From Side Gig to Full-Time Entrepreneur in 10 Steps

Improve your skills and test the waters of full-time entrepreneurship with a side business.

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Your career should be your main meal, but who is to say that having a little dessert—like some extra cash every month—is indulgent? It's important to live the good life, even if that means putting in a few strategic hours after wrapping up your day at the office.

For many people, it's not feasible to quit their job and just follow their passion. In fact, it makes sense to keep their job and start dabbling in the creation of a side business that can increase their income and save enough money so they can eventually take it on full time.

However, it's important to have practical expectations and short-term goals, too. Here are a few tips for getting a side business going, so you can start to earn a little extra every month.

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1. Check with your boss first. Before you start sharing your know-how with the world, check with your company to ensure that starting a side business does not violate your contract.

2. Start with what you know. If you work in an industry you love, see if you can leverage what you already know into a viable service or product business. That might mean doing consulting or packaging your knowledge into products.

3. Contact your immediate network. This is where a social networking tool like LinkedIn or Facebook comes in handy. Let people know what services you're offering and ask if they know anyone who could benefit.

4. Collect some market research. This is especially important if your plan is to sell information products. The best way to do that is through an interactive website, like a blog. Creating your own blog isn't as complicated as it sounds, and you can get your own domain name and hosting for cheap.

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5. Once you've got one or two paying clients, start asking for referrals. If you've been able to create results and provide value for your clients, they'll be happy to send more work your way.

6. Balance the side business with your time off. Be upfront with your clients about your situation, and don't schedule calls or plan to do work during your day job. Let them know when you're available, and make sure to set boundaries for yourself so you don't overdo the work time.

7. Launch your website. Once you've gotten into the groove, it's time to officially hang your shingle. You might be able to get away with business cards or a Facebook page, but a website is a must to put your best foot forward.

8. Don't be afraid to outsource. If you've been bringing in a healthy side income, don't be afraid to hire out the work that you're not able to do. If that means hiring a Web designer or getting someone to help market your services, then do it.

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9. Take your new experience back to the office. When you're at work, you want to give it all you've got. Likewise, give your private clients your best stuff.

10. Start making the transition. Soon you'll reach a tipping point, and the opportunity to stay at your job and reduce your hours might present itself.

Creating a side business is a great way to improve your skills, and it might help you bring fresh insights to your day job, too. It's also a good way to test the waters and see if your product or service is marketable before you jump ship and become a full-time entrepreneur. Similarly, it's perfect if you want a little more stability and options in today's topsy-turvy economy.

Nathalie Lussier got her Bachelors in Software Engineering then promptly turned down a "stable" job on Wall Street to start her own online business. She's an online business triple threat who teaches people how to get techy with their business as a digital consultant. She's a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business's development and growth.

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