Business Strategy

Start a Business Without Leaving Your Job

side gig

As she watched people lose their jobs during the last recession, financial journalist Kimberly Palmer decided to start a business on the side.

She’d just had a baby, and a little extra cash would certainly help. And if she ever lost her job, she’d have something to fall back on. Palmer, a senior editor at U.S. News and World Report, started selling financial planning guides on And then she wrote a book on the hows and whys of sidegigs, The Economy of You.

About 7 million Americans have more than one job, with about half of those holding a full-time and a part-time job, according to the Department of Labor. A third of Millennials have some kind of side business, according to the Young Entrepreneur Council. And Palmer says sidegigs are increasingly popular with Baby Boomers who want to increase their nest eggs or get a start on a second career.

Money, of course, is a big motivation. A side business isn’t going to make you rich overnight, but you can slowly build a second income stream. “Some of the people I interviewed for the book did later lose their jobs, and their businesses helped them pay the bills while they looked for a new job,” says Palmer.

A sidegig can help you develop entrepreneurial and other skills, as well as provide a kind of satisfaction that your current job can’t match. “I love my job,” says Palmer. “But knowing that I can create something myself that has value is a  great feeling. I only earn a few hundred dollars a month on my business now, but I know if I spent more time on it I could ramp up quickly.”

5 Tips to Start a Sidegig

  1. Find Inspiration – Most people take an aspect of what they do full-time and spin it out into a business. Others  have a long-standing hobby or talent they can turn into a business. Palmer’s book includes interviews with a meeting planner who started singing opera and an instrument repairman who began doing voice overs for extra cash. If you’re not sure what you’d like to do, Palmer suggests checking out what other people are selling on e-commerce platforms such as Etsy, Elance and Fiverr. You may be surprised. One sidegig Palmer’s seen lately: wedding speech writers.
  2. Get Your Finances in Order – Don’t start a gig because you need fast cash to get out of debt. If you have financial problems, starting a business might only make them worse. Or your worries will distract you from what you are trying to create. You may not have to invest much in your sidegig, particularly if use an e-commerce platform, but most business do require some investment.
  3. Start Small and Iterate as You Go – “People think they have to be perfect, and they wait until they have the perfect website or marketing plan,” Palmer says. That usually wastes both time and money. A better idea is to start selling your product. You can invest more as you need to–if you need to. You’ll also see how people react to your product so you can refine it as necessary. When Palmer started, she invested in printing spiral-bound planners, but customers preferred digital ones they could download–and cost her nothing to reproduce.
  4. Silence Your Inner Critic – Most of the challenges people face are internal ones, such as getting discouraged if sales don’t take off right away, or if a client doesn’t pay on schedule. Palmer says fear of rejection or failure many people back. Understand that everyone faces some setbacks and obstacles, and just assume they will happen along the way and move on.
  5. Tell Your Boss – Even if you’re worried about how your boss will feel about your gig, it’s better to explain what you are doing than to hide it. It’s pretty impossible to keep secrets in this digital age. Palmer says more employers are actually embracing the idea, as people often develop skills that improve their performance at their day jobs. “Often it is their best employees who start sidegigs,” says Palmer. Just be very respectful of boundaries. Don’t spend time on your own business during working hours or create a competitive service or product.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.