Alicia Mauldin

Brian F Martin is CEO and Founder of Brand Connections and Host of Brand Fast Trackers

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Don't Quit Your Day Job To Start Something New

Alicia Mauldin

May 05, 2009

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I kept my day job and started the company part time.  And for two years, that’s just how I ran it.  I waited until I had enough experience and enough revenue to quit and pursue my business full time.  

Nine years later, my start-up has grown to become one of the largest companies in its space.  Moreover, I’ve sold it twice for more than $225 million. 

 This story is not unique.  For people who want to start their own successful companies, the part-time success has become an increasingly common business strategy.  In fact, based on my own experience and that of other entrepreneurs, I’ve come to believe that starting part time carries major advantages.

A majority of the marketing and media executives I spoke to for this piece said they would one day like to own a successful business, yet they went on to say that “someday” is not today.  Why not?

First, they cannot leave their employers because they depend upon their salaries.  Second, leaving would mean forfeiting two types of equity: financial equity in the form of bonuses and options, and psychological equity in the form of the goodwill built up between employee and management.  And third, they don’t believe they have a good enough business idea.  

While these reasons are all reasonable, they pose a problem:  The first two make it impossible to overcome the third.  But you can eliminate the first two by realizing that you do not have to quit your day job.  You can begin nurturing that “good enough” business idea now by starting to work on it part time. 

The moment you accept that starting a business part time is a practical option, your eyes will open to opportunities unseen up to this point.  You will start asking yourself, “What new things can I learn today?”  “What service do I wish was available for my brand that I could use in a turnkey fashion?”  “Who are some of the smartest people in my company and how can I deepen my relationships with them?”  These questions will enable you to see real and present opportunities you have not previously noticed.   

Why will your part-time business succeed when so many fail?  Because you have taken advantage of the benefits of your day job.

 I’m not advocating that you work on your new, small business on company time.  I ran my business part time before 8 a.m., after 7 p.m. and on weekends.  But the simple fact is that you enjoy a level of access that outsiders do not.   

Every day, you function in an environment of information and ideas unavailable to outsiders.  Your company is an umbilical cord to breakthrough ideas.  You are being exposed to presentations, research, and suppliers.  You are observing the way senior management thinks and how other brands and clients function.  Access to this information gives a budding entrepreneur a significant advantage over others when it comes to developing a product or service that will fulfill an unmet market need.  

And your work milieu lets you test ideas risk free.  As ideas come to you, your colleagues serve as a built-in focus group.  What would you think if someone approached you with this idea?   What do you like?  Don’t like?  With your original ideas shaped by colleague feedback, you can now refine them. 

Remember:  Companies like mine are always looking for useful and exciting new marketing tools to invest in, and those ideas are coming from people like you.  

That’s why the smartest pathway to small-business success in our industry is to keep your day job and start part time.  It may mean working nights and weekends for a while.  But ultimately you’ll find that your part-time business can be your key to full-time success.

The next generation of breakthrough companies will begin as part time small businesses created by brand marketers and the media and advertising professionals who service them

“I started my own company.”

…So said the former brand manager, advertising account executive and media planning director in unison when asked, “What’s new?” at their most recent high school reunion.  Recognizing that at that very moment their industry was changing more than it had in the past 100 years combined, each individually had seized the opportunity and started a small business, part-time, without quitting their day job.

 Most-proven way to achieve wealth

Speaking with one of the largest wealth management firms in the US, a company that manages more than $50 Billion dollars for only 1,700 clients (that’s an average of about $30MM per person), they will tell you that most of their clients generated their wealth only after starting their own small business.   Remarkably, the vast majority of these entrepreneurs started their businesses part-time. 

My goals weren’t that lofty

When I started my company part-time I was an assistant brand manager and my goals for my part time business certainly weren’t that lofty.   For me, I was intrigued by the idea of:

1.         generating some extra money

2.         perhaps one day being able to quit my job

3.         working with lots of different companies and brands

4.         extricating myself from office politics

5.         providing myself and my family with security…that today seems unavailable

           at large corporations


But only 7 years later, I sold it twice for more than $225 million dollars

I certainly never thought that was a possibility when I started Brand Connections part-time.  It was never part of the plan. But over those seven years, I noticed many differences between how I ran my company and how my well-established competitors ran theirs. It was as though our philosophies were fundamentally different. And it wasn’t that I was smarter than they were; they were all very capable. It wasn’t until I read a testimonial that one customer wrote about my company that I understood the difference.  She said, “They get it. They understand my true needs, what it’s like to be in my shoes. They were once the client. They get it.”  This was my major point of difference and it is yours as well.

