5 am wake-up calls, 15-hour work days, no weekends, and very little sleep. More than likely that doesn’t sound like a very enticing life to anyone, myself included. However, a little less than a year ago, that was my every day, and I’m thankful it was.
I’ve read the success stories about the brave souls who were fed up with their 9-5 gigs and give it all up to start freelancing. Millennials sipping cocktails on a beach in Bali while running their successful web development businesses are a dime a dozen on my Instagram feed.
But this isn’t one of those stories—well, not exactly.
I’m here to sing a slightly different song. Giving up a reliable source of income is hard, and many of us can’t just jump in with both feet.
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We have rent to pay, overdue student loans, and hungry mouths to feed (in my case that’s a very beloved cat with highly sophisticated tastes).
I’ve always wanted to be my own boss. I come from a long line of business owners, so it was assumed that entrepreneurship would be part of my career path. But with the aforementioned financial constraints, how can a person like me start a business? I side-hustled.
I side-hustled until I was blue in the face, and then I got another side-hustle. It’s not easy, and it’s certainly not sipping cocktails in Bali, but keeping my day job allowed me to gain a very valuable asset in starting a business: time.
The importance of time and why you should keep your day job
I’m definitely not talking about free-time– because as we’ve already established– I had none of that. What I mean is the time it takes to:
a.) Develop a valuable product. Whether that’s an actual product or skills/experiences that will make you valuable to clients as a freelancer and;
b.) Become cash-positive and build a client-base. Everything in life and business is a lot easier when you have money, but it takes awhile to make it.
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Time and a valuable product
I had just put what I thought were the finishing touches on a big piece of software development I had been working on: my PDF to Word Converter. Just before bringing it to market, I decided to run it by a test group first (an obvious choice that I should have done already).
Long story short, it wasn’t good enough. There were issues with the functionalities, and users weren’t 100% satisfied. Clearly, not my goal.
I hadn’t tested the market. I didn’t know what users really wanted, and had I actually brought my converter to market, it would have failed. Luckily, I wasn’t influenced by the need to make a profit.
I had my full-time job to support me while I did as much testing as was necessary. I took months learning new skills that allowed me to develop an even better product. Sure, I was anxious to see the fruits of my labour, but it wasn’t a necessity.
Keeping my day job meant that I had the freedom to create a product that people really wanted, that was sure to be a success and bring in future income.
So, I invite you to learn from my experience. Ask yourself these questions: as a freelancer, have you done the right amount of market testing? Do you have any committed customers?
Do you have the skills it takes to solve the market’s needs? If you can’t answer yes to these questions, you need time; time to get it right and continue to build your skills.
Starting your freelance career while still working will allow you to gain a lot of experience very quickly. There’s less pressure to take on as many clients as possible, so you can focus on delivering very high-quality work for a small number of clients and refining your skills.
Time and money
After market testing and launching the converter and PDF Editor, success wasn’t immediate. Becoming profitable still took time and practice. I had the right product but needed to find clients that wanted to use it. In my day job, as a software developer, I was making a pretty satisfactory income.
In the first few months of operating my business, it was generating about $600 in revenue. Not exactly balanced.
Eventually, I reached a comfortable starting off point where my business was making a decent profit, and I knew that by going full time I’d have more time to work on the business and I could easily grow my revenue.
Once you give up your day job it feels as though time is never on your side. As a side-hustler, you can essentially take your business for a test-drive.
Unless you’re willing to blow through savings or take out a line of credit, you’ll need to build a portfolio of clients and have income already flowing before you quit your job.
Side-hustling allows you the time it takes to nail down the details and build a revenue stream while you still have a steady source of income.
How to build your side-hustle while keeping your day job
So, now that we’ve established that it’s important to keep your day job while you build a blossoming entrepreneurial business, how does anyone do it?
Prepare for the long-haul
You remember my back-breaking, sleep-depriving schedule from the beginning? Your days might look a lot like that. You have to be prepared to put in the grit and determination that comes with having two jobs.
You might miss out on some precious moments and will definitely have less time to spend with friends and family. Before undertaking a side hustle you need to ask yourself how much you’re willing to miss out on, and how badly you want to succeed.
Define what success is to you and work towards that.
Save, save, save
You have two jobs, so when would you have time to spend your money anyway? It’s commonly recommended that business owners have at least 3-months in savings at all times.
While you have a steady flow of income, begin putting some away so that you’re never without an emergency fund if you ever decide to go full-time.
Don’t get fired from your day job
Check, double check, and then triple check every term in your contract to ensure your business doesn’t violate any non-compete regulations.
Don’t work on your side-gig during regular working hours, no matter how tempting it might be. It’s both unethical and likely a violation of the contract you signed at the beginning of your employment there.
Be sure to maintain the same level of performance that you had prior to starting your own business. You might one day need to do business with your former employer once you become a business owner yourself, so it’s always a good idea to end things on good terms.
Try to maintain some kind of work-life balance
Going from the office to your home office can be a massive drag. No matter how nice your home office is, even if you have one of those cool pencil holders that looks like grass, moving from work-work to home-work will only set you up for misery and burn-out.
Take an evening off every now and then, work in a café if you have to work weekends, or find a group of side-hustlers and work alongside them. It’s not the perfect solution, but getting out and about every now and then will really help with burn-out.
Remember that it’s a means to an end
Yes, from this article it can seem as though I’m a huge proponent of the side-hustle. And I am, but only as a means to an end, and as an alternative to making a huge mistake financially.
I assume that no one wants to work 15-hour days and weekends. But hey, I could easily be mistaken. If you’re like most of us humans, side-hustling is ultimately a way to ensure that your business will survive before transitioning to full-time.
So remember, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, whether that’s going full-time or choosing to focus on your main-gig, it doesn’t have to last forever.
Are you side-hustling? Let me know in the comments.
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