You’ve been harbouring fantasies of taking the leap and about to launch a business. Thing is, the idea of giving up the steady paycheque is making you hyperventilate. Relax. There’s no need to cut the office umbilical cord just yet. Here’s how you can get started in your off-hours.
Do your homework It’s obvious, but absolutely necessary: find out if there’s a place in the market for what you’re planning to offer. Michelle Zeitler, a former ad agency media buyer, launched Nannies on Call in 2001, but only after getting a feel for the industry. “I spent a few months seeing who’s around, how they do things and calling the hotels to see if they use any services,” she recalls. Turns out, the market for on-call nannies was practically begging for her company to launch. “There was a service in town, but none of the hotels was happy with it. It was easy for me to take over.” Incorporate Yes, it’s a pain having to file all the paperwork and deal with the expenses, but becoming incorporated not only protects you from liability and gives you tax advantages, it also presents the right image. “If you’re dealing in the corporate world, you’re dealing with another incorporated company,” points out Douglas Gray, small-business consultant, author and founder of the Small Business Institute of Canada. “If you have ABC Consulting Inc., they subconsciously assume you’re a viable business… If you just have a trade-style name, any intuitive business person would assume you’re a greenhorn.” Keep up appearances You might be holding down a nine-to-five job while running your venture out of your basement, but your clients and customers don’t need to know that. Zeitler paid just $100 a month for a service that took her calls and forwarded her mail, without letting on that she was moonlighting. “A lot of [nanny] agencies just operate out of their homes,” she notes. “Having someone answer my phone gave me a more professional perception. When people get voicemail, they think you’re never there.” She also created a professional-looking website: an absolute must in this wired world. Milk your day job The benefit of having a steady paycheque to start is that you most likely won’t require much in the way of investment. But if you do, you could invite your employer to get in on the ground floor as an investor. “It’s very common to get investors who know you because of your business and community relationships,” says Gray. But don’t assume any long-standing relationship means a guaranteed cash injection; just because you’ve had a savings account at the same bank since you were four doesn’t automatically mean they’ll give you a loan. If all else fails, there’s always “love money” from family and friends. Leave on good terms No matter how you feel about your day job, don’t walk out yelling, “Take this job and shove it!” Your current employer could end up as a future client of yours, and word gets around. In fact, if your new business venture involves similar skill sets, you might even suggest working for your employer as a contractor. “It’s very common for people to segue out as an employee and segue back in as an independent contractor or consultant,” observes Gray. “They end up contracting with their employers as their first client.”