How To Start A Business While Working Full Time - Interview With Emma Jones

Yana Prokopets
August 5, 2016
Last updated: December 3, 2018
Emma Jones is a small business expert, author, and founder of small business network Enterprise Nation. In July 2016, Emma was appointed SME Representative for Crown Commercial Service.

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Ms. Jones, you left accounting firm Arthur Andersen to start your first business. Could you talk about pros and cons of starting your business while still having a fulltime employment versus going all in and quitting the job in order to become your own boss.

I started both my businesses by 'Working 5 to 9' which is the term we use to describe holding onto the day job and building a business at nights and weekends. In my view, it's the best way to start! You give yourself time to build confidence and cash-flow in the business. It's also actually good for the day job as you pick up new and entrepreneurial skills from which your employer will benefit!

If you decide to start a business while still working, should you let your boss and fellow employees know? What are your moral obligations in this situation?

Good question! When I wrote the book 'Working 5 to 9' I interviewed more than 60 5 to 9'ers and most of them were doing something very different in their business, than they were in the day job. For example, the RAF jet pilot who was selling shoelaces online, the estate agent who doubled as a rare breed pig farmer, and the train executive who was a fashion entrepreneur by night. In this case, most of the business owners had told their boss they were building a business on the side and had confirmed it wouldn't interfere with day to day activity and, far from it, would involve bringing new skills to the role that the employer didn't have to pay for! If you are building a business that's a direct competitor to your employer, I would advise caution and that it's better to leave your role sooner rather than later, to avoid any issues of conflict.

Having a job and a business is obviously very time consuming. What tips do you have for balancing your work as an employee and the boss your own business?

Embrace technology! Low-cost tech has been a keen friend of the 5 to 9'ers and means the business can be working whilst you're at work. Have a home on the web through website template tools such as Squarespace, Wix or Weebly and schedule social media posts using Hootsuite or Buffer. In the offline world, I recommend getting dedicated space in the house to serve as an office as that way you create a sense of separation between what's work and what's not, meaning you can walk away from the end of a double working day!

Many people believe that they have a great business idea and if only they started their business, the success would be inevitable. What are the best ways to validate your ideas prior to taking a jump?

Market research is a key element of starting a business. Do this through accessing research reports and resources at the local library (the British Library has a great service called Business & IP Centre operating in major city libraries where you can book in to get help with industry reports and trends), reach out to potential customers online with questions using tools such as Surveymonkey and Wufoo.com and absolutely meet potential customers face to face by meeting them in the street, going to markets, doing pop-ups, and constantly being on listen and learn mode. You could also consider a crowd funding campaign as this is an immediate route to getting market reaction.

When you start your first business it is very difficult to take everything into account. Can you share your checklist for things that area most important to keep in mind?

To keep things in perspective, there are two main elements to starting and growing a business. They are:
  • Making sales: perfecting the price and product, reaching customers, finessing fulfilment and attracting customers back
  • Managing costs: watching cash-flow, spending within your means and getting support to comply with the requirements of being in business
You can pretty much place everything in one of these two baskets. Within these comes innovation, building a home on the web, raising profile and sourcing reliable partners. In your own mind, consider business an act of both halves; you have to make sales and manage costs. Do these two things well and this is the recipe for a successful business.

In your book Working 5 to 9: How to start a successful business in your spare time you advise people on combining corporate work and their own business. When is the best time to quit your corporate job and commit full time to your own business? Should you wait until your side income is sizable enough or is it better to quit your job earlier, as soon as you see your business starting to get traction

I get asked this question a lot! The time to leave the day job and go full time in the business is a very personal one. It should be based on two key factors; the first can be calculated and it's when the business is turning over sufficient income to support you, and the second cannot be calculated as it's gut instinct of when you think the business needs you more than the day job!

What is your favorite business books for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Dan Pink's Free Agent Nation

Thank you for the interview.

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