I remember when I finally felt like I had “arrived” as a young lawyer.

It wasn’t when I landed my first Biglaw job (lawyer slang for a large, full-service law firm, think six figures and 80 + hour work weeks). It wasn’t when I passed the bar exam.

It was when I walked into Neiman Marcus and purchased my first Kate Spade bag.

You remember the entry-level Kate Spade, the boxy purse made out of black nylon, waterproof material. You might not know that it had a name, “Sam” (I wonder who Sam was, it wasn’t her husband). That design made Kate Spade New York a worldwide brand and cemented Spade’s status as an American fashion icon.

Like many of you, I was saddened to learn of Spade’s death earlier this month. If you are (or were) a fan of her brand, take the time to learn about how she built her business. She epitomized the American Dream. Guy Raz of NPR’s How I Built This podcast did a great interview of Spade and her husband. Check it out here.

One thing I found fascinating about her rise to fame is that her purse business started out as a side hustle. A journalist by training, she was working a $14,000-a-year assistant job at Mademoiselle, where she collected purses for photo shoots. Her husband suggested one day that she design purses. She said, sure, why not, and started her business out of her apartment.

When later interviewed about Spade, her old boss at Mademoiselle, said, “She seemed too nice to go on and become so successful.” Ouch, Miranda Priestly.

Okay moms (and dads), do you have a side hustle? Perhaps you’re just trying to make a few extra bucks on the side. Or maybe you dream of your side hustle being your only hustle.

How can you avoid getting getting fired from your day job (or worse, sued by your employer) when you are working a side business?

Find out what your employer’s policy is on side businesses.

Most decent size companies have a policy on side businesses. Ask when you are interviewing for the job, or if you are already hired and didn’t think to ask during your interview, check with your manager, supervisor, etc.

If you have (or are planning to start) a side business, be sure to read your employment contract (and any other contract you are asked to sign) very carefully and have an attorney give it a review as well. Prohibitions on side businesses are often included in employment contracts (often phrased as limits on employment, or an exclusivity clause tied to a non-compete). How do I know? I’ve drafted hundreds of them over the years and I always include it.

Ask for forgiveness, not permission? Forget about it. 

So let’s stay you are reviewing a contract for your new job, and you (and hopefully, your lawyer) notice that there is a provision limiting your ability to work a side business while you are employed by the company or even after employment (if your side business  would be a competitor) .

Guess what folks, like compensation, it’s negotiable. Ask them to take it out, or write in an exception for your side business. For example, if I decided to work for a law firm again, I would make sure my employment agreement specifically permitted my work on Lex Mater.

If your potential employer refuses, don’t just sign the contract and plan on keeping your side business a secret. Someone will find out and you will lose your job, or worse, lose your job AND get sued. If your side business is important to you, this is a deal-breaker.

Need another reason to have a good understanding of every agreement you sign with your employer?

Let’s say you quit your job to work full-time on your side business. A few months later, you get a nasty letter on law firm letterhead claiming you violated the non-compete provision in your employment agreement and threatening to sue you into oblivion unless you immediately close up shop and quit your side business.

I’ve written hundreds of these letters too over the years. They’re designed to scare the living daylights out of you. If you have a good, in-depth understanding of everything you signed, you can breath a sigh of relief and politely (or impolitely) inform the lawyer you are not in breach of the agreement.

Don’t use company time or equipment for your side business.

You work Monday-Friday 9-5? You know what you should not be working on at 3:00 p.m. on a random Thursday? Your side business. Same goes for your work computer and work phone. Don’t use them in your side business (yes, your employer can and will find out).

What is your dream side business? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.