How To Test Your New Idea And Still Keep Your Day Job

Having the security of a day job while you develop, test and sell your product gives you a secure foundation and minimizes risks. Here’s how to do it.

Originally Published Feb. 14, 2017

It’s possible to pursue your dream without using your credit card as a poor substitute for a paycheck. As someone who has been through the process, I know that having the security of a day job while you develop, test, and sell your product gives you a secure foundation and minimizes risks. Here’s how to do it:

Determine Product-Market Fit

It takes focus and resolve to succeed as an entrepreneur. Not only does your passion for your business need to drive you after setbacks, but you also need to have a market fit. In other words, people must be willing to pay for your product or service. Staying employed and investing a few months of after-hours labor during this process is far better than liquidating your savings and mortgaging your house in pursuit of an idea that no one truly wants.

Ask around to test the concept. Ask co-workers if they’d buy it. If so, how much would they spend? Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea–only bigger companies have the resources to put you out of business, and they typically insist on seeing a few thousand customers first. In fact, if someone else is pursuing a similar idea, that only validates your idea and market.

Once you’re confident with your product or service, 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, discuss what you’re about to do so everyone understands what’s coming. Getting over the first hurdle is challenging. You must focus and invest your time to successfully balance your day job with your dream job.

Have a Hobby That Pays

Once you have a prototype or a minimally viable product, it’s time to launch. Buy a few Google AdWords, launch a website, and put your product or service up for sale. You won’t make much at first — mostly beer money — but you will gain valuable feedback and customer insight. Starting a business on a shoestring budget is easier than ever with great third-party resources such as Stripe for credit card processing and LegalZoom for legal documents.

Maximize Your Lunch Hours

Remember the time it took to build your product? That’s how much time you have to devote to selling it. You are the face of the brand; you are the sales team. Set appointments during the workweek with potential customers. Learn how to tell your product story clearly and with enthusiasm. You have the most passion for your product—present, evangelize, and listen.

Know When to Quit Your Day Job

Even after making your first sale, it’s not time to quit your day job. Be smart. Success does not come overnight, and it’s best not to quit preemptively. As a good rule of thumb, you can take the plunge once you can cover about half your annual salary from your new business and the other half from consulting on the side.

Remember that one-time sales are a tough way to move your business forward. You’ll run through cash quickly at the beginning, and I’ve learned from experience that 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. For example, don’t give up any portion of your intellectual property rights. Ask for money up front to cover any requested product improvements. You shouldn’t 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.” There are a lot of great communities and online resources from which to draw advice. It also helps to know you’re not alone when you share your business challenges with other entrepreneurs.

RELATED CONTENT: This Founder Transformed His Hustle Into a Powerful Personal Brand and Business  Now, He’s Giving Back

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