Becoming an evening entrepreneur
Amanda Hodges (pictured below) may spend her working day in an office, but in the evenings she lavishes attention on her real passion: a pet boutique that sells a wide variety of accessories for cats and dogs.
The entrepreneur from Worthing, West Sussex, started PuddyPooch.co.uk five years ago and dedicates her spare time to working on the business, whether that’s sorting out orders or updating social media profiles.
“It’s turned into an obsession for me,” Amanda admits. “I also try to fit in housework too, but luckily I have an extremely supportive partner who does more than his fair share in the home.”
Amanda, 50, started the business after being unimpressed with the quality of pet beds for sale and decided to source some from New York. Soon she was offering a range of different items for pet owners.
“I try to sell pet products that you either can’t buy in the UK or which are hard to find,” she explains. “This isn’t always possible, but I love to offer unusual things to my customers.”
Despite being a part-time operation, Amanda has won plenty of praise and recognition for her work, with one of the highlights being chosen by former Dragons’ Den star Theo Paphitis to receive his #SBS Small Business Sunday Award.
However, she finds not being able to dedicate all of her time to PuddyPooch hugely frustrating. With her day job being her priority and main source of income, any phone calls or emails must be left until she’s back home.
“The moment I get in, the laptop or iPad is on and I’m looking through everything,” she explains. “I’m keen on dispatching the orders as quickly as I can so that my customers receive their goods the next day if at all possible.”
But Amanda is not alone. Thousands of people start their own businesses every year and an increasing number runs them in the evenings and on weekends – for fun, to earn some extra money, or as a trial to see if they have the potential to be full-time ventures.
People want the security of a day job while they build up both their confidence and cashflow, explains Emma Jones, founder of EnterpriseNation.com, an organisation that helps people to run businesses.
Pictured: Amanda Hodges and Theo Paphitis, of Dragons’ Den fame.
“You can now start a business for less than £100, so this has encouraged thousands more people to test their entrepreneurial ideas and see if customers will buy,” she says. “What better time to test this than in your spare time?”
Another reason why evening work is an option is that technology can help keep your venture ticking along during the day, while you input the human element in the evenings.
“It’s now perfectly possible to be an employee, mum or student by day and manage a business at night, using tools such as website builders and social media scheduling,” adds Miss Jones. “Most businesses can be started in your spare time.”
Of course it’s not easy. There are plenty of things to think about which can be enough to put off anyone who isn’t 100% committed, but Miss Jones believes the most important factor is making that initial move.
“Write a business plan, start a blog, make a sale or tell someone about your idea,” she says. “Starting a business in your spare time is all about taking lots of little steps that result in being your own boss.”
So what must you consider and where should you start? Moneywise explains.
Come up with the idea
Start by considering your own passions and interests. Are you a dab hand with the paintbrush? Have you got an eye for photography? Do you have a knack for solving computer-related problems?
These days, people are trying their hands at everything from pig farming to translation, model building to software coding. There have also been plenty of would-be entrepreneurs running pop-up shops and restaurants in the evenings and weekends.
One of the boom areas in recent years has been selling over the internet, and there are customers for virtually everything you can imagine, says Rebecca Kimber, chief executive officer of Create.net, a specialist website provider.
“Our customers sell everything from motorbike parts to vintage magazines and pet products to jewellery,” she says. “A lot of our customers create beautiful, one-off items that they sell on sites built with our online web design tools.”
The good news is that the technology available means there has never been a better time to start trading online. “You can get an e-commerce store up and running in minutes, with fully customisable themes, with everything you need for inventory management, taking and processing orders, and creating a blog,” she adds.
But first you need to determine whether there is actually any demand for your product or service by carrying out proper market research among the potential customer base. Don’t just rely on friends and family who are likely to be biased in your favour.
Choosing a niche area can be a good idea. Deciding to supply a particular product or deliver a service to a well-defined audience will help you focus on your customers and how you can best meet their needs.
“People are rightly testing the market before making a full time commitment,” says Miss Jones. “Many a chef and aspiring shopkeeper are doing this by popping up in different areas to research if going full time will pay the bills and build a business.”
Set up an operations base
Whatever your business venture, you need a dedicated space in your house where you’ll be able to work without distractions, according to Dave Stallon, commercial director at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
“If you’re planning to work in a communal living area, then it’s worth speaking to family and friends before you set up to ensure they understand what you need to complete your work tasks,” he suggests.
He also believes it pays to invest in an equipped home office. “It’s worthwhile putting the effort into finding the best equipment and software for your work to ensure you don’t get left behind your competitors,” he adds.
Put together a business plan
Writing a business plan is essential. Not only will it help you focus your ideas, keep track of your goals and get across your plan to potential customers, it can also encourage you to consider potential problems that you might encounter.
Key areas to cover include a description of the proposition, its unique selling point, the founder’s background, the size of the market and its potential, says Megan Dunsby, news editor at Startups.co.uk.
