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AZRIELA JAFFE

10.27.99  
The Part-time Entrepreneur's Quandary: Seduced by Moonlighting
My business is so much fun, dare I ditch the day job?

Not everyone can afford to throw away a steady job with benefits to develop their great business idea. Some people pursue their entrepreneurial dreams in their spare time. Moonlighting can be a good compromise for a long time — if you can handle the strain. The challenge and the hard choices come when the business starts to grow wings of its own.

Moonlighting has worked so far for Cheryl Hershey, a product development chemist for Armstrong World Industries, the building materials company in Lancaster, Pa. Cheryl, a 15-year Armstrong veteran, has no plans to leave anytime soon. Her salary and benefits support her family.

At the same time, Cheryl knows that no job is forever in the era of continual downsizing. She started her company because she wanted to develop other sources of income should she ever be laid off. As a woman and a chemist, she wanted to encourage young girls to pursue careers in science. Her idea? She formed a company called "Tomorrow's Girl," which publishes books geared to girls aged 6 to 12. The heroine of the stories is a young girl who uses science and technology to solve mysteries and other problems.

Cheryl puts in a full day at Armstrong, then works late into the night at home. Although she looks forward to her nocturnal endeavors, she admits they are wearing. There's little time for anything but work and family duties.

Tired as she is, Cheryl hasn't reached the most stressful time for moonlighting entrepreneurs — when a business generates enough revenue to tempt them to quit their day jobs. The hours are generally quite heavy, at this point. Yet the loss in benefits and salary would be significant. Profit from the business isn't yet within reach. It's a real quandary. Many entrepreneurs feel they could make as much or more if they could only devote themselves full-time to the business. But they're afraid to try.

When Harper Collins accepted my first book, I couldn't have met the publisher's deadline while working full-time and caring for my children. Until that point, I had researched the book at night and on weekends. When I signed the contract, I quit to work at it full-time. Fortunately, I could do that because my husband's salary and benefits could support us. Had I been a single parent, I couldn't have accepted that contract.

If you're on the verge of quitting your day job, do the following first:

— Reduce your debt as much as possible, and make sure you can meet your financial obligations for at least three months with no money coming in.

— Consider the full value of what you get from your job before tossing it away. Not just salary, but insurance, pension contributions, sick leave, vacation time, and other forms of compensation. How will your family get medical coverage?

— Be sure that your family can handle the sacrifices a new business exacts.

— Ask yourself whether you're really prepared to give up all the trappings of employment. That business may be a whole lot more fun when you don't depend on it. On the other hand, once you quit your job, you may never look back.


Have a question on how to handle the pressures of running a business and the impact on your personal life, marriage, and family? Contact Azriela Jaffe at AZ@azriela.com. Please put "BW Online question" in the subject field. Your real name will be kept confidential if you request, but please give an E-mail address, phone number, and your hometown so she can contact you for more information. Because of heavy volume, Azriela cannot guarantee that she will answer every query.

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