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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Transitioning from part-time to full-time entrepreneurship

Anne Marie Esposito started her candle-making business four

Anne Marie Esposito started her candle-making business four years ago in the small workshop she set up in her home Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

For three years Anne Marie Esposito of Sparklefly Candle Co. in Selden juggled a day job and a part-time business.

Like many entrepreneurs, she wanted to test the waters before leaving the security of full-time employment.

In November, with the business showing steady growth, she made the leap into full-time entrepreneurship.

"It was terrifying," says Esposito, 39, who worked full-time as a customer experience director at a market research firm. "You have to really prepare yourself for that feeling of not having that paycheck every week."

To be sure, making the leap from part-time to full-time entrepreneurship takes careful planning.

"You don't want to take a crazy blind leap," says Tommi Wolfe, president of The Startup Expert, a Broomfield, Colorado-based entrepreneurial consultant. "You want 'proof of concept' of your business before you quit your day job."

But if you have that proof, don't let fear stop you from making the transition, she says.

Entrepreneurs often say, "I'll quit my day job when I'm making six figures with my new business," says Wolfe. "I've yet to see that happen."

Taking it to the next level

It takes courage to leave the security of your job, but often doing so is necessary to take your business to the next level, she explains. When you're working full time, "you simply don't have the hours to do the sales necessary to get the business off the ground."

It wasn't until Esposito made the decision to transition to full-time entrepreneur that she started securing retail accounts.

"I got into my first retailer in October in Port Jefferson," says Esposito, who sells her homemade wax candles and scented flameless sparkle stones mainly online. "I'll be in my seventh store in June in California."

Esposito didn't quit her job cold turkey. She first transitioned to part time, putting a plan in place to start marketing her product to retailers. With more time, she could focus more on sales.

"Instead of being reactive, I was being proactive and doing things to help the business grow, because I had more time," says Esposito.

Similarly, it wasn't until Pat Rivas, owner of Happy B Trading Corp. in Long Beach, an international trading brokerage firm, left her full-time job as an executive assistant in September that she really started building momentum.

"My job was taking up too much of my time to grow the business," says Rivas, 43, who started Happy B as a part-time business in 2013. "I would be up until 4 a.m. on the phone with China-based manufacturers and suppliers and have to get up for work at 6 a.m."

Still, she didn't make the decision to leave full-time employment lightly. First, she built up a seven-month cash reserve, restructured debt and cut her living expenses, including downsizing from a one-bedroom apartment to a studio.

About a year and a half before quitting her job, she sought the guidance of the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale State College, working with adviser Walter Reid. The SBDC helped with planning and connecting with key trade contacts, says Rivas.

"I think it's really important to have a business adviser," notes Erica Chase-Gregory, acting director of the Farmingdale SBDC, which provides free assistance to entrepreneurs.

Cash reserve is key

The loss of a full-time income can be jarring, she says, and entrepreneurs may not see a profit for years. "They have to make sure their living needs will be met," says Chase-Gregory, adding that the SBDC can help prepare accurate one-, three- and five-year financial projections.

She recommends at least six-months' cash reserve.

The more cushion, the better, says Judith Tyne, associate dean of the Scott Skodnek Business Development Center and director of the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program at Hofstra University.

Before making the leap, she recommends that entrepreneurs create a business plan. As part of Hofstra's fee-based assistance program, entrepreneurs develop a plan with staff input.

Do an analysis of your target market and competitors, Tyne suggests. Ask yourself, "What are you going to do that will provide a better product or service than your competitors?" she says.

Join mentorship and support organizations.

"It helps having a professional support system," says Esposito, who's part of several groups, including the local Indie Business Network.

It also helps having family on board, she adds.

"They have been living this with me for awhile," she says. "They saw the potential."

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