I run at least 3 businesses while working for a leading company. I rent an office space, hire employees and work with them remotely while doing an incredible job for my employer.
Let me first debunk an insidious lie that has killed many careers: “Your salary is the bride they give you to forget your dream.” This is a blatant Lie. “Your salary is what you earn while giving value to your employers and learning to run a business at their expense.”
We can’t all start a business straight out of University. Many of us have to work for food, clothing and shelter after graduating. Others need to support family members to at least get them to their feet as well. Whatever your reason(s), don’t see paid employment as a betrayal of your goals.
Here are some of the essential steps I learnt that helped me build my business without compromising my outstanding service delivery to my employer.
Cultivate on relationships – At the end of your life, you will not regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with people, spouse, sibling(s), son, daughter or friend.
As you fantasize about opportunity falling on your lap, remember the final influence comes from a human being. I cannot emphasize enough, how important relationships are in a business/career. As with all relationships, the most important factor in building strong business relationships is trust. Building trust is a critical factor in fostering quality business relationships. People prefer to do business with those they can trust to act in furtherance of, or at least not opposed to, their best interests.
Don’t get caught in the insane lie that the selfish dot com shallow thinkers thrive on claiming, “Your coworkers shouldn’t be your friends, Get your money and go home.” So you only want to impress your boss and never care about the colleagues around you, slavery mentality. Cultivate healthy relationships with all your colleagues. Once they trust you, you will have endless free resource of knowledge, referrals, potential clients or even partners.
Your coworkers are human beings like you, all human beings are relational by nature. If you build good relationships with them, they won’t think twice about being your ambassadors in their networks. Those networks eventually determine your net worth. Get rid of your earphones and your childish frail ego that only allows you to interact with familiar faces only. Break those walls you have erected around you, blocking everyone from getting to know you in person. Start building bridges. Ask the old, extremely talented people who gave all their life to fulfil their jobs but retired feeling like underachievers. What do they regret the most about their formative years. This might help you know the value of building relationships.
Don’t step too far away from your core competence(s) – If you work in banking, you probably understand finance better than most people. If you work for an FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), then retail may be your forte. If you work in tech, you are likely to run a tech start up more efficiently. Find something that is in your natural sphere of influence. Once you attain consistent momentum, you can start incorporating other aspects into an already working system.
My first business was a tech development firm. We built business strategy implementation tools. I was a business leader implementing a new strategy for my paid employment. The tech we built was based on my experience delivering value to my day job’s board of directors. It grew rapidly and attracted the attention of major players in the sector. A leading company asked us to present our product to stand a chance of winning funds and mentorship. A rushed decision led us to overshare, we lost it. The company ended up implementing everything we presented on their new product which offered the same services as we did. But I used the lessons learnt from the startup in my paying job. This was well received by my supervisors. It got me double-promotion in the space of three months.
Start small but think global – There are no guarantees in business. Your business can fail despite the best laid plan and even topnotch implementation. Start small, then scale slowly until you can do it full-time. Start with the least possible amount of money you need to run your fundamental operations while gauging your delivery against world leading brands in the field you are in. Exhaust all possible lessons you need to learn at that level and only scale up when the demand for your service/product rises. Prioritize lessons not profits.
I have a friend who started a restaurant in Lagos with about $250,000. He had the money and thought it would be a good idea to blow out the competition on day 1. Bad idea, He lost everything. It is never really about size. It is always about efficiency.
Work with a trusted partner – In this increasingly individualistic society which glorifies one-man-shows, never undermine the power of unity. Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable [Kiswahili proverb].
It is equally important for one business partner to work full time in the business. If that’s not feasible, give a small equity holding to your most senior employee. That way someone in the business has an ownership stake that binds him/her to the firm. At times, especially challenging moments, the only motivation comes from knowing that you are a part of something and that the bond goes beyond immediate financial gains.
Recognize the place of institutional support in your paying job – You are a star employee. That’s great. Corporations however, have strategies to help you succeed. Make sure you can deal with the uncertainties of entrepreneurship before making the jump. I have met incredibly talented young people who seemingly never achieve equivalent success because they have no sense of professionalism. Unfortunately, their version of ‘keeping it real’ means having no regard to structures and respect for others; clients, partners etc. However great your service/product is, you will never grow if your conduct invalidates people around you. Your clients will never come back. Nobody will want to be associated with you. Corporate companies help you discover the value of professionalism and give you safe environment to actively develop this.
Don’t leave your paying job until your business can pay the bills – You’ve gradually built a business while working for an employer. Is it time to resign and face your hustle full time? Maybe. But be sure that your hustle can pay the bills before making the jump. I find it satisfactorily rewarding and motivational to use early returns to develop the business as opposed to paying personal bills. This is only possible if you have other sources of income.
Finally, don’t compete directly with your employer and don’t become a direct supplier to them. In my view, most businesses that don’t violate direct competitive and supplier clause(s) don’t get into trouble. Phil knight ran Nike as a side business for about ten years while working at PWC.
In cases where employers won’t tolerate your having a side business at all costs, don’t worry, there is a workable plan. Your time is yours after 5pm. Trust me, even your MD has a side hustle. Give your employer your best until 5pm and then face your hustle afterwards. Keep it low though to avoid unnecessary confrontations which may affect your relationship. Nobody needs to know you are not going home to watch TV after work. Wishing you all, the very best in your business endeavours. To read more posts by Danstan, please click link to Danstan’s Blog