Career expert: Here's how to launch a side business while still at your 9-to-5 job

·5 min read

In today’s work culture, business leaders are going to have to come to terms with the fact that many Americans are pursuing other ventures outside of their 9-to-5s.

A whopping one-in-three Americans reportedly have a side hustle these days, and it’s hard to blame them. A volatile economy coupled with rising inflation left many workers feeling financially vulnerable in the wake of the pandemic, and diversifying their income streams became a smart way to shore up their financial security.

For several years, Chris Browning kept his side hustle a secret at work. By day, he was a financial analyst fluent in Excel spreadsheets and budget analysis. But once office hours ended, he propped up a mic in a makeshift recording studio at home and morphed into a podcast host and personal finance educator.

Browning, who launched his podcast Popcorn Finance in the summer of 2017, continued to juggle his day job and side hustle for years, with his colleagues none the wiser. It was relatively easy to keep his side gig a secret for a while — until he started getting media attention for his show and needed to use vacation time for business trips.

“I went to an awards ceremony, and it was just too awkward not to tell them because I would probably post something online and they were going to see it," Browning said in an interview for my podcast Brown Ambition. "So I just started to say, honestly, hey, this is what I'm up to.”

After he came clean to his boss, he was relieved to find out she wasn’t rattled. “She was super supportive of me and cheered me on…at this point now, pretty much everyone I work with knows what I do,” he said.

If you’re wondering how to toe the line between pursuing a side hustle and keeping your boss happy, here are some tips to consider:

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(Photo: Getty Creative)

Check your employee handbook

Your company may have a policy in place that requires employees to declare any potential conflicts of interest or business ventures. If you’re found to have violated those rules by withholding information about your other gig, you could get the boot.

Watch out for non-competes

It’s become increasingly common for employees to sign work agreements that prevent them from moonlighting for competitors during their employment and for a period of time after they leave their company. Read any such agreements carefully and make sure you’re not in violation with your new business.

It’s one thing if you work full time at a bank and operate a dog-walking business on the side. Those two ventures are so different in nature that it’s unlikely to interfere with a non-compete agreement your employer may have.

But if you’re offering consulting services to another bank, for example, or doing similar duties for another bank, you could be in hot water. Consider consulting an employment law attorney for advice if you’re unsure how to decipher any non-compete clauses in your contract.

Keep your business expenses separate

Don’t create business products on your employer-issued computer, for example, or use subscriptions to services provided by your employer for your business after hours. It’s unethical and could be grounds for termination if someone finds out.

Also, if you establish a business, you should pay for those expenses on your own and keep records for tax purposes. Many business expenses can be deducted during tax time, but not if you’re mooching off your employer’s goods. To be safe, purchase work products and services using your own funds and make sure to save receipts just in case you ever need to prove they were purchased on your own dime. Oh, and hire a savvy accountant while you’re at it.

Be realistic about your time commitment

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(Photo: Getty Creative)

Launching a business from scratch requires a ton of time and mental bandwidth. If you’re still working 9-to-5, you may only be able to dedicate a few evening and weekend hours to your new venture. If you’re caught using company time to work on a side venture, chances are your higher-ups won’t be thrilled and you could risk losing your full-time job.

Transparency can be liberating — and good for business

If you’re constantly worried about your employer finding out about your side gig, it can stifle your ability to grow your venture, especially when social media is such a crucial form of marketing these days.

If you follow protocol and inform your employer about your venture, chances are you’ll be able to keep moving ahead without issue. And you can feel free to do all the important work of marketing your services without worrying about a colleague stumbling upon it and exposing you to management. Many employers will be supportive of side projects so long as proper protocols have been followed and they’re reassured you have the time to commit to your full-time job as required.

Ultimately, if your employer gives you grief for pursuing a business outside of work, it may be time to find one who will support you instead.

Mandi Woodruff is an inclusive wealth-building and career expert, cohost of the Brown Ambition Podcast and founder of the MandiMoney Makers community.

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