side businesses while you work for a company?

A lot of designers run a parallel business to their “day job”. For example: A Nike employee had a furniture brand on the side, etc.

How does your current employer feel about this? Are there any conflicts of interest? Can anyone open a side business as long as you’re not ripping off your current company?

Keep the two as completely seperate entities. Don’t tell your corporate boss how well your freelance work is going and don’t tell your freelance clients you don’t need their work because you’ve got a day job.

I’ve been helping to run my own company for the past 8 years, as well as doing a large amount of freelance web design and my primary employers have never heard about it - and if they have it was in a limited scope.

If you’re doing something design related that could be considered a conflict of interest - or something you’re doing work for on corporate time, then it becomes a big problem. In cases where that comes true its not uncommon for you to recieve a non compete agreement or being shown the door in cases like that.

if by hummel designer, you mean me, i started my consultancy after leaving hummel.


Don’t give details, but be honest about it. You don’t want to get fired for ‘secretly’ running your own business, when they find out after a couple of years.

If you are running a parallel business in a different demographic I have no issues with it. If you’re running a consultancy on the side that is in direct competition to your employer that is wrong. Biting the hand that feeds you.

A Nike employee doing furniture is not an issue. But Richard did it right by waiting until he leaves a shoe company to design shoes.

At times there is a fine line. Working for a consultancy and helping friends with some design work is one thing. But working in parallel with the intention of being competition in the future is not cool.

whoops. my bad.
Sorry to use you as an example under the wrong impressions. I edited the post.

I’m always very open, with clients and my employer, which I think is the best policy. Nothing remotely competitive, I only take projects I love and that diversify my portfolio. For me, the side stuff energizes me, and keeps me learning.

The real conflict of interest can be with the wife, but she is generally cool about it. The TV is dead.

has anyone’s employer not been too happy about it? I dont mean freelance, a company or side business

I design mainly bathroom products but also run an adult toy business on the side

My rule of thumb is:

Evaluate every project (or business) you take on the side and ask yourself - are you taking money out of your employers’ pocket by doing this?. If no - just do it. If yes - then ask yourself if the gig is worth the risk of losing your job?

I’ve never told my day jobs about my side projects. What I do on my time is my business as long as it doesn’t conflict. End of story.

It depends on what you are comfortable with. How about lookin at it this way-if you owned the company and your designers were running a company on their own time, would you like it?

How about freelancing for a company that makes the ideas your day job won’t?

As long as you honor any non-disclosure agreements you may have, I think it should be no problem.

As an employer (consulting design business) I have a little different take on the issue. Obviously, if there’s a conflict of interest it’s unacceptable. It sounds like most posters feel that if the business is in a different area, it’s OK. My feeling is that you have to decide what your job is. If you’ve been up all night working on outside projects, or trying to start your own company, odds are you won’t be as productive while you’re working for me. If I’m paying you to do your best work, I don’t want you to be too tired to do it!

Very interesting thread topic.

In our employee manual, there is a line in there about the company “…discourages but does not prohibit employees from conducting a non-competitive business outside the area of…”

As an in-house designer, I personally see no problem with me doing outside work as long as it doesn’t create a conflict of interest. I’ve had to turn away work because of this, but was able to refer someone highly capable. Hopefully the favor will be returned.

WARNING - small, slightly wandering rant follows

Of course every employer legitimately wants to receive the maximum bang for their buck from employees. But my reaction to JWH2’s comment about “deciding what my job is” really put my teeth on edge. While I totally agree with his sentiment re: being awake to do your best work, that concept feels really invasive. It’s my personal life, I can stay up until 3:30 playing poker, marketing Amway, feeding my infant or designing. Regardless, I’ll be below average the next day.

My personal comfort level with performing outside design work has depended on my employment at the time. I was VERY uncomfortable taking on outside freelance work while working at an ID consulting firm, and would only take it on if the principle passed on the project (typically due to too small a budget).

My current position has me working in a fairly narrow product range, so I’m much more comfortable and available to perform outside work. Since the category is so narrow, my ‘day job’ benefits from the outside work I perform because it keeps me fresh and engaged. To JWH2’s point however, this outside inspiration wasn’t as necessary while working within the consulting environments because the projects kept changing.

I think you make a good point. It has to be on a case by case basis.

I’ve always had bosses that where cool about it, loved the fact that I was working with other very high profile companies outside of sport/footwear, and realized that I don’t watch TV, don’t have kids, etc, so I have the time, plus for me it is energizing, not draining, so it makes me a better employee. Not everyone is the same.

I also agree with Gilty. Some people work all night renovating a house, some gamble, so party all night… all in all, designing more is a pretty good vice. In moderation, it sharpens your employee’s skill set making him or her a better designer, teaches them about things outside your industry, making them more open minded to outside the box solutions, and gives them a little extra cash to get an iPhone.

in addition, dont forget the happiness/morale factor. if you have a happy employee, you have a good employee. If they can feel good about doing other work, keep inspired and its doesnt conflict or screw up timing, i’d say i’d be all for an employee doing some freelance work on the side.

put it this way, if, for example, you are in consumer product design, but also have a passion for furniture, i’m sure your boss would rather have you do some furniture projects on the side than potentially lose you to a furniture consultancy, if had enough passion to make a leap to get your feet wet!


Theres also a bit of a difference between consultancies and in house staff. If you work for a consultancy, technically almost everything is potential work for the company. Some in house companies, allow it- but like most have said, as long as there is no conflicts of interest.

You’re absolutely right that it’s your life and that you can decide how to spend your time. Because the issue was taking on outside design work, I confined my comments to that subject. If you stay up until 3:30 playing poker, or marketing Amway, and are too tired too work effectively, my reaction will be the same. If it’s chronic, you’ll be history.

I’m not a total hard-ass, though. If you’ve been up feeding your infant, or if there’s any kind of family or personal situation, I realize that’s a more important part of your life (or should be) than work. If you’re stressed because you’re worried about having to choose between your job and reasonable obligations you’re not going to be doing your best work either. I’ve worked nights and weekends when necessary to get work out if an employee was going through a temporary situation that required his/her attention. In my book, that’s a completely different issue.

JWH2: Good point about staying on topic to the question
(that’s the reason I felt compelled to include my rant warning)

Fortunately for me and your employees, you and my current employer share the same attitude toward the “work/life balance” issue. This is another reason why, if you have a good relationship with your employer, don’t blow it up by competing with them.

ahhh, hence the “fish fingers”? :wink: