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Did you know that as many as 45% of Americans have a side hustle? For many people, these side hustles are passion projects that they hope to transform into careers. Starting a business while working a full-time job elsewhere is a common path for many aspiring entrepreneurs, but it can be incredibly challenging.
Juggling a day job, personal life and brand-new business can lead to burnout and potential failure if you don’t manage it proactively and carefully. Here are some tips that helped me most when building my business and holding down a career.
1. Create two separate workspaces
When personal and professional lives intertwine, losing focus and becoming overwhelmed becomes easy. Even though your side project is a business, it’s still personal and should be treated as wholly separate from your day job.
To make sure you’re not letting your business development seep into corporate work hours (or vice versa), spend some time creating two distinct work environments. You can do this even if you only have one desk or one computer.
One of the easiest things to do is create a separate user account on your computer dedicated just to your personal project or corporate work setup. This is a great first step of separation if you can’t afford to have a separate computer or desk setup for your personal business.
Next, try to use different communication channels for each job. If your full-time team uses Slack, use Google Chat or RocketChat for side project communications to limit the temptation to switch between channels. The same goes for task planning: If you’re using Asana for one job, use Jira or Backlog for the other, and make sure you’re really utilizing them. Don’t keep tasks in your head; this will distract you and lead to “just one quick break” to work on your other job.
This kind of multitasking leads to more stress and makes you perform worse for both tasks. Our brains operate best when we have a singular focus (e.g., we’re only working or only developing our side business), so doing this will make you more effective overall.
Additionally, creating this separation makes it easier to switch gears and get into “creative mode” when working on your business. You’re no longer just someone else’s worker bee; now, you’re in control. This can offer an extra boost of motivation, which you will need for the long haul.
2. Stay motivated by seeking feedback on your business ideas.
For better or worse, burnout is just part of the process when you’re building a business and maintaining a full-time job. On average, 77% of employees say they’ve experienced burnout at their jobs, and 63% of entrepreneurs say they’ve dealt with burnout. When you’re both employee and entrepreneur, it’s nearly inescapable no matter how much you love what you do.
There’s plenty of great advice out there about taking intentional breaks to refresh your mind and body or building rest times into your daily schedule, and those are valuable strategies. Sometimes though, entrepreneurs need more to stay motivated.
My greatest piece of advice for overcoming burnout and staying motivated is getting constant feedback from customers and peers. When your startup is in its early days, your first clients are usually super loyal and love staying in contact. They like what you’re doing and want to support you in any way they can. Calls, chats and messages can be extremely motivating, regardless of whether they’re positive or negative (we need both!).
Positive feedback buoys your spirits and lets you know you’re doing something right. Everyone needs someone to believe in them, after all. Even getting negative feedback isn’t a bad thing; it should just push you to keep working and make your product better.
Finding creator groups and getting opinions, support and advice from other founders, especially ones who have already been down this road, is extremely helpful as well.
Another thing that helped me stay motivated was paying myself a small amount for the work I did to develop my business. Even if it’s just pocket change, it helps put you in the mindset of investing in your business and getting rewarded for your work, creating a positive feedback loop.
3. Outsource whenever you can.
Once you have some initial momentum, freelancers can be valuable assets to lighten the workload and progress faster. Even hiring one freelancer for 10 hours a week can make a huge difference in how quickly and effectively you can scale.
Let freelancers help with things like writing social media posts, developing a website, preparing taxes or handling administrative tasks. These tasks can eat up a lot of your time without helping you progress to your goals. Additionally, if you’re in the “no-budget” stage of operations, you can even turn to AI. Using Midjourney or other stable diffusion tools for logo creation or ChatGPT for social media copy can be a huge help. Even if you need to work with a freelancer to polish the outputs, it still saves a tremendous amount of time and money.
Be sure to keep important competencies for yourself, though. This includes hiring additional help, overseeing finances or speaking to customers. Anything that directly impacts your reputation should always go through you.
Outsourcing to workers via platforms like Upwork is straightforward, legally safe and non-binding, which makes it perfect for the early stages of building a business. It also gives you access to a global talent pool, simplifying the hiring process. LinkedIn reports that 83% of small business owners who hire freelancers appreciate how much they help “get the job done,” and 64% say utilizing these workers helps build a better virtual team.
The one downside to freelance work is that the person isn’t as passionate or personally invested in your project’s success; they’re more concerned with finishing the job and getting paid. However, as long as you set clear goals and expectations from the beginning, it is easy to find people on the same page.
It is important to remember that when it comes to vision and hiring people for higher positions, no one can do it better than you.
4. Set clear communication channels.
Having a regular day job means you’re unavailable to communicate with your freelancers, contractors and employees, leaving a narrow window of time in the evenings to deal with everything. This is why it’s essential to establish clear communication channels and outline detailed guidelines so everyone can work autonomously and asynchronously.
I prefer methods like setting and tracking weekly goals with project management tools like Jira or Trello, both of which offer free versions. Having explicit instructions and a centralized platform helps everyone stay on the same page and helps with prioritization, accountability and maintaining momentum.
5. Know when to quit (and how)
Before you start working on your business, it’s important to set a financial goal that signals when it’s time to quit your day job. Paul Graham popularized the term “ramen profitability,” meaning a startup makes just enough to pay founders’ basic expenses. I believe this is a good way to approach quitting your full-time job.
For me, the goal was to make the same amount of money that I did working my regular job. If I could consistently meet that mark, I knew it was time to quit. Of course, this goal will likely be different if you have a family or other circumstances. It doesn’t matter what the tipping point is, only that you set one and stick to it.
Knowing how to quit is just as vital as deciding when. It’s never a good idea to burn bridges when you leave your corporate job, so one of the best things you can do is keep a “graceful exit” mindset. Start thinking about proactive steps you can take to make a cordial exit on both sides and be sure to set yourself (and your replacement) up for a smooth transition. Not only is this a good business practice, but it leaves the door open if you ever need to be rehired.
Business building is a balancing act
They don’t call them passion projects for nothing. It’s always a challenge to add another full-time workload to an already busy life, and passion is often the only fuel that keeps you motivated in the early days. The good news is that, despite the difficulties, if you learn how to manage your time, stress and goals effectively, you can shift into the role of founder and devote all of your working hours to a single business you care deeply about.