How to start a business in your spare time

One way of reducing the risk of starting up your own business is to hold onto your day job in the early days and work on your business in your spare time at evenings and weekends. It’s an appealing idea because if your business venture fails then you still have your job, and if it succeeds then making the transition to being your own boss will be a lot less risky.  In fact, there are now so many people running businesses from home in their spare time at evenings and weekends that there is even a name for them – the 5 to 9 ers.

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How to do it Right

1. Downplay your entrepreneurial intentions in front of your boss. No matter how well you get on, no-one likes to feel that their employee’s attention and focus is elsewhere. Provide information solely on a ‘need to know’ basis and never bring up your business venture in conversation unless you are specifically asked about it.

2. Don’t give your boss any reason to clamp down on your business venture. Be scrupulous about doing your day job competently. Only work on your business in your own time and never use your employer’s resources for your business – don’t take stationery, don’t use the office phone for your business phone calls.

3. Put your social life on hold, and try to get the support and understanding of your family – you can’t do a full-time job and start a business AND see as much of friends and family as you used to.

4. Make the most of every hour you have available to you – When Chris Orrell was starting up his company offering cheap hotel rooms to employees of large firms, he would go down to the car park every lunch hour to make calls to potential clients on his mobile phone. His business now has a turnover of millions.

5. Don’t underestimate how much time you still have available – there are 168 hours in the week, so even allowing for a 40 hour a week full-time job and eight hours sleep a night, that still gives you a potential 88 hours left in which to work on your business.

6. But don’t sacrifice sleep. Make sure you get enough sleep every night as overtiredness will make you feel ill, run-down, grumpy, short tempered, and lead to poor judgement and bad decisions.

What kind of business to start

1. An internet-based business which does not require your constant physical presence for it to function

2. A business that can outsource many of its functions. Husband and wife Brent and Marilena Shaw run their online luggage business Swiss in their spare time while both do full-time day jobs. They outsource the packing and posting of orders to a fulfilment company, which takes delivery of their stock and stores it in its warehouse. During the day a call centre handles their customer enquiries.

3. One that allows you to communicate with customers by email rather than by phone, so you are not limited to conventional office hours

4. Don’t start a business that will be in competition with the company you work for, and don’t start one that uses information or data provided by your employer, as you will quickly run into legal issues.

Case study

Janan Leo, is a typical 5-9er. During the day she works as a product development manager for Virgin Trains. As soon as she is finished there, she switches to running Cocorose, which makes folding shoes for women to wear while commuting. She started the company, which she runs from the spare room of her home in north London, in 2008 with £3,000 of savings. She works every evening from 5 pm until at least 11 pm and every weekend and now sells hundreds of pairs of shoes a month in boutiques and through her website. She may never see her boyfriend and barely get any sleep but for Leo, starting a business this way and running it at home has one huge advantage – it has minimised the financial risk. She says: ‘I lie in bed at midnight watching the orders come through on my BlackBerry.’

Case study 2

Steve Emecz, runs his own book company, MX Publishing, in his spare time from home while holding down a demanding full-time job as the business development director for, an e-commerce support company. Steve, whose business publishes around 50 titles, including books on Sherlock Holmes and neurolinguistics, says: ‘I process urgent orders in my lunch break and regular ones in the evening. I have an outsourced warehouse that picks the books and ships them — it is all technology-driven and web-based. The authors all have day jobs themselves and so want to talk to me in the evening anyway, and the distributors do everything online. I have my e-mails sent direct to my BlackBerry, and I use Skype a lot.’

Useful resources

Book: Working 5 to 9: How to start a successful business in your spare time by Emma Jones

Book: The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris

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