Imagine working a full-time job while running your own business on the side. Sound impossible? These seven entrepreneurs did it, and as a result, built greater financial security and freedom for themselves. Here are their stories, and their lessons:
1. Expand on your favorite hobby. Sydney Owen, 27, was working for a public relations agency in Chicago when she took up skydiving on the weekends. "Then I said to myself, 'I want this to be a bigger part of my life,'" she recalls. Owen left her agency to start doing the marketing for her local skydiving spot, while also building her income by offering marketing consulting services to other small business. She also helps recent college graduates market themselves by editing their resumes.
She's since relocated to California, which has a longer skydiving season than the Midwest, and she now works full-time as an events coordinator for a skydiving company while working up to 25 hours a week for her own marketing business, 3Ring Media. "I love it—I can combine my passion for marketing and for jumping out of airplanes," she says.
2. Start charging for what you're already doing for free. Douglas Lee Miller, 38, works full-time as a new media manager for DePaul University in Chicago. An expert in social media, Miller frequently got requests for help from other people. He quickly realized he had to be more protective of his time, so he set up his company, The dbMill, to get compensated for his work.
Because he'd been doing so much pro bono work, he had already earned a solid reputation, which led to referrals, and he had a portfolio to show potential clients. "The pro bono work was hard at first, to spend time and not get financially reimbursed, but it ended up being a pathway to more work," he says. That experience also made it easier for Miller to estimate how long projects would take and how best to work with clients and manage their expectations.
3. Do something that feels meaningful to you. Prakash Dheeriya, 51, professor of finance at California State University-Dominguez Hills, came up with the concept for his series of personal finance books for kids after he realized that his own children, then five and six, could benefit from simple explanations of financial concepts. "If something were to happen to me, I wouldn't have taught them any valuable life lessons, so I came up with these stories," he says.
Now, his series, Finance 4 Kidz, contains 20 books that explain concepts such as scarcity, opportunity cost, and risk and return in terms that children can understand. "Especially nowadays, because of so much fraud, concepts such as risk and reward should be taught in elementary schools. Then they'll realize if something sounds too good to be true," he says. Dheeriya is currently working on new books on hedge funds and finance for teens.
4. Create the community that you wish already existed. Six months after she graduated, Emily Miethner, 24, started NY Creative Interns, which includes hosting events and blogging about career tips. "I wanted a group that connected awesome creative professionals with awesome interns and entry-level people," she says. She and her partner soon found sponsors and built their network, all while Miethner held down her full-time job as a community manager for another website in New York City.
"We started charging [for events] when we realized, 'This is really adding value to people's lives.' I decided, 'I think I can make this into a real business,'" says Miethner. She continues to plan events and build the blog and network while maintaining her full-time job.
5. Leverage the skills and connections you already have. Megan Moynihan, 27, was working for a big public relations firm when she decided that she wanted to pursue a more mobile lifestyle, and build a career that would let her work in Wyoming during ski season and New York the rest of the year. "I had taken entrepreneurship classes in college, but I knew I needed experience first," she says of her decision to first work for a firm before launching her own agency.