Monday, January 2, 2012

Thinking about moonlighting in 2012? Here are five questions to test your ethics

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.
by Josh Kaplan

Last year, Microsoft relaxed their rules governing employees developing products outside work. This very popular change allowed staff to develop applications for Windows products and enjoy the financial benefits. The result? Through 2011, 840 employee designed apps were published to the marketplace. That’s value added for Microsoft’s offering, value delivered to the customer and extra money made by committed staff with good ideas.

Moonlighting has always been an ethical gray area. Opinion remains hugely divided as to what is and isn’t ethical when it comes to making money on the side of a full time job. Here are five things to ask yourself before you pursue outside opportunities.

Does it feel right?
The simplest test is probably the best one. Look in the mirror. Would you want your favorite schoolteacher to see you do this? When you explain this to your teenage nephew, are you going to be able to tell the absolute truth and be comfortable? If you find yourself trying to justify something that most people would think was disingenuous, it probably is. And if there’s a real ethical issue, you’re going to find a load of other issues attached to it.

Do you know where you stand legally?
It’s not all ethics. There is a lot of legislation and it varies from country to country and from state to state. Ultimately you could have problems over ownership of the ideas you have while you’re employed. If it comes down to a legal battle, you may lose what you’ve developed. 

Are there mutual benefits?
As with the Microsoft example, if you’re benefiting your employer and their customers, you’re likely to find yourself on firm ground. Why wouldn’t they bless your efforts if it’s in their interests as well?

Are there opportunities you haven’t thought of?
Your employer may have more than a blessing to offer. They might be prepared to invest if they can see the benefits. Think about opportunities to get funding and support for your ideas. It may be best for everyone.

Will it be worth it overall?
You need to balance the various risks and rewards and consider every aspect of what you’re planning. Are you looking to replace your day job or just supplement your income? Imagine what success would look like and decide if the things It will take to get there are worth it. If you jump without looking you could find yourself working very hard and not seeing a return on your investment of time and resources. Ultimately, you’ll be starting your own business. The vast majority of new businesses fail because entrepreneurs get carried away with a vision and don’t look at the daily reality before they start. That includes finding small ways to test the market as you go along so that you're not wasting time pursuing an idea that the market simply didn't want, or that someone else already tried.

When all is said and done, a great idea will benefit someone. If you think you’ve got one, pursue it with all the effort and commitment it deserves. Just make sure you’re setting yourself up to succeed before you start.