Good Businesses to Start While You are Employed

Image Courtesy Matt Jones

Do you dream about financial freedom, doing the work you love?

Unfortunately, there are bills to pay. And when starting something new, you’re never 100% sure how things will work out.

Wouldn’t it be cool if there would be a way to be sure you can earn a living before quitting your job?

Some years ago, while I was still an employee, I started a business on the side. Like you, I wanted to be sure the business would bring in enough money. It worked out for me! I now have a steady stream of income and time to build other stuff I am passionate about. And what’s more important, I can live my life on my own terms.

This begs the question: what kind of business can you easily start on the side? Something to start small and grow into enough income to replace your daytime job and bring you freedom?

Choose an Idea That Fits You

I am a huge fan of business ideas that you can start working on today. Why? Because these ideas are least risky.

Think about it: if you have an idea that takes you six months before you can even begin with it, then something is wrong. Either you are making excuses, or you have chosen an idea that doesn’t fit with you and where you are in your life.

What do I mean with an idea not being a good fit with you?  Well, each time I go to startup events I meet people with cool ideas for new web and mobile apps.  The only problem is… they can’t code software.  Fast-forward six months later.  You meet the same guy and he’s still looking for a technical partner to develop his idea.  Six months down the drain!

What’s wrong with this picture? It’s not likely for someone with software skills to team up with such a guy.  A good software engineer can easily earn $100 – $150 an hour.  Why would  she take all the risk, and spend months coding something that may or may not work?

Stop thinking about ideas that are too complex, instead start small and build up to where you want to be. One little step at a time.

And know this: once you have real paying customers, potential business partners will come knocking.

Business Ideas that Everyone can Start Today

Instead of giving you concrete ideas, here is a framework you can use to generate ideas that fit you.

1. Teach What You Know

A couple of years ago I had a nagging problem in my apartment building. I solved it by researching Belgian laws. While searching for a solution, I saw that a lot of other people were having similar problems.

I am now teaching apartment owners how they can use the law to improve management of their buildings. And I get paid for it.

The funny thing is that I am not a lawyer, nor am I a recognized expert in this field. So, why do people seek my advice, and even pay for it? I’ve actually asked them, because at first I couldn’t understand it myself.

This is what my customers have told me:

I want to learn from someone who has done it in real life. I value your experience much more than theory.

Everyone has skills, and everyone needs to learn. You also have skills and experiences people will pay you to teach them. It may be stuff you did in your career, but also challenges you’ve overcome in your private life.

Action Steps:

  1. List ten skills and things you enjoy doing. Think about difficult problems you solved both in your work and and your life
  2. Ask three good friends, colleagues or family members what they think you are good at. Think about what people naturally come to seek your help with.

2. One-on-One Coaching

Coaching is another way to make money off your skills. As a coach you always start from one person’s situation. Then you guide and motivate them to achieve a certain goal or bring them to the next level.

Today, you can find a coach for anything. Weight loss, exercise, fulfillment and happiness, sales and marketing,  starting a business, parenting, professional development, personal finance…

As a coach, you will be helping people not only with strategies and tactics, but also on the emotional level. So next to your experience and knowledge in what you coach, you need  great people skills.

And you don’t have to be an expert right off the bat. Search for customers at an early stage, a stage that you feel comfortable coaching them. Then grow together with your customers.

There is no better way to learn than teaching others. 

An know this: in any market, most people are beginners.

Action Steps:

  1. Make a list of areas of expertise you are passionate about.
  2. Find forums where people are talking about their problems and start helping them online.

3. Organize a Seminar or Conference

Is there something you really want to learn, but never had a time to do it?

Rather than wait until you have found all the information you need, why not create a series of events, a seminar or a conference on the subject? And then invite experts to speak.

My partner Vlad is passionate about startups. He created the Lean Startup Circle in Brussels. It is a group where anywhere between 30 and 50 entrepreneurs come every six weeks to share their experiences.

Now, how did Vlad start? He choose the name of his group wisely and piggybacked on “Lean Startups”, which was well known within the community of startup entrepreneurs. He then created this group on This allows him not only to automatically manage registrations and reviews of events, but also to send emails to the group, and communicate with the attendees after the event is finished. He didn’t even need to do much promotion, as mails their members about the new groups and meetups in the area where they live.

The group has grown steadily ever since.

Vlad doesn’t charge money for the meetups. However, by simply organizing these workshops Vlad has profiled himself as an expert in the field. This enabled him create a high-end training course for entrepreneurs ready to take the next step.

As an added bonus he is able to build relationships with succesful startup entrepreneurs and learn a lot about the topic.

Action Steps:

  1. List five topics that you would love to know more about
  2. For each of the topics, check how many related events are being organized on and how many people attend
  3. For the most popular topic, list five experts in the region where you live
  4. Use and create a gathering around one or more of those topics
  5. Promote your topic using different forums

4. Become a Freelancer

If teaching or coaching is not for you then perhaps you can start out by selling your skills by the hour. And know that freelancing is not only for web designers and software developers. There is a market for many other types of skills: writing blog articles, copywriting, language training, posting on forums and social media, organizing events, drawing…

Action Steps:

  1. Browse, Elance and and list at least three types of freelancing jobs that you feel comfortable doing.
  2. Apply to 5 freelancing jobs in the different types and see what happens.

5. Get Creative

Take some time and think out of the box. Are there other ways for you to use your skills and help people – or create something they need?

I was really inspired by the story of Zen Pencils. Gavin, the guy behind Zen Pencils, is an artist passionate about drawing. While still employed, he found himself reading biographies and quotes from inspirational people.

He turned those stories and quotes into cartoons and his blog Zen Pencils was born. Gavin combined two things people love to read and share: quotes and cartoons.

The website receives more a million visits a month. Visitors can buy prints of his drawings, and advertisers can buy ad space.

The Blue Pill or the Red Pill?

You’ve come to the end of this post. You have come at a cross-road. You have two options now: the blue pill or the red pill. You can take the blue pill and hit the “close window” button. By taking the blue pill you will wake up and continue your life the way you are living it now.

Alternatively, you take the red pill: you take immediate action and post the results of the action steps you took in the comments. By doing so, you will see that you will get feedback from Vlad and me and that you are not alone on the other side.

What will it be? The blue pill or the red pill? We’ll be waiting for you on the other side.

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  1. Thanks Guys for putting together such an informative piece. Definitely inspired me to hit the ground running.

  2. Nice article.. am good at training.. will start working towards it

  3. Thank you! says:

    Timely and useful. Thanks

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