Can you start a business and keep your job at the same time?
The “side hustle” is becoming ever more popular. You have a job which pays the bills and, if you’re lucky, provides interest and new perspectives. Away from work, you set up a small business. It can be stressful but it’s exciting. If things go well, you could leave the formal job and become your own boss.
This piece is more about a different option, about “intrapreneurship”, being entrepreneurial within the context of current employment. This last bit is very important. This is not about creating a business which you will then quit the employer to run, or even build then suddenly spin off and part-own. It is about creating value for the people you work for but giving yourself the buzz and creativity of entrepreneurship while keeping the security of formal employment.
Intrapreneurship is an idea that tends to go in and out of fashion. When times get tough, it gets frowned upon. Big companies throw up the shutters and talk about “sticking to the knitting”. Then things loosen up, and they suddenly see themselves being outflanked by nimble, disruptive outsiders, and need to find that spirit within themselves. Now, I sense, we are entering a new phase of the latter, after the long years of austerity.
So how do you become an “intrapreneur”?
First, of course, you have to have an original idea. Something the company should do, or should do better. Most intelligent employees have plenty of these the question is more which one should I put time and energy into
If you have good contacts with customers, have an informal chat with the ones you like most. “If we did x, would you be interested?”
If the answer is Yes, find a way of doing it. If it works, then the idea now has some measure of proof.
You will need to start building a team around your project. Two team members are essential.
The first is a foil, someone who works with you on the project, whom you can bounce ideas off. It helps if this person has a different temperament and mindset to you. If you are an engineer, designer or a programmer, find someone from the sales or marketing side. If you are introvert, who likes to get on with the job, find a more outgoing type who enjoys engaging people.
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The second essential team member is your ‘sponsor. Look around your company to see who, at or near the top, has an entrepreneurial mindset. Some senior people won’t have they see the business as a machine that they don’t want disrupted. But others will have more imagination. Maybe they even fancied starting their own business, but for various reasons never got round to it. Arrange to meet the second type of person and talk to them. Say that you want them to help you.
They can help in many ways with advice, with connections, most of all, perhaps, with protection, as it’s only a matter of time before someone in the organisation comes gunning for you, either envious of your success or afraid of your capacity for changing things. We don’t do that sort of thing round here, is the rallying-cry of the intrapreneur’s enemy, the aggressive opponent of change, the T Rex. Your sponsor is there to shield you against them.
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