Juggling the Day Job and a Tech Business Start-Up

Day Job

Starting a Computer Repair Business wasn’t something I decided upon lightly. But when someone plants that seed of an idea its hard to think of doing anything else as your mind slowly works through all the possibilities and what it could mean for your professional future. We all know there’s going to be a lot of work involved, an endless list of tasks from setting up your workshop, your documentation (Technibble Business Kit), development, advertising [insert growing task list here].

A lot of us will inevitably start business along side a full time job and of course have families to take care and be part of. My mistake at the beginning was not giving the last two points the attention they deserved. The following lessons which I learned the hard way I hope will provide an insight for others in the similar situation of juggling that full time job and your new tech business start up.

The Day Job

When I made the decision to start a business I gave very little thought to the impact that it might have on my current employment. Why would I? I worked a typical 9 to 5 at a certain popular frozen foods manufacturer as a network support technician. However my views on what I did in my spare time differed greatly to my employers view and I was pulled up on it at a seemingly random time when my manager finally got wind of it.

I came to appreciate their point of view, there were numerous concerns that it would distract me from my responsibilities and that I may start working on my own business in business hours. Valid concerns but their approach was pretty unnerving as they started laying out several printed pages of my website with various areas highlighted, think CSI’s Horatio standing over me in the interrogation room and you’re pretty much there.

To end it I was threatened with a disciplinary, which I never received. The promised pay rise at year end never materialized. Of course this has HR written all over it but rather than get embroiled in a lengthy and difficult process I decided that it was probably best to move on and start fresh.

    • 1. Consider Your Employer
      Despite my horror story above, do consider your employer. Your full time job will of course be your bread and butter during the early days of your business so regardless of whether we disagree with our employers point of view, we need them on our side through this delicate stage. Some employers won’t mind of course whilst others will take a dim view which could quickly spell trouble.

 

    • 2. Is There a Conflict of Interest
      Is there a blatant conflict of interest? For example are you currently working for a small tech repair shop looking after residential clients? Then the likelihood is that you’ll find yourself without a day job pretty quickly. In a similar situation I would probably do the same out of fear of putting time and effort into someone who intends to take business right from under my nose. If you’re working for a business that directly relates yours then you should strongly consider alternative employment.

 

    • 3. Check Your Employment Contract
      Give your employment contract the once over and check for anything that might go against you that may conflict with your plans, things noting details about second jobs, out of hours conduct and privacy rules may harm you if your employer pulls you up on it. On the flip side be sure to check through for things that might help you in a worst case scenario.

 

    • 4. Meet With Your Employer
      A sure fire way of keeping on the good side is to be open and honest up front prior to opening your doors to the public, be the one to pull your manager into a meeting and get a feel for the situation. It will be interesting and may put you in a stronger position when all cards are on the table.

 

  • 5. Keep It On The Low or Play It Down
    Another way is to play the whole thing down as a hobby, lots of people have hobbies and some of those people would prefer to be paid for using their time and skills. This is something everyone will understand and has a way of putting employers at ease.

Employers, especially those having given full time placements will inevitably take a cautious view on employees wanting to get out on their own. When a company brings you into the fold you’re ultimately looked upon as an investment, that’s not always the case but its often the bottom line in the business world. You’re not paid to stand around and look pretty (sorry), you’re paid a salary which will in some way help contribute to your employers success in their business.

If its common knowledge that you’re running a business then you may mind find your employer less willing to invest in you and you may see that possible promotion or pay rise go by the wayside regardless of what your employment contract states. Of course I’m taking the extremely negative view here and this is not always the case, it is a worst case scenario which I was unfortunate enough to be part of.

Thankfully there is a flip side to this scenario and your employer may in fact see your part time business as a good thing, a set of skills and abilities they would have remained unaware of had you not took the necessary steps to build a business. This could open up new opportunities and see your employer taking steps to ensure you remain on the payroll. They may even help you develop your career on a new path.

In the end this all worked out for me in the end, I have a better day job with an understanding employer which puts me in a stronger position for the future of my business. This was a hard learned and had I known what I do now I certainly would have taken my day job into much greater consideration. I think my employers had a valid point of view but given their business position and experience the situation was dealt with poorly and sadly they’ll certainly not be the only ones out there. Hopefully today’s article has been an eye opener will help others consider they’re day job in greater detail before opening your doors for business.

Am I the only one? Lets here your horror day job horror stories in the comments below!



