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Special section 6 ways to get ahead in the office or get out

It's tough to get a new business going, so it often pays to keep your day job while launching your entrepreneurial venture.

To make your startup a success, keep your day job

Sometimes to be your own boss you have to keep working for a boss while you launch your new enterprise.

It wasn't until a year after Elizabeth Will opened The Sports Section that she finally quit her day job at a local bank in Marion, Ill. Four years into the new enterprise, her husband Tim also joined the combination employee/entrepreneur world. While helping his wife run her youth-sports photography franchise, he maintained his 30-hours-a-week job at the post office.

Starting a business while still working as an employee elsewhere is typical. "It's what most experts, myself included, recommend," says Denise O'Berry, president of a small-business consulting firm, The Small Business Edge Corp., in Tampa, Fla.

The primary reason for entrepreneurial moonlighting: money.

O'Berry estimates that starting a business requires a nest egg of at least six months' or, better yet, a year's worth of living expenses. Most startup owners don't have that kind of cash to fund a business and still pay personal housing, grocery and utility bills.

A chance to take chances
An advantage of starting a business on the side is that you have a chance to experiment. It's a lot easier to make changes while the venture is a sideline and not a full-fledged, independent concern that you must rely upon for your livelihood.

"It gives you the ability to test and see whether your business is going to go or not," O'Berry says. "It can help you determine whether you are focusing on the right market or whether your business idea needs tweaking."

Similarly, staying employed elsewhere lets you keep your options open. If your business idea turns out to be fatally flawed, you can close up shop with the security of having income from your day job.

The biggest drawback to working somewhere else while launching a company is the time crunch. You'll be working long hours to fulfill your obligations to your employer and to your fledgling company. "You will be exhausted," O'Berry says.

That's no understatement according to entrepreneur Tina Kuna. In 2002, Kuna and her business partner, Stephanie Allen, launched a company called Dream Dinners in Washington. Originally conceived by Allen as a fun gathering of friends to easily put together frozen meals for their busy families, Dream Dinners quickly gained so much momentum that the pair realized they had a business on their hands.

"It's like running a mile a minute," says Kuna. "In our first month in March of 2002 it turned into four evenings that we held these get-togethers. After that, we said, we're onto something here. So we put together a small-business plan and decided how we were going to run the sessions and it grew to 120 customers in April in Washington and now there are 2 million servings that go out the door nationally."

The two kept their day jobs in the beginning. "I had a full-time job," says Kuna. "And, Stephanie was still catering here and there, so those were the tough times. I would get up at 6 a.m. and do my full-time job and quit at about 3 or 4 p.m. and join Stephanie at the catering kitchen to do Dream Dinners and get home at about 2 a.m.

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