Your major point of difference: The most successful entrepreneurs first incubate in a large company

By working for a large company, you benefit from critical advantages unavailable to outsiders, and this is why some of most successful entrepreneurs first incubate in large companies.  Working inside a large company, you have the benefit of being the client; of intimately knowing what influences you, what really causes you to make the decisions you do.  Further, you are the first one to see the unmet needs: Needs for new products, higher levels of service and a different way to position an existing offering.

Think about it. Who better to come up with the next breakthrough product?  Who is going to develop a superior service model?  Who can create a more effective sales process?  The current vendors supplying a market are at a significant disadvantage.  No matter how close they are, they are still viewed as suppliers and only have so much access.  They are guessing what the client wants.  You are the client.  You are the one who has access to, and it is a major point of difference that you can and should use to your advantage.

While many small business’s fail, you will not. Why is now the optimal time for brand marketers and the agencies that serve them to start their own part-time business?

Marketing, the driver of all global business, will change more in the next 10 years than it has in the past 100.  During this period of change, the country’s leading marketers will be expected to intelligently test new tools to better influence their target consumer, and will be rewarded for doing so. This will produce an unprecedented opportunity for new ideas to receive funding, which will result in new ventures started during this timeframe enjoying a disproportionately high likelihood of success, as the market is primed for their entrance.  Money is shifting around more now than ever before and the learning that you will amass as you venture down this path will be even more valuable to you…more than you know!  As a matter of fact when I told my boss that I was quitting my day job only after operating my company part time for two years he said to me, ‘Good for you!  I don’t know if you know it or not but the current VP of our division quit two years ago to pursue his own venture.  He found it wasn’t for him and reached out to me to see if he could get his job back and I told him, ‘Get your job back…I will make you a VP’.  He told me that he not only gave him his job back but promoted him because he knew that the courage it took to leave and the lessons he learned would be invaluable to his company.  And he has risen through the ranks faster than anyone because of it.

At the time, that was wonderful to hear.  It made me even more confident.  You should feel that confidence because it is true of every organization. Of course I never did take him up on his offer…and neither will you

The best marketers and agency executives will lead the way…but who are they?

Peter Drucker frequently stated that business has only two functions -- marketing and innovation; everything else is an expense.  That is quite a statement when you think about it, but has been proven time and time again.

So if all business is marketing or innovation and the majority of innovation is driven by marketing, the question is:  Who are the best marketers?

I believe they are the ones currently marketing and servicing national brands. Why? Well, first, national brands have a significant value in and of themselves.  It is imperative for the stakeholders of those brands to find the most talented executives to optimize the brand’s value. Second, manufacturers of national brands invest a significant amount of capital year-to-year in order to market the brand.

Interestingly, this investment is by and large a sunk cost, meaning the $10 million you invest in marketing can return $1 million or $100 million; your return depends on where and how you choose to invest those funds.  This is where acumen of the marketer and his or her agencies come into play.  Manufacturers of national brands that have the most to gain or lose hire them to maximize the return on the marketing dollar and, therefore, they are among the most coveted of all business executives.

These leading marketers are among the best in the country and they are now poised to begin applying their skills to their own brand, their own creation, in order to fill the void in a changing market.  You can see the shifts taking place as we speak.  Spending on traditional marketing is declining.  Alternative forms of marketing are growing in double digit increments.  And more and more, the line between what is considered traditional is shifting daily.  This type of paradigm shift rarely occurs in such an established industry and therefore brings with it an uncommon opportunity to redefine how and where marketers invest their dollars.   And none are better positioned to do so than brand marketers and the media and advertising professionals who service them. 

Why haven’t more taken the first step?

