By Ismail Abdur-Rahman, CEO iVIBES Consulting
Why is it that as human beings we tend to think in dichotomous terms? Everything is either black or white, never grey. We go all in, or we do nothing at all. Doesn't that seem oddly extreme for a species that has made significant advancement over the past century by blending separate parts to form an integrated whole?
Do you know how many people think that in order to be an entrepreneur you must quit your day job and put all of your eggs into one startup basket? I get consultation calls all the time from would-be entrepreneurs who can't reconcile the idea of going all in on a startup that has a risk proposition that could result in the business folding before it makes a dollar. Given the fact that 95% of startups fail, I'd say that hedging against risk is a reasonable proposition for people who don't have alternative cash flow streams, especially with the current state of the global economy.
Don't quit your day job.
Contrary to a popular, albeit wildly misguided, opinion, which suggests that in order to make a startup successful, you have to be all-in, working on it 24/7, sacrificing all other opportunities to derive an income that place any demands on your time, it is entirely possible to begin your entrepreneurial journey on a less than full time basis. We just need to reconceptualize what it means to be an entrepreneur so that we allow for a few shades of grey in between the black and white truths.
Maintaining a day job while pursuing startup or freelance opportunities can actually spur the success of your foray into the free work culture. How? Well, think about it this way: since startups can take anywhere from 3 to 5 years to become profitable, maintaining a steady income opportunity in the interim can allow you to invest in the development of your business while continuing to develop the skills and knowledge you'll need to ultimately make your business successful. If we think about this from a Lean Startup perspective, startups that learn what the market will support and make the appropriate pivots to adjust their product or service offerings to match market demands are more likely to succeed. In the world of entrepreneurship, the key to survival is learning what the market wants and subsequently fulfilling that demand before exhausting all of your resources.
Don't knock the (side) hustle.
Making the decision to live your best life and engage your passion as a means of livelihood means that you have embraced the idea of living your life outside of the neat little boxes that we tend to use to compartmentalize life and its various components, so after taking such a monumental step forward, don't ruin it by taking two steps backward by thinking that real entrepreneurship can only be experienced in one way - the full-time, go-for-broke, all-in mentality that has doomed the entrepreneurial efforts of countless people with ample talent, great ideas, and a real passion for what they were doing, who, perhaps, lacked only sufficient resources or an adequate business model.
Being a sidepreneur doesn't mean that your business is only a secondary pursuit. It does, however, mean that you must possess impeccable time management skills in order to keep the trajectory of your business's development trending in the right direction. It goes without saying that failing to have a solid strategic plan to help you continue to develop your product or service while earning your income from another source is the surest way to a failed business. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to work on your business 8 hours per day after putting in a full day at your day job. However, if you don't dedicate sufficient time for business development, skills development, and networking, you might never gain the traction you need to see your business take off. This is why I try to refrain from using the words side hustle or sidepreneur with my clients: I don't want to reinforce any negative subconscious thoughts about their business efforts being somehow less viable or important than a full-time effort would be. You know what they say about the subconscious mind....
Network and collaborate.
It's important for any entrepreneur to build a network of contacts who might prove instrumental in securing funding, providing secondary contacts, or offering valuable mentoring help, and it's even moreso for an entrepreneur who has to keep a steady job for the sake of maintaining a current cash flow.
Once you have business cards and a great elevator pitch, it's time to beat a path to every networking event you can attend. In this regard, let me be clear: every interaction with another human has the opportunity to be a networking opportunity. I have made valuable connections everywhere: at book fairs, at the supermarket, at restaurants, at trade shows and seminars that have little obvious connection to my business. You do have to be a bit outgoing to make an impromptu meeting a networking opportunity, but irrespective of your personality, this can work if you truly believe in what you are doing. If you don't believe in yourself and your business, nobody else will, either. A quick anecdotal reference here: I was at a networking event once, and I noticed a fairly well-dressed guy with an over-the-top personality scoping the room for someone to pitch. We chatted briefly over coffee and finger food, and, to be honest, his business idea was garbage. OK, the idea itself wasn't a total fail, but his proposed business model was doomed to fail. I tried to give him some unsolicited advice about how to reconceptualize the business model, but he was convinced that because it was his idea, it had to work. It was going to have to be his way or the highway. You know what? That son of a gun was so convincing with his pitch, because he spoke with such passion about his idea, that he found an investor there to fully fund him. His business never took off, though (I did say that the business model was garbage, didn't I?). The point is that his self-belief was so strong that it attracted an investor to help him get his business started in earnest, the failure of the business notwithstanding. Co-founders events, in which entrepreneurs have the opportunity to pitch to multiple investors looking for a viable startup opportunity to get in on, are becoming increasingly popular for this reason. Get your pitch deck together before you go.
Collaborating is just as important. Don't look at everyone who does what you do as competition. Sometimes the synergy of different perspectives and talents aiming to do the same thing can help you scale up your business pretty fast. Voila! Now you have a co-founder - someone to share the work, and the risk. I've successfully leveraged collaborations to build stronger businesses in less time on several occasions. If your area has coworking offices or coworking events, utilizing them can open the doors to collaboration opportunities that can help you push your business forward in a fraction of the time.
Rest assured, there are myriad ways for you to enter the world of entrepreneurship without having to bite off a risk bigger than you can chew. If you don't have accumulated with or investment income to support you while you get your business off the ground, you can still be a sidepreneur and make an impact.