Gone are the days when employees and entrepreneurs inhabited two different worlds. In these financially uncertain times, more and more 9-to-5 workers are rounding out their paychecks with cash from entrepreneurial ventures.
Employees are finding that drumming up business outside of the office not only puts more money in their pockets, but also provides a safeguard against the sudden layoff or cut in pay that haunts their daydreams. These enterprising workers are building their safety nets one Etsy shop and freelance gig at a time.
As the senior money editor and blogger at U.S. News and World Report and owner of her own small business, Kimberly Palmer is one of those leading the double life of an employee and entrepreneur. In addition to her two jobs, Palmer is the author of a new book, "The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life" (AMACOM, January 2014).
Palmer's book lays out the groundwork for balancing your full-time career with your entrepreneurial spirit, and argues that side-gigs — which she calls the "shining white knights" of 9-to-5 workers — are a saving grace in an age of economic instability.
In an email interview with BusinessNewsDaily, Palmer explains how aspiring entrepreneurs can strengthen their careers and their earning power without quitting their day jobs.
BusinessNewsDaily: Your book promotes an intriguing idea: that entrepreneurism is the solution for a major problem afflicting our society. What is this problem? Why do you believe entrepreneurism is such a promising solution?
Kimberly Palmer: The problem is that job security doesn't exist anymore, and a lot of people, myself included, feel an incredible sense of uncertainty, frustration and even fear about that. At the same time, many people stay longer in jobs they don't love because it's not that easy to get a new one. In both cases, launching a side business based on your own creativity, passions and experience can help you move from a place of frustration to one of satisfaction.
Being entrepreneurial in your pursuit of a new venture on top of your full-time job gives you a new income stream, which can supplement your income and also serve as a backup plan in the event you do lose your main job, but even more importantly, it shows that you have something of value to offer the world.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most Americans who hold more than one job are motivated by money, but the stories you tell in your book paint a broader picture. What are some other reasons that people have for branching out from the traditional 9-to-5 routine?
My interviews showed that while many people are initially motivated to launch their side business because of financial concerns and the desire to earn more money, as they became more successful, their side businesses met a much deeper need — the need to feel validated. Whether they were creating custom cakes for festive birthday parties or [doing] career coaching at night, their side businesses showed them that through their own creative entrepreneurism, they were making something that other people found really useful and valuable. This validation is especially important when you feel stuck in your day job.
When it comes to starting a business, why is it important to focus on the "bigger picture?"
All entrepreneurial efforts come with some rejection and bumps along the way, from a negative customer review to a slow sales week. The side-business owners I interviewed who were most successful found a way to keep going and experimenting with their business by focusing on that big-picture goal that was motivating them – usually the desire for more financial securityand to have more career fulfillment. Some days are inevitably hard, and that's when you have to step back and remember those bigger goals.
In your opinion, where do the best ideas for new businesses come from?
The best ideas are often related to your full-time job, or some other pre-existing passion or significant experience that you've had. Some people, like the cartoon voice impersonator I profile, return to childhood creativity. He had always loved making his family members laugh with his silly voices, and now he earns around $10,000 on Fiverr [a website where people sell services] doing that. Other people pursue an offshoot of their day job, like the social media consultant who works for a university by day and picks up extra clients by night.
You argue that entrepreneurs make great employees. How does entrepreneurial spirit pay off for traditional employers?
Traditional employers get the benefit of having their enterprising employees pick up extra skills and experiences on their own time that they can then bring back to their day jobs. Employers often want employees who have entrepreneurial, e-commerce, social media and marketing experience. Running a side business gives an employer all of those skills. That's what makes it a win-win scenario. Many traditional employers are also recognizing that their top-performing employees want the freedom to be creative and entrepreneurial on their own time. So they encourage them to embrace those ambitions, allowing them to retain those employees for longer.
You write that "thinking too big, too quickly is a common mistake that can actually end up thwarting success." What's the alternative?
The alternative is to take small steps toward your bigger goal. Instead of creating a new baby product and licensing it to one of the big toy manufacturers, consider selling it yourself online. Spread word about it through blogs. You'll likely get valuable feedback that you can then use to tweak the product. Then, if it still makes sense, you can consider working with a bigger company, and you'll be doing it from a more informed place.
What are some suggestions for keeping startup costs down, and what investments are absolutely worth it when staring a new business?
In many cases, your costs can be close to zero, especially if you take advantage of one of the existing e-commerce websites, such as Elance, Freelancer, Etsy or Fiverr. You certainly don't need to pay to build a website or for marketing help before you've even made a sale. If you're offering a service like coaching or consulting of some kind, you just need to start spreading word among potential clients.
The exceptions are if you are in a field where you need licenses or legal protections. For example, if you are selling cupcakes, then you need to get the proper licenses as well as protect yourself legally in case you accidentally give someone food poisoning. You always want to make sure you're protecting yourself legally and financially.
You don't use the term networking in your book, but you do devote an entire chapter to "finding friends." How does the "finding friends" approach to making business connections differ from networking in the traditional sense?
I use the term "finding friends" because I mean it more casually than the more official sounding "networking." When I visit a fellow creative entrepreneur's blog and leave comments, I don't think of that as networking – that makes it sound like I have ulterior motives. Finding friends is about genuinely connecting with people online who share common interests and entrepreneurial ambitions. Those friendships might blossom into mutually beneficial business relationships, but they start out on a more relaxed level.
What are some key points to keep in mind when building a social media presence for a new business?
You want to tell your story. Many people fall into the trap of writing their "about me" page in third person, which can feel overly formal to potential customers. Writing instead in first person, and sharing your own motivations and the back-story to your business, can help break down that Internet wall so people feel like they are truly connecting with you, and vice versa.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Get started – don't wait until you have the perfect idea or the perfect website. Instead, start small by offering a product or service through one of the existing e-commerce channels, and see what clicks with customers. You can build from there.
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