Your Good Side

Employer Talk

Should you tell your current employer about your part-time venture? The response is mixed among our entrepreneurs. While Poelker was able to maintain a good relationship with her former employer, Cohen's employers were not so supportive. Because his boss adamantly opposed his business, Cohen's challenge was to keep it separate-to do his job while trying to grow a business and keep it out of his employer's sight.

There are obviously some moral gray areas to such a situation. Ethical questions to ask yourself: Is this right? Should I be running my business on company time? How would I feel if an employee did the same to me down the line? The situation varies from person to person, and only you can decide what fits your business, says Gravely. "Some employers don't like the idea of you being in business for yourself at all. They think it takes away from your job," he explains. Others don't have a problem.

Whatever you decide, try not to burn any bridges, notes Gravely. Also make sure you're not violating any noncompete agreements before you leave, or you'll set off your boss's radar.

Jessy Klein and Meegan Barnes were lucky-their employers at Vibe magazine were OK with them having their own business. Says Klein, "My boss knew I was trying to run a business and was very cool."

So when Klein, 26, and Barnes, 27, started their New York City-based cosmetics and clothing company, Femme Arsenal, in 1998, they managed to work their desk jobs by day and concoct their lip balm recipes by night and on weekends. The schedule was crazy, especially when Barnes' kitchen became too small for their growing orders. They rented a small space to mix the makeup, and Barnes ended up quitting Vibe. She did freelance design and concentrated on growing the business while Klein kept working.

But their former jobs did help them get a clip in Vibe that a buyer from Henri Bendel saw. They also had the connections to get into events and give their products to celebrities like Lil' Kim and Snoop Dogg.

In 2000, they got a huge order that gave them some financial security, and Klein, too, was able to quit her day job. Today, the partners have about $1 million in sales. As Klein puts it, "We're not [as big as] Donna Karan and we're not a lemonade stand-we're somewhere in the middle."

Part-time to full-time success didn't come alone-it was in working together that the partners found strength. "Don't do it by yourself," says Klein. "You need someone else to lean on."

Even if you can't find a partner, it's a good idea to get some kind of outside help. "Put together a support network," says John Castle, a lecturer in entrepreneurship at the University of Washington in Seattle. "There are two types: personal support-friends and family you can talk to-and a group of advisors." You may have to be creative in terms of scheduling-some groups will meet during the day while you're at work. Look for comrades with a similar schedule to yours.

Full Steam Ahead
One of the most important decisions is when to jump from part time to full time. There's no concrete deadline, but there are a few signs to look for. Castle suggests asking yourself these questions: How is the business doing? How deep is your customer base? Do you have enough cash flow to offset the loss of your paycheck?

Starting part time can be a challenge, but it offers a significant benefit: It can be your very first step toward being an entrepreneur. Part time? Full time? Either way, the time is now.

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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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