Do you have a side business? A lot of people do today. Not only are there more opportunities to have one (think internet here), but there are also more reasons than ever. Let’s face it, raises are no longer annual events, and even when they are they’re hardly worth waiting for. And that better new job just doesn’t seem to be out there.
The solution to these problems is often creating your own business as a side venture. But side ventures can create problems with primary employers. Employers don’t want their full time staff working on other ventures because it can distract from or even compete against the work that you do for them.
If you have a side business, should you let your employer know about it? The answer: it depends.
Existing Job vs. New Job
Much of the question comes down to timing. If you already have your side business up and running when you take a new job, it’s probably best to let the employer know from the start, no matter what the reason for the business might be.
There’s no whoops factor when you start a new job with an established business. You won’t be able to wiggle around the fact should you be discovered later. If the employer is OK with you having a side business from the start, you’re free to operate. If they frown on it, you can make the decision if you even want the job under that circumstance.
Existing jobs are more complicated, and often come down to the reason why you started the business in the first place (see the last section). If your employer has a written policy prohibiting outside business activities, discovery can mean either a cease and desist directive or termination.
Sometimes when your employer doesn’t know about your business it can be an albatross for you. It means worrying about your employer finding out and all the burdens that brings. In such a situation, it might be better that your employer knows that way you’re free to act. If your employer is OK with it, your situation improves; if not, you may have to make other arrangements.
Your Employer’s Policy On Outside Business Ventures Makes All The Difference
Some employers are fine with outside work activities—they see it as your time, your life. Others prohibit it, but this usually happens only in certain job capacities where outside business activities could compromise your full-time job. Still others, probably most of them, allow you to work outside—at least superficially—but generally discourage you from doing it. Where your employer falls on this list is what really matters.
If your employer has no position on it, you have no problem at least from an official standpoint. Still, you may not want your employer to know. For one thing, any time there’s any issue about your performance on your job, it might be assumed that your side business is the reason why. Other times, your loyalty to the company may be questioned. And during layoffs, you may be one of the first to be let go under the assumption that you have other means of survival.
If your employer prohibits outside work activities, having one could get you fired, but beyond that there may be ethical or faith based issues on your part. How do you feel about keeping your job under false pretenses? You’ll be working outside of your employer’s rules—and thus violating them. In extreme circumstances, this could even result in civil actions.
The biggest issues will be with employers who don’t officially condemn side businesses, but don’t support them either. This is the gray zone, and it’s probably most employers. If you know they’ll try to discourage your business, it may be best not to tell them on that basis alone. You don’t need the stress of your employer putting pressure on you in addition to all the other complications of juggling a full time job with a side business.
If the side business you have is a very public one—like a blog—it will be very difficult to keep that hidden no matter what your employer’s position is, or what your desire to conceal it may be. You may consider using a pseudonym if secrecy is a concern.
What Is The Purpose Of Your Side Business?
One mitigating factor to all other considerations is your reason for having your side business. Specifically what that reason is may determine whether you tell your employer or not. There may be more, but I’ve come up with three reasons that could affect your decision:
To generate extra income. You’re trying to earn extra income because maybe what you earn on your full time job isn’t enough to cover your expenses or financial plans. This will be an ongoing situation because the side business isn’t intended to replace the job, but to supplement your income. You probably intend to keep your job, so it may be best to disclose what you’re doing. It can be better to be upfront about it, rather than risking an unexpected discovery and all the problems that may bring.
Preparation for career switch. Running a business as a side venture while collecting an fulltime paycheck is one of the lowest risk ways to go into a new business. If your plan is to start and develop the business into a full time venture that will replace your job, you may not want to tell your employer about it. Your enthusiasm for your business combined with your declining interest in your job could lead to an earlier termination than you hoped for. You’re mostly buying time, and secrecy can be your friend.
Anticipation of a job loss. If you have strong reason to believe that your job is in jeopardy anyway, you may want to throw caution to the wind and let the boss know what you’re doing. Since the job will be lost in time anyway, you need to use the time beforehand to fast forward the progress of your business. Secrecy will probably not be an advantage if that’s the case.
There’s no solid advice here. Everything depends on individual circumstances, such as those listed above, or even your own motivations, resources or potential job prospects should the worst happen.
If you have a side business and a full time job, are you better off coming clean and letting them know, or keeping quiet about it?