Starting a company as a Plan B

Plan B guyThis economy is a great time to have a Plan B. Are you in the midst of a job search? Might not be a bad idea to start a company on the side, in case the right job doesn’t show up right away. Have a job? Also a good idea to have a small business you mess around with after hours, because even the most solid-seeming jobs can go away with no warning. 

I’m not saying you need to go out and launch a time-demanding, capital-intensive startup. I’m talking about creating some other stream of income, even it’s very modest. Maybe it’s selling vintage clothes on ebay, or marketing your handmade greeting cards on etsy.com, or taking orders for your one-of-a-kind birthday cakes. It could be starting a worm farm in the backyard and shipping live worms to bird lovers and reptile owners. It might be hiring yourself out as a D.J. for parties, or giving tennis lessons or painting dog portraits. You could build websites or custom backyard swing sets. You could sell your special barbecue sauce or cater barbecues. Almost anything could be a Plan B.

Creating additional income is only one reason this is a good idea. The larger reason is the benefit to your mental health. When you wake up in the middle of the night, worried that you’re marked for the next round of layoffs at work, it can help to know you have something else to fall back on, even if it couldn’t possibly support you in its present form. If you get to the third interview for a job and then they hire somebody else, you’ll feel slightly less desolate knowing you’ve got something else going on.

Your Plan B could also surprise you. Maybe your iPhone app becomes a big seller and you find it bringing in much more money than your day job. Maybe your hand-stitched handbags become one of Oprah’s favorite things and you’ve got retailers beating down your door for orders. Stranger things have happened. 

Your Plan B might give  you a running start when you need it. Let’s say you do suddenly find yourself unemployed. Or let’s say you’re enjoying your Plan B sideline so much, you’re thinking you’d be much happier doing it full time. Having spent several months or years making gradual progress on this side company, you could probably ramp it up much more quickly than if you were starting from scratch. You also will have had the opportunity to iron out a few wrinkles and get a feel for what’s it like to run that business.

Here are a few suggestions for putting your Plan B in place, just in case.

1. Choose something that’s a passion of yours. One of the best things about a Plan B is that it isn’t burdened with the entire responsibility for your financial support, so you can afford to try something just because you love it, and not because of how much money it makes.

2. Pick a business you can handle after hours. You don’t want to jeopardize the job you have, or to take too many business hours away from a job search. 

3. Treat it like a real business. Do what you can to make this sideline profitable. Keep good financial records. Pay attention to operating costs vs. income. 

4. Be professional. Your clients and customers will want the same level of professionalism they would expect from any small business. Even though you’re not doing it full time, you’ll still want to show up on time, do what you say you will and deliver a good value.

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