8 things to beg, borrow or steal from your employer before you leave to start your own business

Are you planning your new business venture on top of working a 9 to 5? You're not alone. Free time and sleep might be in short supply, but there are definite upsides to launching a business while you're still employed. Here's how you can use it to your advantage...

First, let's get this straight: we're not suggesting you leave your job with a company laptop stashed in your bag, or advocating illegal activity of any kind.

But if you're employed and planning your own business venture, you probably have a wealth of information and resources at your fingertips that could help get your fledgling start-up off the ground.

It goes without saying - but we'll say it anyway - if you're in this position then make sure you read your employment contract from cover to cover and don't do anything that could land you in hot water, especially if your new venture will be competing with your current employer. But new businesses need all the help they can get, so why not make the most of the opportunities available to you while you can?

You can't be sure how supportive your employer will be of your entrepreneurial plans and, once you've handed your notice in, how your access to company data and resources will be restricted. If you plan to set up a business in the same industry, you could even be placed on gardening leave. Here's how to leverage your position before it's too late...

1. Email

Even if you're not starting up in the same industry as your employer, if you've come from an office environment you may well find yourself wishing you still had access to your old company emails once you have left to go it alone. There's a good chance you'll have spoken to someone who would make the perfect supplier, customer, stockist or even mentor. Having those emails and details to hand can make life a lot easier when trying to re-establish contact.

Well have no fear; you can back-up all of your emails and take them with you. Emails are typically stored both on a server and on a local file on your hard drive - in Microsoft Outlook, this is called a Personal Storage Table (.pst file). Here's how to make a backup copy of your .pst file.

If you open this file using the same email program on your PC or laptop at home, you will be able to retrieve all your old messages.

2. Training

Clearly, convincing a company to spend thousands on a training course then announcing your departure once you've completed it is unlikely to go down well. Remember - your current employer could prove to be your most useful contact of all. Even if you're leaving to set up a rival venture, they could become an investor or even an acquirer one day. It's always best not to burn your bridges, and in an ideal world, you will leave with your employer's support and blessing.

That said, make the most of any training opportunities that come your way. Could on-the-job training come in handy to help plug any skills gaps you might have? If you have a good relationship with your employer, why not express an interest in expanding your skill-set and learning about different aspects of the business?

For instance, if your business will be built around your technical ability in, say, designing websites, could you wangle your way into a sales pitch or key client meeting? Mastering the art of negotiation is a vital skill for any entrepreneur, whether you're agreeing credit terms with a supplier, landing a new contract, bargaining with investors or faced with an employee asking for a pay rise. This type of experience could prove invaluable.

3. Colleagues

Your start-up will eventually need staff. Would any of your co-workers make a useful addition to your new business? (Be particularly mindful of employment contract covenants here. Also, don't try to poach your co-workers - or customers for that matter - on company time!)

Do you need a star salesperson or a web developer to help you get your venture off the ground? Is there an ideal, trustworthy candidate on the payroll who would be up for helping you out on a freelance basis in their spare time?

And even if you're not looking to hire straight away, if you're launching a start-up in the same industry as your employer, your colleagues will also be great sounding boards during the planning stage.

You may not want to divulge specifics about your own plans, (especially before you have handed in your notice or registered your business name, etc) but starting general discussions about the type of business models that could work in your sector, or how to manage key customer accounts could yield some extremely useful insights.

4. Clients and leads

Are your employer's clients the type of customers your business will serve? If you're in a B2B firm, note down the contact details of the key decision-makers within the company's clients, and if your business will be competing with your current employer when contracts are up for renewal. Again, make sure you don't infringe any competition clauses laid out in your contract when it comes to approaching them.

How does your employer find new customers? Are you able to get in front of potential customers and get their contact details? And if your business isn't going to be a rival - could your employer be a client itself?

5. Social media contacts

Make friends with as many people as possible on social media sites while you're still in your current role. If you don't have a direct relationship with someone who could potentially be a useful contact in the future, but your company does, it may well be easier to befriend them in the social media sphere, while you're working for the company they already have a connection with than as the founder of a business they have never heard of.

Once you have built up a strong network, you can use this for all sorts of things - raising awareness, recruitment, engaging with customers, etc.

6. Processes

One of the most useful aspects of starting a business while you're still employed is being in a position to observe how your employer does things - and how you could do things better. How does the company handle key processes such as invoicing clients and collecting customer data or feedback? And is this the most effective way of doing things?

7. Market research

Before you launch your business you will want to speak to as many of your target customers as possible. If you are in a client-facing role, and your employer's clients could potentially be yours too (whether your new venture will be a rival or not) ask them for their thoughts on how they like to do business. What do/don't they like about their working relationship with your employer?

Again, you may not want to give the game away by revealing plans of your new business at this stage, but asking for their views will make them feel valued as well as generating some vital insights into their wants and needs. Additionally, has your employer carried out its customer research that you can access and devour?

8. Data and resources

Your employer is bound to have a lot of useful data that could help you guide your start-up: be it a website or newsletter analytics, marketing campaign results, information on search engine optimisation, sales figures, customer demographics and customer feedback - what can you access and learn from? What worked and what didn't? What does this tell you about the type of content and approaches to use?

If your current employer isn't currently gathering or analysing any key data - why not suggest that they do so? If you're the one driving this, not only are you helping your employer, you're gaining valuable insights into your new market, too.

What else could you use? Have they invested in books, subscriptions or other resources that would be too costly for a start-up, that you can look at or borrow? Are there training resources or industry reports available on file that could be useful? Get your thinking cap on, and arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can.

And finally, think very carefully about when to leave your job. Forgoing a regular income is a massive step and there are numerous things to consider: is your business model viable? Have you carried out sufficient research and planning to ensure there is a market for your business? Do you have enough funding to see you through until your business can support you? Timing is key: read our guide on when to quit your job here.

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