Speaking from personal experience and from interviewing hundreds of executives, the fact is that when we work for someone else, for a company, we pour 100% of the energy that we will dedicate to our profession into doing well and getting ahead in that company.  A typical question that we repeatedly ask ourselves is, “How can I do well enough to be recognized, get ahead, protect my position and, over time, make more money?” That is the question that my colleagues and I asked ourselves again and again.  

We should have been asking, ‘If I were developing a product or service that I would buy, what would that be?’ 

And, while the vast majority of marketing and media executives interviewed for this piece say they would one day like to own their own successful business, they go on to say that “someday” is not now.  Three primary reasons were given as to why now would not be the optimal time.

1.         I can’t leave my employer because I am dependent on the money I receive month to month.

2.         If I leave, I forfeit all of the equity – both monetary, in the form of this year’s bonus or my options, and psychologically in the form of goodwill built up between me and management – that I have accumulated here.  I am considered (as I was) a “high potential” candidate.

3.         I don’t have a good-enough business idea.

While these reasons are all completely reasonable, they pose a major problem….and this is very important. The problem is that the first two reasons make it impossible to overcome the third.  We need to eliminate the first two excuses by realizing that you don’t have to quit your day job…you can and should start part-time.

Don’t quit your day job…yet. Start part-time

I didn’t, and you don’t have to either.  The idea of a leading marketing, advertising or media executive quitting his or her job and going to work out of a garage is a story that works well for books, movies and magazine articles. But that is not how it typically plays out.  The more strategic route is to start part-time, while maintaining your day job. By following this model you achieve a number of things.

First, once you know starting your own business part time is an option, it opens up your eyes to opportunities you never saw before.  Once you do this, you will be amazed how many opportunities present themselves while at work.  In the 1800’s, Andrew Carnegie, Charles Schwab and others frequently wrote about the many opportunities that presented themselves once they visualized their success in their mind.  Suddenly, you will be asking yourself, “What new things can I learn today?” “How could my existing suppliers service me better?” “What service do I wish was available for my brand that I could use in a turnkey fashion?” “Who are some of the smartest people in my company and how can I establish a relationship with them?”  These questions will cause you to see opportunities that are in front of you but that you have not previously noticed.

Second, your current company is your umbilical chord to breakthrough ideas.  It provides you with the daily stimulus you need to see opportunities.  This is why quitting your day job is it not only unnecessary, it is not recommended!  Once you begin generating your bank of ideas, you have a built-in focus group to test.  I speak from experience – once you leave, don’t expect your calls to be returned same day, if at all.  While you may have a group  of coworkers you believe to be close friends you can count on for future assistance, I recommend you think again.  Entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with who followed a similar path largely found that once they left the company, they did not receive support anywhere the level they anticipated.  This makes sense for two reasons.  First, former-colleagues are often envious of you and desire you to fail.  This may sound harsh, but it is true.  If you succeed, what does it say about them?  Shouldn’t they be doing the same?  Why are they not?

Third, you are now a supplier.  As such, your former colleagues will only have so much time for you, much as you now only have so much time for suppliers in your current position.  So don’t leave.  Use your time there to test your ideas, build up alliances and educate yourself on the market.  It is a critical advantage that you and only you have.

So what is the first step?

This is really the easiest part.  The first step is accepting the fact that a vast majority of successful businesses studied begin part time.  So there is no need to quit your day job yet.  I didn’t and you don’t have to either.

Once you accept this as fact and then decide you want to own your own successful business, taking these steps will begin you down the path.

1. Develop three questions to ask yourself each morning as you are commuting to work in order to open your mind to the opportunities around you.  There are countless questions you can ask, but here are a few examples of questions that I asked:

a.         When I think about my schedule today,  and who I am meeting with, what new can I learn?

b.         If I were developing a product or service that I would buy, what would it look like?

c.         Which suppliers do I enjoy working with most and if I were competing against them, what would I do differently?


2. Schedule a minimum of 3 hours of private time each week to research prospective ideas and suppliers that interest you. The simple act of scheduling this time, perhaps one hour during the week and 2 hours on the weekend, will help you make massive progress.

3. Seek outside experts. Companies such as Brand Connections create some of the best new marketing tools in the industry and are very active in helping entrepreneurs optimize their business plans to bring their ideas to life. One thing history proves is that success leaves clues. Get around those who have done it already and your learning curve will be cut by 90%.


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