So how do you get started? The first step is to hit on a business concept that doesn’t necessarily require you to be contactable in peak hours, and there are a surprising number that meet this criteria.
It could be anything from computer repair to outside catering, leisure pursuits to beauty treatments. Even artistic or craft based businesses fit the bill. As long as you can cope with the extra hours without a affecting your main job, then a business and fulltime employement can be combined. But these extra hours can be tough at the beginning.
“Whatever you think you will need to do it will be at least two or three times harder,” advised Ed Mills, founder of online wine company ItsWine.com, which he started with his wife Jeanette in 1998. “We were amazed. We anticipated working until 1am for about a year to get the business up and running, but it ended up being two years. We learnt that you have to keep your expectations lower than you hope so if you don’t meet them you’re not in trouble.”
Mills and his wife already ran their own successful financial services, but their quality of life was poor. “We were working long hours and never saw each other. We might have made lots of money but it was getting us down. We were on a treadmill.”
The couple decided that investing time in a new venture based on their interest in wine would pay off in the long term. They gradually employed more staff at the financial company, started working regular hours and began spending evenings getting ItsWine off the ground. Not run like a traditional wine company, ItsWine is predominantly an IT-based business that operates via the internet and mail order; two classic ways to minimise 9-5 involvement in a business.
Mills subcontracted the web site design to a local company, selected and bought a range of wine to store in the garage, and launched. “We would get home from our other job in the evening and start checking the email about 7pm. There weren’t orders everyday in those days, but when there were I would go into the garage and pick and pack the wines while Jeanette produced the customer invoices. We would process payment on a credit card machine in the study and finish about 1am.” They would take the package to their office in the morning and send it by courier for next day delivery. It was the first next day delivery wine available online at that time.
A year later, Mills managed to team up with Freeserve, selling wine via its portal, and gradually increased the number of mail order wine clubs it worked with. “We knew that the only way to make good money in wine is on volume so we needed to grow our resources and take on extra staff.” Having funded the launch of the company with their own capital, the Mills raised £800k from business angels in early 2000 and were able to develop the venture further, keeping costs down while expanding by subcontracting both warehouse space and customer service.
“We pay the call centre on a per transaction basis,” said Mills. “If we don’t get any calls we don’t pay anything. It’s very cost-effective.” The Millers have worked full-time on ItsWine since Spring 2000 and employ five people, including the ex-Chairman of Majestic wines as their wine buyer. It will turnover £500k this year and is set to make its first profit. “Basing a business on mail order and the internet exploits two very cheap and low-maintenance routes to market, as well as allowing you to run a business out of hours,” said Mills.
But don’t be put off thinking that you have to build a web-based business or be a technical whiz kid to take full advantage of the latest technology. Identify your concept, the demand and your target audience and then visit one of a number of small business advisors such as Business Link, who can put you in touch with an expert.