And on the Side, I’m an Entrepreneur
Tips for juggling a small business in addition to your day job
Five o’clock used to mean happy hour, soccer practice, or a few hours in front of the tube. But for an increasing number of professionals, powering down the computer at the office now means powering up the laptop at home.
With new technologies that make it cheaper to start your own business and a widespread need to earn additional income during the recession, more professionals are taking on paying projects in addition to their day jobs. Whether you’re selling a service or promoting a product or driving traffic to a website, juggling a business on the side is the new nine-to-five.
“There is this brand new phenomenon,” says Paul Kedrosky, a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on entrepreneurship. “People [are] being entrepreneurs almost in their spare time, which you could never do before, at least never do in a way that was profitable.”
The nation’s business-creation rate hit a 15-year peak in 2009-2010, the Kauffman Foundation recently reported. But Kedrosky says that increase is made up mostly of “jobless entrepreneurs,” or those who launched companies because they faced unemployment during the recession. He categorizes the side-gig entrepreneur differently, calling it a “fractional entrepreneurship” model.
“These are often people who are highly successful in their own right, with normal jobs who, on the side, are entrepreneurs,” says Kedrosky, who’s working on a report on the topic. Fractional entrepreneurship took off around 2007, he says, partly because of the birth of online services like Etsy.com, which make it easy for small businesses to set up shop online. These entrepreneurs are a bright spot in a struggling economy, but “U.S. economic data is woeful at capturing [their success],” he says. “We capture people losing jobs in an orthodox way, but we don’t capture them gaining jobs in an unorthodox way.”
Jenny Blake, a 27-year-old who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, calls her unorthodox income stream her “side hustle.” By day, she’s a career development coach at Google. On evenings and weekends, she works to promote her blog and new book, Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want. Although she enjoys both jobs, she admits it’s not easy to juggle them both. “[Having a side hustle] is not for the faint at heart,” she says. “It’s a lot of work and it does take sacrifice.”
One reason part-time entrepreneurs are often overlooked is because they continue working day jobs, deviating from the Silicon Valley stereotype of entrepreneurs who quit their jobs and build startups in a garage. In many cases, it makes sense to keep that nine-to-five commitment and the steady paycheck that comes along with it, particularly if you have a family to support.
“I would be less apt to make that move to working only for myself than someone who is single and young,” says Douglas Lee Miller, 37, a new media manager for DePaul University who’s also growing a business as a social media speaker and educator. He and his wife have two young children. “Because I have a family, I have to be very concerned about things like healthcare.”
Are you thinking of launching your own side hustle? Or maybe you already have one—and are feeling the pinch of competing to-do lists. In either case, here are a few tips for making it work:
Set aside blocks of time to work on the project. Many entrepreneurs say the key to juggling successfully is assigning certain slots of your day or week to the side project—and not letting those hours overlap with your day job or personal time. “As soon as you allow [your pet project] to creep from one part of the calendar to another, most people who do this sort of thing find it takes over their lives,” Kedrosky says. “You have to be disciplined.”
Use scheduling tools to master time management. Being organized is essential to balancing the day job with a side gig, says Miller, the social media specialist. He launched his business in mid-2010, when an increasing number of people began turning to him for advice and guidance. “Saying you do social media is like mentioning you’re a podiatrist at a senior center,” he jokes. Yet once he landed paying clients, the Chicagoan realized he needed a new way to keep track of his schedule—to “beef up my calendaring,” he says. He turned to Tungle.me, a Web-based calendar that syncs Outlook, Google Calendar, and several other scheduling tools.
“Since I started [the business], there hasn’t been a moment of spare time,” Miller says. “Whenever I’m not doing work for my day job, I’m in my Twitter account trying to make new connections, establish my brand, or writing blog posts … I’m perpetually doing something to advance that effort.”
Set concrete goals. As Miller points out, you can always do “just a little more” to help your business succeed. So set goals, and take a break or celebrate once you meet them, suggests Blake, the Google employee and author. “Being clear with your goals will allow people to work on their side hustle without feeling like they have to do everything all at once.”
Start small. Consider putting your toe in the water before leaping in, says Kristin Cardinale, author of The 9-to-5 Cure: Work on Your Own Terms & Reinvent Your Life. Even if your eventual goal is to turn the after-hours project into your main job, it might be smart to give yourself time to figure out whether entrepreneurship is really for you. Do you multi-task well? Do you have the right business skills? Are you good at working with people? “A lot of times I think the burnout or the negative experience comes from the fact that [entrepreneurs] just have too much on their plate,” Cardinale says. If you’re going to keep your job while creating another income stream, plan ahead as much as possible so you won’t feel overwhelmed.
Start pro bono to land clients. To create buzz about your products or services, consider giving them away for free initially. That approach worked for Miller. “Doing work for free outside of my existing job was a real stretch at first,” he says. “But once I understood it for what it was, which was a pathway to paid [gigs], it was easier to stomach.”
Harness the power of social media. Online tools like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can help you build your clientele, and they cost nothing but your time. These platforms, which can create a sort of virtual word-of-mouth, also double as advertising, helping to decrease your .
Let yourself dream. We can’t all become the next Facebook or Groupon, but let those success stories motivate you. One of the reasons Tim Murphy, a 30-year-old property manager, came up with his idea for a website that tracks job and school applications was because he felt that entrepreneurial tug. “I kind of felt that entrepreneurial drive to create something and experiment,” Murphy says. “[There’s] that bit of the American independent business ideology that says I can strike it big if I get the right combination of factors put in place.” After hiring a contractor to design and build the site, he launched ApplyMate in June.
Aim to outsource. Once you’re in a groove, seek out opportunities to outsource day-to-day tasks, says Scott Gerber, founder of the newly formed Young Entrepreneur Council and author of Never Get a “Real” Job. “Look to maximize exposure and minimalize your personal time [spent on the business],” he says. He’s referring to business-related tasks, but this could also apply to your personal affairs. If you’re overworked or over-scheduled, it may make sense to hire someone to deal with, for example, household chores or bills.