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Pursuing the dream of being your own boss while in employment

How to start a business while working

Ever dreamt of pursuing your own business venture selling bicycles, leasing holiday cottages or greyhound breeding? You are not alone. Many of us would love to be our own boss doing something we believe in, perhaps even turning a hobby into a business.

But one of the big questions is ‘how?’ You can’t leave your job until you’ve got your own business off the ground, yet you can’t kick-start your business because you have a full-time job. Fear not. More and more people are defying the vicious circle by starting businesses while still in full-time employment. In fact, advances in technology mean it is now easier than ever.

Key developments

“The key for me was the invention of the answerphone – without that I would have been dead,” said Nigel Scandrett, who pioneered the concept of the ‘riverboat disco cruise’ back in 1967 when he formed Floating Enterprises, which has now evolved into the Mainstream Leisure Group.

Since then he has also co-founded Thames Luxury and is the biggest agent on the Thames. “We didn’t have mobile phones and we couldn’t divert calls, so the answerphone allowed me to leave a message saying ‘Hey, I’m out on the boat – I’ll call you back.”

In reality, Scandrett was working in a succession of full-time jobs, including an advertising agency and the marketing department of British Tissues, before checking his messages at home in the evening and returning calls to potential customers. “One of the hardest things at the start is trying to prevent people from knowing that it is just a part-time venture in case they don’t take you seriously. The answerphone helped enormously.”

No secrets

Renting just one boat from a friend and using a regular bar tender and DJ that he knew kept Scandrett’s costs down, and he spent his spare time marketing the concept, finding every free listing service in London and spreading the word. But he made no secret of his part-time venture to his employers.

“I made sure most of them knew about it because they were all potential buyers. I would often work until 7pm in the evening and after that I might use the company phone for an hour chasing up contacts for the riverboat business. It wasn’t easy – but you have to sneak those calls in somehow. That’s why mobile phones now are a godsend.”

Big break

One of Scandrett’s big breaks was when he went to work as a sales manager for the ticket supremo, Keith Prowse where he sold the concept of the riverboat disco cruise to his employer. The company liked the product and agreed that if Scandrett set it up, they would sell it.

“Keith Prowse took its margin and I took my cut and we both did pretty well out of it. I then found that people who had been on the ticket side of things would ring me up and book a trip for their company, so I gradually broke into the corporate market. I was doing thirty or forty trips a year when I left and within a couple of years, in 1978, I had taken the business full-time.”

Scandrett’s Mainstream Leisure Group now turns over £500k and employs just one other full-time person, while Thames Luxury Charters, launched in 1993, has 35 employees and turns over nearly £4.5 million.

But while answerphones provided a helping hand for Scandrett in the 1970s, people starting their own ventures while still in employment today can also take advantage of more advanced technology. “Not only has the internet created opportunities to set up on-line businesses, but it has also made it easy to communicate with clients and suppliers, as well as opening up a vast amount of research at the touch of a button,” said Peter Webster of Business Link. This, coupled with the widespread availability of cost-effective mobile phones that allow you to return calls in your lunch hour, means starting a business no longer requires stealthy calls from work.

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