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How to Start Your Own Business While on the Job

Becoming an intrapreneur isn’t something people typically fall into. If you want it to happen, you’re going to have to get out there and make it happen. And to do that, you’ll need a plan.

Item number one on your list is to master your job. This is actually a two-parter. First, become an expert in your current role. Second, you’ll need to hit certain milestones if you want to pull this off. The first one is being at your job long enough for you to learn your role and feel that you could teach everything you do to another person. You need to prove your worth and demonstrate that you can handle the responsibilities you were hired to do. You’ll also want to build in enough time on the job to make your boss look like a rock star and gain his trust before you venture outside your role. Otherwise, you’re going to have a really tough time getting him to buy into and support your ideas (and to support you in your desire to expand your role in the company). In my experience, it usually takes six months to get to this point. Of course, if you can do it in less time, great! But don’t rush things. It’s better to take a little more time than to try to make a move when you’re really not ready.

Throughout this process — and throughout your entire career — it’s important to think in terms of how you can best leverage your strengths and weaknesses to help your company succeed. What are some things your company does really well? What does it do less well? What should it be doing to improve? How can your strengths and intrapreneurship goals get your company where it needs to go? With that in the back of your mind, you’ll be better able to articulate to your manager how your intrapreneurial idea will benefit the company.

You’ll also need to be able to clearly define your objectives and metrics.

In other words, what does success look like and how can you measure it? Be absolutely sure that your project aligns with the corporation’s mission and values.

If you want your company to support your idea, you’ll need heavy hitters behind you. Start with your manager. Sit down with them and talk about the potential opportunity you see. They’ve worked at the company longer than you have and they know the path to making a project successful, including how to assemble a team and how to get decision makers to buy in. Have a presentation that describes the opportunity, how it benefits your company, and what resources you’ll need to execute (people, materials, funding). Once your manager is solidly backing you, ask for their help in lining up a senior executive or major decision-maker inside your company to put his or her name on the project. That will help you get the resources you’ll need to give you the greatest chance of succeeding.

Remember, this is your project, and you want to be the center of attention, right? But don’t try to do everything — you’re going to need help. In addition, trying to do it all makes you seem either like you can’t get others to work with you, you can’t delegate, or you’re trying to hog all the glory. Instead, surround yourself with people who have skills you don’t but who can make your idea even better. Look for people who are passionate about the idea you want to develop. Some will come from inside your organization, but others may come from outside.

Optimism and self-confidence are great qualities for intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs alike. But they can easily turn into naïveté if you don’t have a backup plan. Having a great idea, a great team, strong backing, and deep resources significantly increase your chances of success. But even with all that, sometimes things don’t work out the way you’d hoped. Life can be awfully unpredictable, and it doesn’t pay to be overconfident. There are too many factors beyond your control, such as your company’s health, management changes, and corporate mergers. So you’ll want to have a backup plan — at the very least so you can salvage the work you’ve done and have something to show for it. Not having a contingency plan is just plain foolish (and it’ll be interpreted by people you’re trying to turn into allies as amateurish and immature).

You also want to have a contingency plan because intrapreneurship, just like entrepreneurship (and everything else in life, for that matter) is risky. You could get laid off tomorrow. You could get hit by a bus on the way into the office. Likewise, there’s no guarantee of success in business — most ideas fail.

Taking risks is what builds successful careers. Those who don’t, get stuck (in fact, I’d argue that not taking risks at work will be more harmful to your career than failure, because your company needs new ideas in order to grow. So if you’re holding back on proposing a new internal business opportunity, don’t. And keep in mind that you could benefit even if your project doesn’t get funded.

Two final things and then we’ll move on. First: As you go through the process, check in with your team to learn what’s working and what isn’t, what you’d need to do to improve. How could you prevent mistakes in the future and repeat your success? Intrapreneurship is all about experimenting/testing ideas, measuring the results, and improving on them. It can sometimes take a few tries to figure out whether or not something is right for your company. Finally, as soon as your project is up and running, start thinking about your next one and what kinds of people, backing, and resources you’ll need to build it out.

This post is an excerpt adapted from the author’s book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success.

Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career and workplace expert, the Founder of Millennial Branding and the author of the new book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press). He made the Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 in 2010 and the Forbes Magazine 30 Under 30 in 2012.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

That Moment When You NEED To Start Your Own Business

“Dude, the margarita mix is only half full!”


“You didn’t fill the margarita mix!  What the hell have you been doing all day??”

These wonderful words were provided to me from a young punk who clearly didn’t read Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders.  This illuminating conversation was at the end of a long shift when I was working as a barback at a bar/restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

You see, I thought this job was going to be great.  Right on the Fort Lauderdale beach, I heard stories of barbacks making over $50 per hour in season, sometimes almost a thousand dollars in one day.  What I came to realize is that reality doesn’t always equal expectations.

After this brief conversation occurred, Basketball Training Club was on my mind almost 24/7.

I had an idea for what I wanted to do, but, at the time, I was still in the mentality of “getting a job and working your way up”, which, in today’s world, is extremely flawed.  I searched for good opportunities wherever I could, but they were few and far between.

So what did I do?  I did whatever any visionary entrepreneur would do; I started by own business.

I started to put hours and hours of my free time into creating Basketball Training Club.  I made a vow that I would never have to get a crap job like a barback again, doing things like mopping up vomit, cleaning toilets, and doing trash duty, all while being treated like another worthless employee.  Anybody could do that, and I wondered how I was going to separate myself.

For a lot of people, they get sucked into the older generation’s mentality of life: go to school, get a job, work hard, and retire.  That mentality worked 20 years ago, even 10 years ago.  But lots of people are still stuck in the mindset of working for someone else, since that is what they have been conditioned from birth to do.  In school, you’re supposed to follow all the rules, and get the right answers so the teacher can give you a good grade.  At a job, you’re supposed to be a good employee, do your job, and not cause problems.

But now, people are being fired by the thousands without even a thank you.  I worked at a bar for 8 months, putting in thousands of hours.  I was fired by a text saying, “You’re not on the schedule anymore.” My friend worked at a restaurant for about 2 years, and was one of the hardest workers I’ve seen.  That restaurant fired him for one little mistake.  In my mind, starting a business is one of the most rational things you can do for yourself these days.  Great employees are being let go all the time, and the job stability of the past has vanished.

This will encourage more people to create their own businesses, and monetize what they know.  However, where are the schools on entrepreneurship? Where is the information to help people be an expert at what they know?

From the beginning of time, entrepreneurs were the lifeblood of society, with Thomas Jefferson wanting to create a new America, to John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence.  No boss would have told them, “Oh yea, John, next week we’re going to create a new country independent from the British.  We’ll need you to work overtime.”

America came from the ideals and passion of the entrepreneurs who realized that being ruled and having a boss was not working.  They realized that if they didn’t create a new nation to make life better for themselves, nobody would.  Most importantly, they knew they could do it, and would strive their hardest to make their vision a reality.

Now, I’m encouraging you to realize that you have the skills to succeed.  You have the knowledge and you have the passion, yet only you know what that is.  A question for you to ask yourself is, “What can I do better than anybody else?”  And how can you help people, and make the world a better place, with your knowledge and skills?

We are living in an age where there is almost unlimited opportunity, if you know where to look.  Figure out what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, and how you can make money doing it.  The rest will fall in line.

So now, what are you going to do?

Tyson Hartnett has played professional basketball in Sweden, Argentina, and Chile, and has recently started his first business,  He created Basketball Training Club to try to help players from all over the world not only better their basketball games, but to try to help better their lives as well. 

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