small business

Keep your job AND a side business

Highlights
  • Rule No. 1: Don't encroach on company time and resources.
  • Take extra training and volunteer for skill-enhancing assignments.
  • Use a business name to avoid publicizing your second career at work.

Don't quit your day job.

It's the common-sense mantra of just about anyone who's started or even contemplated a side business.

But in an age of layoffs, outsourcing and downsizing, merely showing up for that 9-to-5 job may not be enough. The question is: How do you excel at the job you need while building the business you want?

First, drop the guilt. "You're not doing anything wrong by starting a side business," says Richard Nelson Bolles, author of, "What Color Is Your Parachute?"

But you must observe the primary rule of etiquette. "Rule No. 1: Don't do it on company time or with company resources," says Stephen C. Harper, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina/Wilmington. "That's grounds for termination in many cases."

Many budding entrepreneurs may not realize that a short phone call now or a quick check of the side-business e-mail account is a corporate no-no. "Even if you're on a break, it's still company property," says Harper. Remember, anything done on a computer leaves a trail. "Hitting delete doesn't mean it's gone," he says.

On the other hand, you can benefit your business by taking every opportunity to enhance and sharpen your skills at your day job.

Take extra training and volunteer for assignments, says Lois Frankel, author of "Stop Sabotaging Your Career." "You can gain the skills you need to be successful in your own small business while you're giving back to the company," she says.

To tell or not to tell?

Discretion is critical. Don't solicit your cubical-mates, don't pressure subordinates into buying goods or providing leads and don't tap corporate clients -- even if your product or service doesn't compete with your employer.

Instead, build boundaries, says Ford R. Myers, author of "Get the Job You Want Even When No One's Hiring." "When you're at work, your focus must be 100 percent on your job," he says. Not just to prevent others from finding out, but "for your own sanity, too" Myers says.

The big question: Should you tell the boss?

No, says Bolles. What an employee does in the evenings and on weekends is not the boss's business "in a well-run organization," he says. "We live in a society that volunteers too much information. That information can be so misused." If the boss discovers it later and you've been doing a stellar job at work, so what?

Frankel concurs. "I would be discreet in this economy," she says. "What people are going to think -- whether it's true or not -- is that you're not giving 150 percent."

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In many cases, the boss really wouldn't care. "I don't think most employers would have a problem if you made jewelry in your spare time it and sold it at craft fairs," says Frankel.

Bringing it to the attention of an employer and your co-workers could create an issue where there was none. That extra income could lead bosses to conclude you're in a better position to weather unemployment if a round of layoffs is coming, says Harper.

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