Ric Chapman

About the Author

Ric has been in the IT support business for 12 years driven by his love of tech and passion to help others. Ric carries several certifications from both Microsoft and CompTIA and worked in a myriad of support environments, that experience he now puts into developing his own IT consultancy business.

Comments (17)

  • Tommy B says:

    I was hoping you’d address the part about not neglecting being part of your family’s life. When I began my business, I quit my full time employer and had the luxury of not dealing with that, but I’ve had to be very intentional about setting work hours (including when my phone rings) so as not to keep me away from my first and highest calling to be a good husband.

    • Ric Chapman says:

      Hey Tommy,

      You’re right to point that out and its the intention to write a seperate article targetting the problems I faced being a husband and father. I should have made that clearer, so do watch this space.

  • Nathan says:

    I too started my consulting business in similar fashion over 4 years ago. Surprisingly enough, my employer is generally unaware that i have the business. My supervisor knows, and supports it, but that is how far it is ever gone.

    I work as a network engineer/software developer at my full time job, and my supervisor sees this as good experience for me as it puts me in situations we may have not experienced yet, and makes me a more agile technician with the ability to solve issues even faster then if i only worked at my day job. At this point in the business i have 2 techs. I run one almost full time and handle the dispatching from my cell phone sitting in the office. I probably couldn’t have a better situation in where i am allowed to work on my business while punched in at the office. The only requirement he has on me is to make sure my responsibilities are handled at the office.

    I am sure others in my situation most likely don’t have such an understanding management, and hope the best for them, and hope they can come to an understanding that would benefit everyone involved.

  • sys-eng says:

    I am currently searching for another corporate job. With over 500 applicants per job openning, the starting pay has really gone down a lot in my area. It appears that I may be starting out at about 1/2 my previous pay which means I need to keep my repair/install business going to survive. I am hoping it will work out OK but that depends on the employer/manager. My previous job as a senior progect engineer was about 10-11 hours per day plus 1.5 hours travel time so there was no time left for a side business.

  • Tomecole says:

    I found myself in a completely different situation. When I joined my last employer, they were in desperate straits. They had 11 workstations in various stages of disrepair, an old NT4 server with more malware than software, and their email was through a dial-up account at AOL. They knew they wanted to grow and that something had to be done with their technology before that could happen. I was in the hospital when they called to offer me the job and their main focus was..”How soon will you be released?”
    Every day there were fires to put out; mini (and sometimes maxi) emergencies that consumed most of my day, but eventually I started getting them in shape.
    Within 18 months they had grown to 40 Workstations (most in good shape or new), a well equiped Small Business Server (in-house email now), a T1 line, their own domain and website, etc. Everything was moving forward. Finally they had grown to the point they were bursting at the seams and had to move to larger quarters.
    I accomplished the technology move over a weekend and on Monday morning the entire operation was at its new location. Their redundant T1’s were humming with through a Cisco router running Hot Standby Router Protocol, and everything was right with the world.
    Over the next 9 months or so they continued to grow until they finally topped out at around 85 workstations. I had everything under control… everything was going so smoothly that I had time to plan for the future. I was proposing an Intranet site so their vendors could communicate to the point that I could design and establish a Just-It-Time inventory system that I felt would save them thousands of dollars.
    What I failed to notice was they were seeing me as less busy since I wasn’t putting out the daily fires that were once the focus of my job.
    A couple of weeks before Christmas they told me they were letting me go because they felt they no longer needed a full time administrator… so much for loyalty.
    They did say their decision was in no way related to the quality of my work, just that there wasn’t ewnough of it to justify my salary. However “If I would like to support them on an outsourced basis, they would like to hire me”. Having a family and no immediate prospects I had little choice but to start my own business that day… unprepaired… no experience running my own place… just forced to startup a business on a shoe string.. really a ratty, worn shoestring at that.
    If there is a moral here it may be… Don’t trust your employer to do the smart or right thing and ALWAYS keep some small but obvious fires buring in the background.
    Well, that’s not really how I feel but it would be a logical response to someone forced into my shoes… without proper shoestrings.

    • sys-eng says:

      At least you started out with a good business customer. It could have been much worse.

  • Brandon Major says:

    I started my business back in November and I have received mixed emotions from my daytime employer. My GM says that they may have a different path for me within the company some day that utilizes my skills better. At the same time my 3 year review was this January and I was completely shot down for a raise even though I have improved as an employee in almost every way.

