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One Year Later: 4 Lessons Learned from my Side Business

One year ago, I took the plunge and officially launched my consulting business. While I’d been doing consulting on and off throughout the years, I hadn’t ever launched a professional website or actively sought clients. While I love my full-time job, I was feeling the need to do something a little different and to connect more closely with industry again. So, after spending a few months making some decisions about how I wanted to structure my business, I used the three-day Mardi Gras break from work as a focused window of time devoted to finalizing my website, printing business cards, and setting up my menu of services.

In the year since its official launch, Dickerson Management and Career Consulting has been an engaging and rewarding project for me that continues to grow and expand. I had the privilege of meeting with seven companies, giving five invited talks, hosting three HR Boot Camps, coaching a new manager, and joining the board of a local nonprofit. Even this early on, I’ve learned some extremely valuable lessons from launching my side business. Here are the biggest ones:

1. Today’s leaders are consistently faced with unique problems.

Anyone who is a manager knows that the job is anything but predictable, but working closely with different business owners, HR professionals, and new managers reminded me of the wide variety of interesting challenges these folks face today.

From employees whose FMLA leave seemed suspiciously timed, to questions about policies regarding firearms in employee vehicles, to ideas about how you can creatively reward employees to keep them motivated, I really enjoyed the challenges presented to me in my consulting interactions. In particular, I was spurred to do a little more research into some of these issues that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise—things like FMLA malingering, how to keep nonprofit board members motivated and accountable, and how your voice can make a difference in a job interview.

2. Your side business just might energize your full-time job.

Employees are starting side businesses at a record rate these days, and not just for the financial benefits. Many are, at mid-career, finding themselves wanting more of a creative outlet or choosing to give back by working with nonprofits or mentoring others.

As a full-time college professor, my side job allows me to bring my expertise to a population I don’t usually reach. And, what I learn from working closely with managers has also given me a way to translate much of what I teach into more timely and relevant examples in the classroom. I’ve been astonished at just how reciprocal and symbiotic the benefits of my jobs have proven to be.

I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to discover how much I enjoy the creative side of things, like designing marketing materials and learning more about Instagram. This isn’t a major component of most academic work, so being able to explore design and messaging has been really invigorating. And, by incorporating these elements more into my teaching, it’s benefited my students as well. My syllabus and presentations have a much stronger design element now, and more of my in-class activities address the challenges I've worked to resolve with my consulting.

3. Your network makes all the difference.

Entrepreneurs make heavy use of informal networks, and I am no different. I found my friends, family, and coworkers to be invaluable when starting and growing my side business. At the start of 2018, I knew that I wanted to have a formal launch of my business—but I struggled when it came to setting up my website, naming my business, and strategically planning my blog posts. Luckily, I’m surrounded by knowledgeable people who were able to give me input and advice.

Speaking of networks, I wasn’t expecting how often I would discover that someone I already know has a need I can meet. For example, one of the most successful workshops I teach—HR Boot Camp—came out of a conversation I had on the tennis court with a friend. She’d been newly placed in an HR job and was asking me if I knew of any training available. I didn’t, but I knew I could teach such a class, so I developed it!

Because I leaned so heavily on my own network as I started my business, I’m committed to paying it forward with other entrepreneurs. I’ve been excited to help launch other small businesses, such as North Louisiana Lawn & Landscape and Handy Ma’am, and look forward to seeing them grow.

4. A new business doesn’t have to take time away from your family.

As a dear friend often points out to me, “Your plate is full.” I’m a full-time employee with a working spouse and two children: My time is indeed short, and a business launch made me a bit nervous about the extra commitment. However, I have been delighted to find that my consulting business has been as engaging and rewarding for my family as it has been for me.

My husband has enjoyed talking with me about ideas and issues, and my children have shared my excitement for growing my business. I read an article several years ago about work-life balance that recommended taking your kids to work or sharing with them the work that you do, so that it’s not a vague concept in their minds when you’re away. I’ve embraced this with my side business, often asking my two girls for their opinions on the layout of marketing materials or having them help assemble binders for HR Boot Camp. Seeing the girls play entrepreneur all summer long—even going so far as to start their own websites!—has been a true joy.

Have you considered starting a side business? Do you have an idea that you want to pursue, but aren’t quite sure how to do it? A little mentoring goes a long way, so if you’re ready to ramp up your side business and need a little help, get in touch!


One of my daughter's drawings from a summer playing entrepreneur

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