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The part time shuffle: is it possible to build a business part time?

  1. multi tasking
    Francois Badenhorst

    Francois Badenhorst Deputy Editor Staff Member

    Posts: 91 Likes: 18
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    A contributor on Quora asked the question recently: “How did Snapchat handle server costs before it got funded?” The terse reply? “Coming from wealth helps.”

    Snapchat’s founder Evan Spiegel jumped into his very risky startup vision feet first. He could because, well, he could afford to as a member of California’s landed gentry. Back here on planet Earth, among the more quotidian realities of most UKBF members, the risks and costs of starting a business are far more profound.

    That’s why starting up part time is such an attractive option for many. The founder is able to chase their ambition without forfeiting their steady income. In a recent piece for BusinessZone, UKBF’s managing editor Chris Goodfellow dove into this very topic.

    The reality is that while starting up part time makes some aspects simpler, there are other problems that crop up. Speaking to BusinessZone, Irina Bragin, managing director of the fashion brand Made of Carpet, described starting up part time as a “year of hell”.

    Of course, people still do it despite these inevitable struggles. UKBF is replete with examples of founders who started part time and are now full time or who are still doing the part time thing. Many more - including myself - are considering taking a stab at running a side gig.

    So what was it like for UKBF’s part timer army?

    UKBFer Mtools started his ecommerce business part time and is now a full timer. “It was a struggle as I would basically work evenings answering emails and send orders after work (the postal depot would be open until about 6:30 so I had an hour at lunch to pack them, then another hour after work to pack any more, then drop them to the depot),” he says.

    “My advice would be to have a look at FBA (Fulfilment by Amazon). You can definitely make some decent money there and the beauty of it is you don't really need to do a lot after you've found your products and got them sent to Amazon.”

    Webgeek agrees that FBA “could be a way of greatly lessening the load”. He adds: “A lot of us here have sold on Amazon or eBay while doing a nine-five day job. It can make for some tiring evenings, but used to be a great feeling when you knew how much money was coming in thanks to all those wee parcels going out.”

    Sparetoolparts started his business two years into a well paying full time job. His side gig, he explains, was done at night and the evenings. “It really ate into my time, but the money was great,” he says.  “I’ve now gone part time in Belfast and have now two days a week to run eommerce.

    “It’s still tough going as I'm answering emails at night and all weekend, but money is a good incentive. In fact, if I continue to grow, I'll either bring on someone to handle basic admin or quit Belfast, who knows what the future holds.”

    Starting up part time also comes with some nervousness around what your current employers might think. Thankfully, having a side gig is very common in the modern economy, so it should be a relatively uncontroversial step - as long as it doesn’t affect your work. Don’t take that as fact, though. “At the very least,” counsels Don’t Ask, “check your current contract of employment for restrictions.”

    If there are no legal impediments to speak of, a little discretion is still wise says UKBF veteran Pish Pash: “I was paranoid what my co-workers thought (to the point if there was any last minute packing to do in my tea break I'd do it out of earshot - as the packing tape makes an irritating noise when dispensed). The last thing you want is a whispering campaign.”

    The part time startup doctrine isn’t universally popular on the Forums, however. “In my opinion, you cannot run a business with just a few hours a week,” says Nico Albrecht. “If you are not serious about your business and put hours in it can be a waste of time. Maybe put some effort in and consider it your exit strategy towards self employment or business owner.”

    Another member, Nasir, notes: “I know many online sellers who are trading on a part time basis, and because it is part time they're not able to maximise the full potential.” For others, they just couldn’t justify the effort.

    “I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and met some wonderful and interesting people along the way but, at the end of the day, the effect it was having on my bread and butter income just didn’t work for me,” says Ravenridge Recruitment.

    Like anything in business, none of this is a silver bullet. There is one certainty: at some point, you’ll need to decide one way or the other. Will you keep the day job or move to full time when the business becomes big enough? As Antropy writes, “Starting anything on the side is fairly common, but be sure to make the jump once you start getting busy.”