How to start your own business while working a full-time job
The topic of finding meaningful work has been a hot one lately. As expectations rise, and work hours get longer, it seems that many people are reflecting on their careers and are looking for purpose in their work. We have to somehow justify this stress, right? I personally couldn’t justify working 60–70 hrs a week for something that seemed meaningless to me. “You’re not saving lives” — I would say to myself over and over again, with anxiety looming as work was piling up. If I was going to work so hard, I wished that I did something else, something that was more meaningful and more aligned to my values and interests. I realized that the only way to make that happen, for me, was to start my own business.
Owning a business is no small task, and it places all of the responsibility on you as the boss. But if designing your life around your passion has been a goal of yours, and if that voice in your head has been calling you to do so, there is a way to try it out without making sudden, extreme decisions that would just add to your stress. While transitioning into a new career or starting a new business sounds scary, there are steps you can take to minimize those risks, quiet down your fears as you slowly and confidently build out your passion.
Step 1: Assess whether your current job situation is sustainable
How high are your stress levels? How many hours a week do you really work? How much time do you end up having for yourself, your friends and family, and your passions? Sit down, be honest with yourself and make a list: what do you get from your job vs. what do you put into it. When you’re done, look at these two lists as ask yourself: does it represent a fair exchange?
If not, decide what the ideal balance is. How many hours a week do you really need to work? And how much money do you need to make? Assess your expenses and your current lifestyle and decide what is the minimum income you need to sustain you, and how many hours you need to work. Personally, that number for me was 30. 30 hours a week was enough to let me have the energy and focus to dedicate to my side business. Anything above that was cutting into my valuable time I could be putting into my business idea.
So, I created a new budget for myself, I cut out expenses I did not need, I simplified and streamlined my life and landed on a smaller number. Clearly, my full-time salary was not making me happy. The money was not worth my time, my stress, and most of all, my untapped potential.
Step 2: Modify your existing job or get a new one that matches your new requirements. And slowly start!
Can you decrease your work hours? Can you change your position within your existing company? Can you take up a freelance/contract position that can help you manage your time better? If no options exist within your current job situation, or if your current work situation is toxic and is draining every ounce of energy you have left, maybe it’s time to get a new job. I know this is easier said than done. But you can treat this as an experiment. I said to myself “You can always go back and get a full-time job in advertising”. Now is the time to take a risk and see how far you can go. What do you have to lose? If your bills and minimum expenses are covered, and you are not going into debt, can you sacrifice some of your income to dedicate to your new venture? If not now, when?
When I quit my full-time job, I decided to take the freelance route. I was scared. But I knew that I would never know what I was capable of building if I didn’t try. Advertising wasn’t going anywhere. I could come back to it at any time.
When I quit, I received the gift of time. I slept better and longer, I felt more energized, and I was able to focus on developing my business idea. I had time to take a few courses and get the certifications I wanted. I was able to slowly chip away at my website. I was able to actually sit down and think about what my purpose was and what value I could bring through my business. None of this would have been possible had I stayed in my old 60-hour-a-week crazy job.
Use your friends and family to test out your business idea. Do some work for free. Build out your concepts, try them out in real life. Get feedback, iterate, and learn as you go, until you are happy with your end product or service, and are ready to launch it into the world. Get testimonials from real people. Get real-life experience. Build up your confidence.
When I decided to organize my first retreat in Bali, 85% of people who came were my friends. I charged a low rate because I treated it as a trial. I was happy to just cover my costs. I learned a lot about what it takes to run a successful retreat. On our trip we captured photos and videos that I later used in my marketing, I received true testimonials from retreat participants. I was able to test out my concepts while minimizing my risks — by having my friends attend and charging a lower price. When I came back from the trip and realized how much value everyone got out of the retreat. I was ready to charge a full price for the next trip.
Similarly, as I was developing my workshops and my e-book, I hosted several workshops in my home. I invited friends and friends of friends. I did not change them. All I asked was for their time and participation. I collected valuable feedback. I received testimonials. Most importantly, I became confident in my offering and my facilitation abilities. Again, it was a low-risk way to test out my products and services, capture everyone’s feedback, so that I could refine it before officially launching it.
Ultimately, the key is to have an attitude of learning. Failure is nothing but feedback. Building a business doesn’t happen overnight. As you start to grow your business in parallel to your steady job, you can eventually transition and grow your business so that you no longer need a pay cheque from someone else. There will be ups and downs, and you will learn a lot about yourself throughout this process.
I would be lying if I said that my wellness business supports me and fully pays my bills. I still rely heavily on my freelance income. But the scales are slowly starting to balance. Three years ago, my business contributed 0% to my income. Now, it contributes about 20%. I am prepared for this journey to take as long as it takes, and I am happy I took the risk and launched myself out of my comfort zone. Slow and steady wins the race!