Your Good Side

The Strength of Structure

It's a myth that a part-time business is easier than a full-time one. If you want to make it work, you'll have to set goals and parameters-from long-term planning to practical daily schedules. "If you had a part-time job, you'd be there on time," Gravely says. "Sometimes when we have a part-time business, we don't give it that same kind of structure and attention."

Managing customer communications is also key. "It shouldn't matter to your customers that you're part time," notes Gravely. Here's where good technology helps-use e-mail and voice mail to communicate with your customers and vendors while you're off earning that paycheck. Take no longer than 48 hours to respond, and get an auto-reply message to let people know you'll answer ASAP. Or as Kelly Poelker did with her virtual assistant service, Another 8 Hours Inc., get a toll-free number and forward the calls to your cell phone.

This O'Fallon, Illinois, entrepreneur also marketed her unusual schedule. "I used it as one of my selling points," says Poelker, 38. "I said 'I can meet you after hours.'" The strategy worked to help build Poelker's client base.

It helped that Poelker was able to procure work from her former employer when she quit. Though it was awkward at first, her employer approached her before she left about using her virtual assistant services. "It's so important not to jeopardize your current position," she says. "You have an obligation to your employer until you quit." That ethical integrity-and a positive relationship with her former employer-has helped her grow sales at least 20 percent annually.

Get It Done

  • DO plan your part-time venture as diligently as you would a full-time business.
  • DON'T treat your part-time business as a hobby. If you want it to generate profit, you'll have to work at it (read: forgo weekends and evenings, set aside specific times to devote to it, etc.).
  • DO look into businesses that can be run any time of the day or night (online sales, virtual assisting, global distributorships, graphic design, etc.).
  • DO hook up with a network of businesspeople who can give you advice, mentoring or an understanding shoulder (about your 2 a.m. marathon designing session).
  • DON'T neglect your day job when you're there-you're still being paid to do a job, and your employer might even be a potential client someday.
  • DON'T get discouraged when your life seems crazy, your full-time job and your part-time business are taking up all your time, and you don't see how you'll ever make it work. Remember that many have done it before you, and most of those success stories had dark times, too.

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Your Good Side.

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