Madame Athena Chang was working at the YMCA when she decided it was time to strike out on her own. She didn’t quit her day job right away, but still managed to develop her new company. So how did she juggle building a new business while maintaining her job duties? It called for some creative solutions.
Her company: Zaire for Healthy Living of Madame Chang, Inc. Zaire works with organizations, schools, communities, families and individuals to educate and empower adults and children to make healthier lifestyle choices. Its goal is to empower people to incorporate healthy eating and healthy practices into their lives by giving them the tools and support needed to make long-term lifestyle changes. ”Within schools, Zaire runs a ‘For Life’ series in which students participate in classes that range from healthy cooking to yoga,” explains Chang. Zaire also offers personal training.
“When I launched my business in 1998, I was not a mother and because I didn't take on too much at once, it wasn't difficult to juggle both. At the time, I was client-based and did workshops for various not-for-profits so I was able to take on what I was capable of handling without being overwhelmed,” says Chang, who was just 24 at the time. “I had the drive and energy to juggle many things and the work I did for my business replenished my energy rather than depleted it. I juggled full-time work for a while and switched jobs during this time. In 2000, when I was working for a Web company, as a health producer/health writer I was laid off and I was self-employed for two years.”
Things did get tricky after her daughter was born and Chang returned to the workforce when her child was one. “This is when it became challenging juggling full-time work and my own businesses. At the time, I had two businesses: my health and photography business,” recalls Chang who opted out after one year and focused on her own businesses. “Since 2003, I have remained primarily self-employed except for a relocation to St. Lucia in 2007 where I took a full-time job until I learned the market and was able to launch my health business there. During that time, being a single mom, my business had to take a back seat in order to juggle everything.”
From her experience, Chang has a few tips for others looking to start their own businesses. “When you launch your business and you are working full-time, start out small. When the business grows, has greater time demands and produces financial rewards, you will be able to leave your job and dedicate more time to your business. Until then, do not take on too much, especially if you have greater responsibilities. You'll be overwhelmed. The key is to have a sustainable plan with concrete plans laid out,” she says.
Master life coach, corporate coach Brittany Winter agrees. “Start slow, create a business plan, make sure you have the time to work on your new business, and beware of burnout,” she says. “Map out your week. Get a calendar and write down all of your plans, meetings, etc, with your current job.”
Be prepared to pull extra hours. “Understand from the beginning that you will have to put in extra hours to do both successfully,” says Stacia Pierce, CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises. “Don’t steal time away from your day job by working on your business during work hours.” Pierce also suggests setting a weekly schedule to block out time to work on your business so that you are making weekly progress.
Don’t start slacking on your full-time job. “The most important thing to do is to remain focused. When you are at your job, focus on your work. Don't try and go through the motions while thinking about your business and vice versa,” notes William Eisenbrandt, owner of VerticalCoach, LLC. “Secondly, keep your priorities straight and set deadlines. It may not make sense to give each venture equal time. If your new business is going to eventually be your full time venture, then you need to spend more than 40 hours a week working on it. You'll be invested every night, every weekend, and every holiday on doing the work to get it launched.”
Winter says to also make time for yourself. “Make sure you keep one day a week at least for yourself,” she says. “Keep a close eye on your health. In order to do both a day job and run a business you are going to sacrifice quality sleep, quality food, and quality recreation. If you don't take care of your body and make sure it stays healthy, you will quickly find you no longer have the time for either your job or your business,” adds Eisenbrandt.
Don’t forget your family and friends. “Take care of your support system, so they will support your efforts to balance both,” Bill Corbett, author of 'From the Soapbox to the Stage: How to Use Your Passion to Start a Speaking Business,' " points out.
Also, you need to decide if you want to share your plans with your boss. "I did not share it with my employer when I launched,” says Chang. “Reason: because of the individual that she was; she would see it as a threat to the organization. Some bosses support you in your endeavors while others are focused on what they feel is best for the organization, which usually means your remaining there to grow that business.”
Pierce also suggests holding off disclosing your intentions to your boss. “I wouldn’t suggest sharing your intentions to leave your job at first. Give yourself a chance to get the business launched. Generating profits first is the smarter thing to do. If your boss gets wind of your business aspirations, you may set yourself up to lose your job right away,” she says.
Winter says it also depends on your relationship with your boss as well as the type of company you are starting on your own. “I always found it is best to be open and honest with your boss. However, if the business is not at all related to your current job, and could in no way be seen as a threat, you do not have to tell them unless you want to,” she says.
Also keep in mind your current company’s policy on moonlighting. “Some employers are very strict about moonlighting and others are more lenient. You are going to have to market your business to build a customer base, so don't be surprised if your boss finds out about your venture eventually. Keep in mind that you will have to talk to your boss at some point about your business. You need to decide if you would rather do it on your terms or theirs,” says Eisenbrandt.
But leave your full-time job as gracefully as possible. “You avoid burning bridges by being considerate. Give a reasonable amount of notice of when you are planning to leave. Try not to leave during an awkward or very busy time for your company. Train a replacement so there is a smooth transition. Offer to help even when gone in case the new person has questions or there are loose ends, etc.,” says Pierce.
Make sure to give proper notice. “Always give and fulfill your two-week notice. Let your boss know you can help when needed, or are open to assisting with anything they need. Give them your email address to reach you if needed. Leave on good terms,” says Winter.
Bottom line: don’t be afraid to follow your passion. “Be fearless,” says Chang. “Your foundation is your belief that you can make it happen and be successful...it is what carries you through the challenges. As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to take risks and keep reinventing yourself as the market shifts.”
Chang also runs For Life Inc., a nonprofit she is creating to house three existing philanthropy health projects: Jamaica for Life, LA for Life and Cape Verde for Life. “Jamaica for Life and Cape Verde for Life are "developing world" models aiming to assist families with basic health needs food, clean drinking water, safe shelter, medical assistance as well as provide resources that will move them out of their economic positions. LA for Life is a U.S.-based model that aims to lower the obesity rate and increase health awareness within African American and Latino communities,” she says.