It’s possible to pursue your dream without using your credit card as a poor substitute for a paycheck.
By remaining employed as you develop, test, and sell your product you can lay a secure foundation and minimize the risks associated with bootstrapping a business. Here’s how to do it:
Determine product market fit
It takes focus, determination and resolve to succeed as an entrepreneur. You must have a passion for your product so invigorating that it drives you forward even after setbacks.
While having this hunger is essential, it is not enough. Your product or service must also have a market fit. People must be willing to actually pay you for your idea.
Stay gainfully employed during this process because it is far better to invest a few months of after-hours labor to resolve that question, than to liquidate your savings and mortgage your house in pursuit of an idea that no one truly wants.
Ask around to test the concept. If you work for a company that is a potential customer, ask your co-workers: Would you buy this? If so, what would you spend?
Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea — only bigger companies have the resources to put you out of business and they insist on seeing a few thousand customers first. In fact, if someone else is pursuing a similar idea, that only serves to validate your idea and your market.
You can do more in the margins than you think
Once you’re confident your product or service has legs, put the kids to bed and get to work.
Bootstrapped businesses work best when created in the margin, on nights and weekends.
If you’re single, stop going out every Friday and Saturday night. If you have a family, have a conversation about what you’re about to do.
It’s important that everyone understands what’s coming. Getting over the first hurdle is challenging. You have to focus and invest your time wisely to successfully balance your day job with your dream job.
A hobby that pays
Once you have a prototype or a minimally viable product, launch.
Buy a few Google AdWords, launch a website, and put your product or service up for sale.
You won’t make much instantly – mostly beer money – but you will gain valuable feedback and customer insight in the process.
Maximize your lunch hours
Remember all the time it took to build your product? That’s how much time you have to devote to selling it.
You’re the face of the brand and the sales team.
Set appointments during the work week with potential customers. Learn how to tell your product story clearly, with enthusiasm.
You have the most passion for your product. Present, evangelize, and listen.
Know when to quit your day job
You may have made your first sale, but it’s not time to quit your day job just yet.
Be smart. Success does not come overnight and it’s best to not preemptively quit.
As a good rule of thumb, once you can cover about half your annual salary from your new business and the other half from consulting on the side, you can take the plunge.
Additionally, keep in mind that one-time sales are a tough way to move your business forward. You’ll run through cash quickly at the beginning and through experience I’ve learned it’s better if your customers are generating recurring revenue through contracts, subscriptions, supplies, and refills.
Don’t sell yourself short
Be careful what you say “yes” to in order to win business.
Don’t give up any portion of your intellectual property rights. Ask for money up front to cover any product improvements requested.
You should not have to work for free, even to win a big piece of business.
Ask for help
You’ll be surprised how many CEOs, entrepreneurs and other advisors are willing to help. As someone who’s been through the process, I get asked all the time and I’m happy to say “yes.”
Take advantage of the advice you get.
Growing your own business is hard to do in a vacuum – it helps to know you’re not alone.