A couple of weeks ago, this question came up in our private Factory45 Facebook group:
“Does anyone have tips for communicating your ‘side hustle’ to your current employer? I want to start talking about my business online, but my bosses follow me and I am worried about their perception…”
If you’ve started a business or plan to start a business, while also working a “real job” to pay the bills, then you’ve probably pondered this same question.
While everyone’s situation is unique, I thought it would be helpful to hear from three past Factory45’ers who launched their companies while also working for someone else.
We’ll start with one Factory45'er (who wishes to remain anonymous) and launched a line of womenswear in 2016. She has not told her employer about her business.
How long did you work at your day job while you were starting your company?
Anonymous: I currently still work at a “day job” while also running my company on the side.
How did you feel about your employer potentially finding out about your business? Why did you decide not to tell them?
Anonymous: I decided not to tell my employer because I didn’t want to risk losing my means of salary that was crucial to funding my own venture. I also thought it would create unnecessary tension that I wanted to avoid.
Did you do anything to keep your business secret?
Anonymous: A couple of my coworkers who are close friends know about my business. For everyone else, I mostly refrain from connecting on social media where they may see postings about my clothing line.
What was the ultimate outcome?
Anonymous: It honestly hasn’t been difficult for me to keep my business a secret from my employer. For over a year I’ve been able to continue gaining professional experience from another company while also developing my own clothing line.
On the other side of the spectrum, Tiffany and Colleen who launched in 2015 and 2017 respectively, both told their employers about their “side hustles.”
How far along were you in starting your company when you told your employer about it?
Tiffany: I didn't have an intentional conversation with my employer about starting my own business, but I didn't make any great efforts to hide it either. I'm friends with so many colleagues, including supervisors, on social media (and in person) and it would have been pretty impossible to keep it a secret from them. That said, they found out when the rest of my social media network did and I launched my website online.
Colleen: I was about three months into Factory45 before I told my boss. I eventually had to because I often had to stop at my pattern maker in the AM or had to leave early to pick up fabrics, etc.
How did you feel about it before you told them and why did you end up deciding to tell them?
Tiffany: I was pretty nervous about the idea of them finding out, but I also knew that as long as I was doing my job well, it shouldn't be a problem and I always made my “real” job the priority. I'm a pretty open person and it would have ultimately been harder for me to keep it from them in the long run.
Colleen: I felt a little nervous because I didn't want them to think I was slacking at my current job as a project manager.
How did your employer react?
Tiffany: There was a point that one supervisor expressed that, while she didn't mind that I had my own business, others in the company could take issue with it. She cautioned that I should be as discreet as possible about it. Another supervisor, while I know he knew about it, never spoke to me about it. Another supervisor willingly gave me tips on how to pitch media and was super supportive. The reactions were all pretty predictable and mostly encouraging.
Colleen: They were understanding, but made it a point that my project management position came first. I always felt a little on pins and needles, juggling both jobs and feeling a little timid about asking to leave early.
What was the ultimate outcome?
Tiffany: Several of my co-workers, including one of my supervisors, ended up buying beach towels. A couple of them (myself included) even kept them handy at our desks and used them as a light blanket in our freezing office. I'd take off days here and there for trade shows and pop ups and really liked that I didn't feel like I had to be sneaky about what I was doing. A year after I launched my business, I was a part of a series of layoffs. There had been a lot of movement in the company, so I wasn't surprised, and truly don't think it had anything to do with me having my own business. While money has been tight, it's also been the most freeing thing to happen to me.
Colleen: I ended up quitting the full-time project management job and moved on to be a consultant. Now, I occasionally go into the office and work from home. Definitely not always a consistent paycheck, but I have much more time and a flexible schedule. It just got to be too challenging to stay on top of my project management position and start a clothing company.
So, there you have it — three different scenarios and outcomes.
While there is no “one-size-fits-all” decision to be made about whether or not to tell your employer, you probably already know in your gut what’s best for you.