dinner or cutting your living expenses to the bare bones. You retain whatever benefits your full-time job provides and have less to lose if the venture takes more time than expected to take off. You aren’t on any external deadlines (only the internal ones you set for yourself), so you can take the time you need to dig into the details of planning your business and learn any skills you are lacking. Once you are open for business, you can control the growth and learn as you go. Entrepreneurship is all about lessons learned, and the slower process of a moonlight startup does give you the time to work through the obstacles at a less frantic pace.
The downsides of moonlighting a startup are on a more personal level. Your full-time job will have to take precedence over your startup, and time and energy constraints can be a real issue. If your day job is at all stressful, expect to triple or quadruple that stress level during the planning and early stages of your startup. Because it is your own idea that you are working on, you will take the decisions even more seriously and agonize over the options even more critically than you do for your day job. At the same time, with a full schedule of work and personal responsibilities, your startup can be the easiest thing to neglect. Be sure to use a time management system to keep you on track. Block out dedicated time for your business and treat it as mandatory…and be sure others in your life understand the importance of those scheduled work sessions.
If you are considering launching your business idea as a moonlight startup, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, don’t let your venture interfere with your day job. Don’t start a business that in any way competes with your current employer and be sure to let them know that you are starting a business on your own time. Some employee regulations require that you clear any additional employment with HR or legal before you start. As long as there is no conflict of interest, you will usually get the OK. Do not use your employer’s resources for your startup — that includes your employer’s time. You wouldn’t want your employees starting their own business while on your clock, so give your employer the same courtesy.
The types of business that work best for moonlighters are specialized, niche ideas. With a limited amount of time to spend on the startup, the narrower the focus the easier the process will be. Consider single-product ideas, or a service that can be completed independently (and after-hours). The best distribution channels are ecommerce or direct marketing because your lack of availability during regular work hours will not matter. Consider partnering with your spouse or a close friend or family member. Sharing the responsibility will not only speed up the development of your idea but can also help keep you motivated and on track.
The most important factor to keep in mind in moonlighting a startup is that your business needs and deserves the same attention to the basics as any other type of startup. Planning, marketing, and financial management are still the primary keys to success and you still need to take the time to develop every aspect of your idea before you commit the resources to launch. Use your time wisely and don’t give up…you will be quitting your day job before you know it!