    That whole situation left a pretty bitter taste in my mouth. Every week that I make close to $500 profit running my own business I am SOOO close to quitting my day job. How can I guarantee consistency though? I can’t obviously but there has to be some form of advertising I can count on to at least make me $1000 a month (my minimum to survive). I have called in sick 4 times since they refused my raise… they keep telling me how big of a hit it would be if I left the company because I am so good at my job but then they refuse to invest in me because they know that I want to do something that makes me happy. Part of them wants to see me be happy and the other part of them doesn’t care about anything but the almighty dollar. As a business man myself I understand both sides of this but if they want people to live their lives doing something they don’t like doing then they better be prepared to pay top dollar for it. haha =)

    I think I just needed to vent on this whole situation to people who have been in my shoes and understand the fear of moving out into the business world with no salary to back myself up.

    And ideas on how to get a consistent $1000 a month minimum? I live in Denver, CO.

    Thanks everyone and good luck to all you entrepreneurs out there!

    • Don Baughman says:

      Hello Brandon;
      I read your post and can relate completely, I encourage you to hang in there and hope the best for you in Denver.I havent researched the Denver area but I am sure it is swamped with PC repair service business’s. I realized moving my market to few smaller outskirt towns from Portland, OR ” metro hub” were the repair business is saturated has helped increase my weekly numbers in clients to that $1000.00 a week business income level. Im not sure of your marketing plans but I would love to exchange ideas and concepts with you to benefit us both. I too really do want to cut the golden handcuffs from the full time employer I keep telling myself one more year … one more year… I am getting closer than ever this year, I wake up everyday and think about what I can do to make something positive happen to grow my business even little tasks like telling myself I will spend my lunch break working on my business plan \marketing plan, researching other independent computer business owners success stories.

      What have you tried marketing wise ? Business cards, door flyers, handbills, cragslist etc? What kind of “added value” can you add to your marketing ?

      Best success to you !!!

  • Don Baughman says:

    Great article!

    You asked for a horror story … this in my early IT Tech years …

    I learned the hard way about 12 years ago on the whole conflict of interests thing, I was a technician at a very large corporation and purchased a hot dog cart from a college friend I set the cart up in front of one of the 12 large skyscrapers in the downtown area daily I had a hired hand operating it while I did my IT tech work around each building. Eventually, juggling managing the cart operations conflicted I would stop by the cart pick up the cash for the morning sales , one day my manager walked into my cube space and I was counting hundreds of dollars and putting it into my business deposit bag, the eyebrows went up and I was called on the carpet for the conflict of interest thing. I eventually sold the hot dog cart business and kept doing my IT tech job… later I found out the same manager was selling vitamins through out the whole company along with other managers \employees in a Multiple Network Marketing thing…. I look back at those days with knowing I learned a major lesson or two, I have always taken on side IT work for people that I supported at the full time job on their home computer ,,, I did keep it low treat it as a hobby for awhile after that… today fortunately I work for a government agency the director and everyone is very supportive of my small business and many of the people from the top management to office help are my best clients… I do pass my business card out ask them to communicate with me via their breaks, and personal e-mail or text message … fortunately I have my website up with google voice managing calls and messages to my cell phone and it works out great thus far… I recently obtained a license from the same agency to operate my business from home ,,, my director and I are discussing my plans to grow my business and for me to slowly work part time still assisting them with IT support needs … 12 – 13 years later I am finally getting the hang of juggling the day job and side business.

  • Ron Titus says:

    I had a similar situation a few years ago. I had a wife (housewife) and 2 kids at home, house payment, cars, health insurance and all the stuff, so I had financial obligations. But I had a great-paying daytime job as an analyst. And I liked it.

    I had an idea to go into business, but I didn’t know where it would go. So I started business on the side (nites and weekends). It grew and grew. I approached my boss and said I wanted to have Fridays off every week so I could work on my business. After consideration, that was ok’d. After a few months I asked for Thursday and Friday off every week. They refused to allow that so I said, “I quit!”. Whoa, wait a minute, we don’t want to lose you. So they ok’d it. Then, a while later, I asked to go 1/2-time. I’d work all day M, T and every other Wednesday. They refused. I threatened to quit and they relented. After a few more months of this half-time employment, I just pulled the plug and quit; went full-time in my own business. Great decision!

    I am glad that I had a couple years of job security while I built my business. (I still did give good service to my employer while I had the regular job.)

    Remember, your startup business has such little overhead compared to any large employer, you don’t need to earn that much gross income to support yourself with a nice net income, at least as big as your regular-job salary. In other words–get out there, start a business! QUIT your day job!

