Many potential entrepreneurs have a hard time deciding whether starting a business part-time or full-time makes the most sense for them. On the one hand, dedicating yourself full-time to a startup seems like it would give your idea the best chance of success. On the other hand, starting out part-time allows you to keep your regular job while testing your business idea. The best option for you depends on a number of factors and the weight you give the advantages and disadvantages of starting out full-time or part-time.
The advantages of starting up your business full-time are obvious. Without the responsibilities of another job, you are able to commit your full attention and time to the startup, which is likely to shorten the time until your business is up, running, and making money. Since you are relying on your business taking off to provide you with income, you will be highly motivated to make good decisions and have extra incentive to succeed (especially if failure to launch means you have to go back to working for others!). If you need to seek outside investors, your willingness to risk taking on your idea full-time will give you credibility with them. They will be more likely to take a risk on entrepreneurs who are willing to take on significant risk themselves!
Starting out full-time gives you the time to comprehensively plan all aspects of your business. You are available during regular work hours on either coast to talk with suppliers, advertisers, trade associations and anyone else with information you need to make the best plan. You are able to spend more time networking and researching the industry so that you fully understand the opportunities and threats you can expect to encounter. The extra time and dedicated focus also make it easier to change direction if you realize the barriers to starting your particular idea are too great or if you identify better startup opportunities along the way.
The disadvantages of starting out full-time mostly involve the increased risk. Without a separate income, it can be difficult to get your business off the ground, especially given that startups tend to take twice as long and cost twice as much as you originally expect! You need to have enough cash on hand to cover your personal existence during the planning phase and are more likely to need outside financing (even if just a few thousand dollars) to launch your idea. If it takes longer than expected to start making sales (which it almost always does), desperation can lead to bad decisions and knee-jerk reactions that produce less profitable outcomes. In an ideal world, you could start your business full-time with enough working capital to sustain you for twice as long as you think it will take to get your idea in motion. That way, you have the breathing room to make the best decisions for the long-term success of your business idea.
Starting your business part-time can be frustrating as it takes longer to get off the ground, but the advantages can outweigh the irritation. Most entrepreneurs that work on a business part-time do so because they are still working a full-time job for someone else. That steady income can relieve a lot of pressure, allowing you to take your time to find the best answers to every startup issue and possibly self-fund the entire startup. Working on your idea part-time reduces your risk all around. If you discover during your planning that you need to modify your idea or completely change direction in order for your business to succeed, it is easier to do so without significant loss. If you need more time to save up or raise the capital needed to finance your idea, you still have your regular paycheck to fall back on. Once your business is up and running, you can build your customer base until the business is profitable enough to replace your regular job before you commit to the business full-time.
The downside of starting your business on a part-time basis is that it can be more difficult and take much longer to get your idea off the ground. Your attention is pulled in different directions, especially if you have personal obligations to attend to outside of your regular work hours. It can be difficult to adjust to working a job and a half because often it seems like all of your time is spent working. The remedy, of course, is to manage your time well and schedule enough hours per week to work on your idea. But when you know you have the paycheck coming in whether you work on your business or not, it can be easy to become distracted or slack off. Be sure not to work on your business idea during your regular job hours — you won’t want your employees taking your time to work on other things, so show the same respect for your current boss.
Another difficulty that entrepreneurs often experience in starting a business part-time is balancing the responsibilities once the venture is up and running. For any business, there are growing pains — periods during which you have to shuffle priorities and decide whether to hire some help in order to meet the demands of your growing business. If you are already working full-time, these periods can be even more stressful because the time you have to dedicate to the business is limited. Many entrepreneurs find themselves pulling the occasional all-nighter, outsourcing some tasks, or hiring an employee sooner than planned.
Some entrepreneurs are unable to dedicate the hours to work on their business idea even part-time, instead starting up on a spare time basis. This can work out, as long as you are able to commit time consistently, at least a few hours per week to developing your business. Periodic startups — where the entrepreneurs does a little work on an idea, ignores it for a few months, then puts in a few more hours, etc. — are less successful. The marketplace changes so rapidly that any more than a few weeks out of the loop can make what you know obsolete. Spare time startups can be very successful, however. Remember that just 3 hours per week of work for one year adds up to nearly a month of full-time hours!
Starting your own business is a huge endeavor that takes quite a bit of time and energy. Deciding whether to jump in full-time or not can be a difficult choice in some cases, but for others the right decision is obvious. Whatever you choose to do, be sure to develop and use a time-management system that works for you and ensure that the time you spend working on your idea is productive. If you are serious about asserting your independence, you will find the time to make your idea into reality!
— K. MacKillop, a serial entrepreneur with a J.D. from Duke University, is founder of LaunchX and authors a blog focused on starting a business (http://www.blog.launchx.com/). The LaunchX System’s comprehensive, step-by-step approach to starting a business will help you develop the knowledge and skills you need to make your business startup a success. Visit http://www.LaunchX.com/ and take our Business Readiness Assessment and learn what to do next for your business startup (http://www.launchx.com/are-you-ready.html)