I recently heard from an entrepreneur who is starting a company on the side. “My current job doesn’t prohibit me from starting a business on my own time, but I also don’t want to look like I’ve checked out at work and am only focused on my new venture,” he told me. “What can I do?” The question for many entrepreneurs with side gigs: How can you talk about your new role without jeopardizing your current job that pays the bills?
Here are three strategies to consider:
Brand your business, not yourself. Ultimately, if you’re launching an entrepreneurial venture, you may want to brand yourself as its impresario. But that doesn’t have to occur right away. For now, focus on building the company brand, rather than your own. You can create a corporate Twitter account and blog, and create content anonymously. That way, you can establish a credible online presence for the company while keeping your own connection to it out of the spotlight.
Network face to face. If your boss or co-workers may worry that you’re working harder on your new business than at your current job, make it harder for them to track: Do your networking in real life, rather than over the Internet. Set up lunch meetings or after-hours coffee dates to connect with others. That way, your efforts are less visible to others, are arguably more effective in relationship building and are demonstrably not on the company’s dime. (You can point to your Saturday meeting on the calendar, rather than having them wonder when, exactly, you wrote that post for your company’s blog.)
Set a timeline. The surest way for your side business -- and the marketing of it -- to fail is to let it languish as a permanent afterthought. Set metrics and a timeline, and review them regularly. How many sales do you hope to have in month three? How about month six? Did they measure up to expectations? Why or why not? If you feel your business is gaining momentum, you may want to incrementally increase your public involvement with it because that will hasten the virtuous circle -- more people will be aware of it and want to use it. On the other hand, if traction is extremely slow and you keep missing milestones, it’s time to re-evaluate. Perhaps the concept isn’t working, and you should shut it down or pivot to something new. Or perhaps the business is something that will only show initial returns if you invest a great deal of time and energy in it. In that case, if you truly believe in the concept, you may want to go “all in” and dramatically expand your involvement and how you portray that involvement publicly.
Branding yourself around your new entrepreneurial venture on the side is tricky. In the beginning stages, you may be working at cross-purposes -- you want to get known by one group of people for something (for instance, you want fitness enthusiasts to know you’ve launched a nutrition-coaching business), but you may not necessarily want another group -- your current colleagues -- to know about the depth of your involvement. In all cases, it’s important to be honest and upfront. Where possible, alert your employer that you’re starting a new business and emphasize that you’ll be working on it nights and weekends and will be totally focused during regular work hours. But if you’re concerned the message won’t go over as well as you might hope, using these strategies can enable you to brand your new business well enough to succeed, without jeopardizing your current paycheck.