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Nice and Steady

There's really no need to rush into a full-time business. Keep these part-time pointers in mind for smooth sailing.

There are many great reasons to start a business part time. Maybe you want to get your feet wet in the entrepreneurial ocean but aren't quite ready to completely dive in. Perhaps your potential market is too small to warrant a full-time venture. Maybe you don't have enough funding yet to quit your job and have decided to start your new business in a slow and steady fashion.

Before you take your first steps on the road to entrepreneurship, ask yourself these questions to determine whether running a business part time or full time is a better option for you:

  • How much available capital do you have? One advantage to starting a business part time is that it requires a smaller initial investment.
  • How long is your list of contacts and potential customers from your previous work experiences? The longer the list, the stronger your prospects will be for creating a sizable customer base in a full-time business endeavor right away.
  • How extensive are your personal savings? If you're living "high on the hog," then you likely have the financial security to start out full time, even if things don't end up going quite as smoothly as you would like.

If "hand to mouth" better describes your situation, hold on to your regular job and work toward a part-time venture.

  • How well do you know your business partner, if you plan to have one? Launching a business part time is a good opportunity for determining partnership compatibility before you commit too much time and energy.

If you decide to go part time, you'll need excellent time management skills, strong self-discipline, and support from family and friends. It's a big commitment; to succeed, think small. A series of small steps will get you as far as one giant step. These steps include developing a business concept, writing a business plan, acquiring basic business equipment, setting a long-term target date to go full time, aiming for moderate first-year revenues, selecting time-saving business equipment and maintaining top performance at your day job. Finally, study the industry and make your mistakes while the company is still growing.

Set aside a comfortable working environment in your den, basement or garage, and concentrate on the basics: a good desk, an ergonomic chair, plenty of light, a filing cabinet, work space, a computer, a professional-grade phone and any peripherals you may need.

Start by writing down everything you want to accomplish. Prioritize each responsibility according to the purpose of the task, the results you expect and the project's deadline. As you complete each task, check off the chore and move on to the next. Because your part-time business may not provide immediate financial rewards, give yourself some reward, even if it's just a movie or a hot fudge sundae.

Run your business in a professional manner from the start. Make sure your marketing materials--business name, logo, brochures, business cards and letterhead--communicate your professional image. Don't advertise that you're part time, but don't hide it, either. If a client wants to meet with you during the workday, be flexible and offer to meet any other time-on your lunch hour, after work or on the weekend. Setting up professional communications systems (a high-speed Internet connection, separate business phone line and voice mail) will eliminate doubts clients have about your ability to respond to them quickly.

To learn more about making a part-time business work--and get 35 ideas for low-cost businesses you can start in your free time--check out Entrepreneur's new e-book 35 Businesses to Start This Weekend: Advice and Resources for Unlimited Success ($12.95).

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the June 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Nice and Steady.

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