Many entrepreneurs choose to keep their full-time job as they work to get their own businesses off the ground. Some business consultants even encourage the idea of keeping a side gig to diversify your income stream. Nevertheless, it’s a tall order that requires a lot of prioritization to make it work successfully. The challenge is giving your employer your best efforts during the workday and still having enough energy for nurturing your business after work.
In a recent Q&A session with entrepreneur and Shark Tank judge Barbara Corcoran, chef Latisha Sohai asked, “Any suggestions on staying focused and motivated on my business, while working a 9-to-5? I’m a wife, mother of two, and love what I do, but I had to take on a 9-to-5 position to help at home.” It seemed like a pretty common question—and Barbara’s advice was valuable.
“You have a lot on your plate. Holding a full-time job while being a mother of two is hard enough, never mind adding the tremendous challenge of building a business! We all do better with less time if we’re extremely careful about what we focus on. With moms, kids always come first. I use a rating system to prioritize the many things I must attend to at work and home.
“I rate my items A, B, or C (A being the most important) and try to make sure to get all of my As and a few of my Bs done each day. This sort of organization and daily practice helps me stay focused and move my business ahead while still doing a good job as a mom. Last, think about getting another mom as a partner, ideally someone with an opposite skill set to help you build your business. I had my partner Esther and could never have had my family without her.”
Barbara’s prioritization advice is a good place to start—but I wouldn’t stop there. It’s likely that because of the challenges of being a parent, starting a new business, and working a full-time job, there will be some things you just won’t be able to do. After all, there are only so many hours in the day. And, as Barbara suggests, for a mother in this situation, your children will likely be priority No. 1. After that, what comes next?
As you prioritize, here are some additional things you’ll need to consider:
Is there a conflict of interest?
Depending upon the company you work for, the nature of your business, and whether or not there are any perceived (or maybe real) potential conflicts, you may need to rethink your current job while at the same time running your own business. By that I mean, if your employer perceives a conflict with your business (remember, perception will be reality so far as your current employer is concerned), they will likely not look upon your personal business efforts favorably—especially if it’s in the same, or a related, industry.
Early in my career, I had an employer so opposed to splitting attention that a colleague who was a former college basketball player was counseled to discontinue refereeing high school basketball games after work. He did it out of his love for the game, and the paltry amount of money he made doing it didn’t even really pay for the gas it took to drive to the games. Nevertheless, our boss deemed it a distraction from his job and wanted his employees focused on the job he was paying them to do. Had it been his own business, he would have probably been fired.
Granted, this may be an extreme example, but it’s not uncommon for employers to look negatively on an employee who might not be completely focused on their work. Additionally, it’s usually not a good idea to keep it a secret—those kinds of secrets always seem to be discovered. If you need to keep your side gig a secret, you will likely lose your job if it’s ever discovered.
Some employers will allow the occasional consulting gig, but if it’s something that will likely compete with your time during regular working hours, it might be safe to expect your current employer to oppose your extracurricular activities. This is a topic that may even be addressed in an employee manual if one exists. Otherwise, you may want to consider discussing the topic with your boss. He or she might even offer some encouragement or advice.
Can you compartmentalize?
We normally hear of this term being used as a negative, but the ability to compartmentalize isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case. I’d suggest if you’re going to run your own business while working a full-time job, you need to be adept at compartmentalizing. In other words, when you’re at your 9-to-5, are you all in?
This could be a challenge, and it’s a legitimate question you should ask yourself—because your employer will probably be asking. When you’re at work, you need to give your employer your full attention and your best efforts. What’s more, you’ll need to turn off thoughts of your own business and what you should be doing to build your business until after hours. For some people, it’s relatively easy to focus on two potentially competing priorities, but for others it’s a real challenge.
For example, several years ago I worked with a computer programmer who was running two small online retail outlets at the same time he was working a full-time job as a front-end web developer. Because of the nature of his businesses, his personality, and how he designed his online stores to work without his constant attention, he was content to let them quietly work in the background while he was at work. In the evenings he would review the orders and prepare any shipments, which he would drop off on his way to work in the morning. If there were any changes he needed to make to one of the online stores, he would do that on the weekend.
Because he was able to successfully compartmentalize, this worked for him. His online businesses were in a totally unrelated industry to where he worked 9 to 5, and his employer didn’t mind. He made it a point to share lessons he learned in his online business’ front-end design with his employer—so ultimately it was a win/win. He’s been doing this for 15 years, that I’m aware of, and still works for the same company he was at when I first met him. He is able to compartmentalize like a pro while building a side business that provides a bit of extra income.
How much sleep do you really need?
There are only so many hours in the day, so it’s important to think about when you will be running your business. Working your own business after hours will likely eat into sleep time. Depending upon what you need to do to run your household, your day job and your business, seven or eight hours of sleep might turn into five or six—maybe even less. Because you’ll need to function at your best at home, at work and in your own business, you’ll need to be at the top of your game for more hours of the day on less sleep. Are you up to it?
I have friends who require much more sleep than I do. I have other friends who can survive on a couple hours a night. Tackling the challenges of working a full-time job and running your own business may require you to evaluate your personal stamina and ability to perform with less rest. I have to admit, I’ve occasionally been able to function on 20 to 30 percent less sleep for short periods of time, but in the long run I start to exhibit the signs of burnout and exhaustion. It just doesn’t work for me.
Are you organized? Really organized?
This last piece of advice fits nicely with Barbara’s suggestion. Prioritization and organization are related, and I’ve found it difficult to do one without the other. Whether you use some kind of online calendar (which I personally like) or an old-school paper calendar, you need to keep your schedule up to date and your prioritized task list organized to make sure nothing falls between the cracks. This is a challenge for many people trying to juggle all the responsibilities of one job—let alone run a business at the same time.
Fortunately, smartphones and tablets make it easier than ever to stay on top of things with apps that follow you everywhere and can be accessed anywhere there’s an Internet connection. The world of online productivity tools is readily available with something that will likely meet your needs, will be inexpensive or maybe even free, and easy to use.
I admire those who can successfully pull off running a business while working a full-time job. Knowing the amount of time I’ve spent with my businesses, I know it can be a real challenge. To be honest, the compartmentalizing thing is what gets me. I’m a jump-in-with-both-feet sort of guy and can’t seem to focus on two competing priorities at once. That being said, I have a number of friends who are very successful at it—you could be one of them.
Some people do it temporarily to get their businesses off the ground, while others use their small business as a way to express their entrepreneurial ambitions and make a little extra money while they choose to stay in their current role. Understanding your personal objectives and what that means to you is a critical first step.
What are your priorities?
About the Author: Ty Kiisel is a contributing author focusing on small business financing at OnDeck, a technology company solving small business’s biggest challenge: access to capital. With over 25 years of experience in the trenches of small business, Ty shares personal experiences and valuable tips to help small business owners become more financially responsible. OnDeck can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.