“It also needs to cover how the product or service will be sold and marketed to customers and pricing strategy,” she adds.
There are a number of finance options that you can consider as a part-time business owner, but try to keep outgoings as low as possible until you know whether the venture has longer-term viability, advises Miss Dunsby.
“You’re looking to test and validate the business idea and ensure that there is a market for it before you focus your efforts full time, so you will most likely want to take the lean start-up approach and only raise money if you need it,” she says.
One option is to self-fund by investing your own money into the business. This has the obvious benefit of not having to rely on institutions or lenders.
Those with more limited funds may opt to use a number of credit cards. If you can secure short-term funding at a 0% rate, then this obviously makes sense – but be warned that interest rates can be punitive, so it’s not a long-term option.
You might also be able to get a government-backed Start Up Loan that enables you to borrow up to a maximum of £25,000, although the average loan is £6,000. Currently, the interest rate is fixed at 6% with a repayment period of one to five years.
Other options include a bank loan, raising cash through crowdfunding, attracting investment from a business angel, sourcing finance from a venture capital firm, or even persuading a wealthy friend or family member to help you out.
Run the business
The same challenges apply when starting and growing a part-time business as they do when you’re at the helm of a full-time operation: keep your costs to a minimum and your profit as high as possible.
Using a basic spreadsheet will enable you to track your incomings and outgoings quickly and easily. It’s also advisable to set up a separate business bank account from the outset.
You also need to make sales, so get out there and make a fuss about your product or service. Attend trade fairs and get to know the journalists who cover your area – such as reporters on your local newspaper – to whom you can send interesting press releases.
However, it’s also important to strike a work-life balance, according to the FSB’s Mr Stallon. “If you’re setting up a business in your spare time, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of allowing your personal time to be entirely consumed,” he says.
While technological innovations mean that businesses are more mobile than ever, they also mean that it’s never been more difficult to disconnect and enjoy some much-needed downtime.
“When going about tasks, set clear time windows for them and stick to your schedule,” he suggests. “Another good idea is to have a clear system of prioritising tasks and deadlines to help you identify those that must be addressed first.”
Look to the future
There is always the chance that your business ends up being successful enough for you to consider turning it into a full-time venture. Effectively, this is when it’s bringing in sufficient income to give you confidence it has longer-term potential.
“Have a safety net of your existing job”
Motoring and photography were always the twin passions of Matt Bull (pictured below) – even when he was putting in long days as a pensions administrator – and he successfully managed to juggle everything while building up his business.
The 45-year-old had started taking pictures of stock car and banger races at the Hednesford Hills Raceway in Staffordshire while he was a teenager before taking over as the venue’s official photographer.
When his employer relocated him down to Romford in Essex, he took over the photographer roles at the Arena Essex raceway in Thurrock, Mildenhall in Suffolk, and Eastbourne in Sussex – but it still remained a part-time venture.
“It worked well but, as the actual race meetings were at weekends, I’d be working seven days a week, with any spare evenings taken up by preparation for the weekend ahead,” he recalls. “I also found that my photography business would affect my day-to-day job as I’d be thinking about what I needed to do that weekend.”
The crunch time came when both he and his wife were made redundant and he decided to turn his photography hobby into a full-time business by setting up RacePixels (Racepixels.co.uk).
Although he acknowledges that running a business alongside an existing job is not for everyone because of the hours involved, he maintains it makes sense because it enables you to gauge if there is enough work to justify the leap.
“If you have an ambition of ultimately going full time with your own business, there is no better way to get started than to have that safety net of your existing job to fall back on,” he says.
“Be prepared to put in long hours”
Fitness trainer Richard Pringle (pictured below) spent many years rising at the crack of dawn to put people through their paces before grabbing a shower and heading to the office for his day job as a Jobcentre Plus adviser.
“Working while you start your business is a great way of managing the risk and seeing whether you have what it takes to be a success,” he says. “I had a baby on the way and needed to make sure I was earning money to pay the bills.”
The married dad of two, who has competed in mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, set up RP Combat Conditioning (Rpcombatconditioning.co.uk) four years ago to help people achieve their fitness goals through fighter training methods.
It’s a decision that has paid off. In addition to building a successful business that trains hundreds of people every week, he has become a proud ambassador of Reebok and served as race director of obstacle course challenge, Spartan Race.
As well as building a purpose-built fitness studio in his garden, Richard, 39, has recently set up a Facebook group entitled Motivation and Me, through which he posts videos and offers motivational coaching to members.
However, combining full-time work and a part-time passion can be challenging. “You need to be prepared to work hard, put in long hours and sacrifice,” he says. “I remember being up at 5am and not going to bed until nearly midnight,” he recalls.
The idea, he insists, is to believe in your product or service. “If you can earn the trust of your customers, they will do all the advertising for you and be your biggest asset,” he says. “There are no secrets to success – just hard work, belief and passion.”