Bit on the side: how to start a business when working

Many startups dream of rushing to quit their jobs when they start up, but staying in employment – even if it’s just for now – can have a multitude of benefits for your startup. Lack of sleep aside, a steady income, network of contacts and world outside your new business can all bring fresh ideas and resources to your venture, as well as a solid back-up plan.

Fitting it all in can feel like a daunting task, but it’s doable - there are startups proving every day that you don't have to give up your day job OR give up on your dream. Here are the key takeaways from our recent meetup with three Virgin StartUp-funded entrepreneurs who have made it work for them (or are still making it work!)

Helen Tupper is the co-founder of Amazing If, a coaching service to help people realise their career goals. She’s also the Head of Marketing at Virgin Red, an MBA student, and a mum.

Kimberley Wilson is the founder of Glamorous Jam, creating a range of sophisticated and delicious jams, and a former Great British Bake Off contestant. She’s also a full-time psychologist who’s just opened her own practice.

Ian O’Donahue is the founder of Harry Brompton’s London Iced Tea, an iced-tea beverage that comes in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic forms. While starting up Harry Brompton’s, Ian was working full-time in a demanding role as a broker in the City.

On passion and believing in your startup

"You need to be passionate about what you're doing with your startup if you're going to use your personal time." - Helen

"There’s a saying that goes ‘whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right’. A lot of people will think you can't – so you need to think you can.” – Helen

"You can waste lots of time waiting for the best time to start – but you might lose more by not trying than by failing.” - Kimberley


"When you start a side business, be as lean as you can: jam was a pragmatic choice, with lower overheads than baking. I don’t have time to be pushing my business constantly.” - Kimberley

"You have to be realistic and know that it'll be tough - you'll be working harder than you anticipated." - Kimberley

“You have a finite amount of energy, so you have to understand that distractions cost you time – compartmentalise.” - Kimberley

"Lists are your friend. Know when you're supposed to be and be clear on deadlines so you can prioritise things.” - Helen

"Automation means you don't get sucked into the rabbit hole of Twitter, and keeps you in contact with your audience without investing more time.” - Kimberley

How working and your startup can coexist

"My network in marketing helps me identify opportunities for my business - my job and my business complement each other.” - Helen

"I love my job but it doesn't allow me to express myself every way I want – so Glamorous Jam is my creative outlet. It doesn’t add to my job, but it adds to me." - Kimberley

"If you're keeping your startup secret from your boss it can feel like a bit of a conflict situation and it's difficult in the long-term." - Ian

"The advantage of having a bit on the side is flexibility - you don't have the pressure of it having to earn your income." – Ian

When the going gets tough

"I used up all my holiday meeting suppliers and producers. You just have to find the time. I worked 6am to midnight for a year.” - Ian

"The deeper ethos of my business keeps me going through tough patches. I want my business to be something that helps people, and I think about this when I feel I'm wasting my time.” - Kimberley

"You have to really do your cash flow modelling properly and see the worst and best-case scenarios.” – Ian

Staying motivated

"You'll need things that give you faith and motivate you. Try and find moments that you can feel really proud of – one example for us is when we won a Shell Live Wire award." - Helen

"Belief in my project keeps me going. My jam is delicious! Jam is a saturated market, but quality is what shines through in every market.” - Kimberley

"You can't always avoid what you loathe, but you can outsource it and focus on the things you love." - Helen

Productivity hacks

"I'm an early bird so I'll always use my most productive time, which for me is first thing in the morning . Know your power time!" - Helen

"Multi-tasking is a myth - it's an opportunity to do two jobs badly. Focus on one thing at a time.” - Ian

"Exercise really helps you focus – it’s scientifically proven. Before doing a big task try getting some quick active time in, or get outside for a bit.” - Kimberley

Top tips to make it work

"Set a threshold where you know it's time to jump ship and go for it. For us, it was being stocked in Waitrose – once we made it that far we knew it was the stage to take things full-time.” – Ian

"Start small & build & prove your concept - understand where you need to get to. Be prepared to scale.” – Ian

"Reach out for all the free support you can - there's a lot of hand-holding for British businesses, so use it.” - Ian

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