    The sooner you do this, the sooner you’ll see you really can make it, comfortably, on your own! If you’re afraid you might not make enough, regularly enough, do it anyway! You’ll be surprised how creative and energetic you’ll become. Everything WILL work out! You CAN make it.

  • Tom Jones says:

    I work in the medical imaging field, and have kept my startup to a weekend “hobby” of just building PCs and performing hardware upgrades / repairs. Just by word of mouth I have built a couple dozen machines for various physician offices, and have a steady business doing upgrades and maintenance otherwise.

    That way, I stay in a field I enjoy working in, and build a hobby into a real business.

    Excellent article! :)

  • Si says:

    Great Post, also Ron Titus,

    I like your post, sometimes it just takes that thought to say F*** it , im going alone in business and things do happen, The problem is too many are scared to setup shop or start a business.

    I still hear peeps to today who earn a regular cheque, and still moan saying the would like to start a business, but again they have the fear of losing.

    I basicly got shafted in a business deal years ago and had to go bust, i lost every thing, apart from fam,

    So i just started again and i believe if you can adopt this mind set, like you are not scared to fail, then the world is yours.
    what have you got to lose. Life is too short.

    Start your own business.

  • Jeremy Przyhocki says:

    Love the comments that go with his article. To go with what Ron Titus said, he is 100% right. YOU JUST NEED TO DO IT. Do not be scared thinking you can’t do it, that way of thinking will only hurt your success. You will have so much positive energy and motivation working for yourself, that clients, work orders, and money will be sure follow.

    I had less of an option to go out on my own. I finished college with a networking degree. I had a job at 3 different high volume tech jobs during school. After I graduated, finished my internship, I was laid off.

    I fortunately received a descent unemployment check every week, this actually made me lazy. I wish I had used this years time to start a business and build it.

    After this I finally found a job working at a local tech shop. Clearly stated I wanted descent pay of 18-$20 an hour FT. He offered $10 cash an hour for month trial period. Everything was going good and a one month trial turned into two months. During this time I had ran the entire operation for his 1.5 week vacation. This included reception, booking, in house repairs, on site calls, and sales totaling 6-7,000 profit in a week.

    After we finally got to sit down he offered me $12 on the books. I told him straight out to piss off and low ball someone else. It would suck to be billing $75 an hour for an average of 30-35 hours a week and not getting properly reimbursed.

    I WILL have a successful business. I will take care of my employees that make my business grow and thrive.

  • Ric Chapman says:

    Thank you all for the excellent feedback, some very interesting stories and points of view on this subject. Hope to see some more!

  • Emily says:

    I worked as a technical writer for a government contractor. Our department lost funding, so they did me the favor of offering me an entry level job in another department for a 30% cut in pay. I accepted. That first day, they handed me my personnel record. As I flipped through it, I saw where all of my references had commented on my computer skills and how much I had always helped them. I resigned 30 minutes later.

  • indy-pc says:

    I decided to start my own business last summer after my wife convinced me that I should do something with my hobby interest in fixing computers. I have a full-time job in a completely unrelated field, so I am fortunate in that I don’t have to worry about any conflict of interest. I did have the foresight to remember a few key things, though.

    First, keep your FT job seperate from your PT business. When you’re at your 9-5, be there and make sure you’re doing good work. Stay positive and engaged at your job despite how much you want to just daydream about your business all day or work on making some aspect of it better. Use your break times for that, but not company time. Don’t cheat the person giving you your bread and butter.

    Second, don’t be afraid to promote your business, but do it respectfully and be low-key about it. My company has mail hubs in every wing of every floor of my building where employees are encouraged to post “For Sale” ads and business cards. I also have car magnets on my car and make sure I park in a highly visible and trafficed location (next to a walk path between two buildings) every morning. Yes, this means that I have to get into work early so I can get one of these spots, but I can’t tell you the number of times someone has told me that they saw my car. Just make sure you don’t go overboard with promoting yourself. Don’t start leaving fliers in everyone’s mailbox or on their desk. It is still a business and you want to be professional (see point one).

    The last thing I discovered has already been mentioned by others, but it bears repeating–be up front and honest with your employer and supervisor. You don’t want to find out the hard way that your boss frowns upon anything I’ve mentioned here. If you have a good rapport with your boss, they might even be willing to let you bend the rules a little or even help spread the word for you to other departments. While the old addage is true–“It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”–you could find yourself fired before you’re ready if you try being sneaky and your boss finds out regardless of how well you hide it or sneaky you think you are. It’s not worth it.