Today’s society glorifies startup life. Most see startup culture as acquiring VC funding, getting a fancy office, and rapidly scaling. The problem is that no one wants to talk about the grueling path every startup must endure before acquiring funding— this is the side hustle stage. This means you are still working your full-time job and starting a business on the side which will eventually become large enough to be your new full-time priority.
Marc Andreessen stated that the life of a startup could be divided into two phases: before product/market fit, and after. The latter is the fun part – when VCs and scaling the business come into the equation. This article is about the former, less glamorous part of building a business. The part that requires long nights of execution, client calls during your “lunch break,” and ultimately building up your side hustle to take the leap.
David and I met at a previous agency. Shortly after, we began building Junto on the notion that we could build a more efficient marketing agency. An agency that minimizes employee overhead and streamlines communication to minimize costs. An agency that brings together the world’s top talent under a proven marketing framework to maximize quality of work.
Fast-forward a year and a half. We now work with a dozen vetted freelancers from across the world and pay ourselves a (basic) salary. How did we get here? We spent 6 months moonlighting — working into the wee hours of the night with our second job.
Every aspiring entrepreneur should start out moonlighting. Why? Moonlighting enables you to think and act long term.
Everyone has bills to pay. Unless you were lucky enough to inherit a small fortune from your rich uncle, you probably rely on your 9-5 job to pay those bills. Doing your startup full time will put added pressure on you to generate enough revenue to pay your bills.
Financial pressure can be a positive force, but it can also force you to cut corners. Financial pressure can force SaaS companies to launch before they’re ready. Financial pressures can force agencies to make false promises during the sales process. Financial pressure can force community builders to bombard their platform with product endorsements.
What happens when we remove those financial pressures? SaaS companies gain the ability to refine their software through beta testing. Agencies gain the ability to embrace an honest sales process and turn away bad customers. Community builders gain the ability to share resources rather than daily product endorsements. To relieve yourself of those pressures— you need a side hustle.
Running a side business can be exceptionally difficult if anonymity is a priority.
Before running any marketing initiative, consider how likely your team is to find out. How likely are any of their direct connections to find out? If they were to find out and tell your boss, how would you explain it?
If anonymity is a concern, focus your marketing efforts around becoming an expert in your industry. Sales will come much easier when you have a strong personal brand behind you.
A few other ideas to consider:
· For consulting gigs, can you work as a white label provider?
· Use a generic “firstname.lastname@example.org” email address on your website
· Request that any press mentions omit your name
· Publish guest blog posts under the name “[insert company name] team”
The most unsettling part of starting your own business is the loss of a stable income. If sales are slow one month, you don’t get paid.
The best way to prepare for this is to get comfortable with living on the bare essentials. Cut your entertainment budget in half. Spend a few days a month living on rice and beans. Eat peanut butter sandwiches every day for lunch. As Seneca put it, “Establish business relations with poverty.”
Growing accustomed to removing luxuries from your life will help you to better manage a reduced income. Seeing how little you can survive on will also help you to make the jump into your own business when the time is right.
Put the money that you’re saving with aside to help you get through the early stages of running your business full time.
Moonlighting will take its toll on you. Working 7 days a week can quickly lead to burnout. Avoid this by taking one entire day off every week. Set aside one day each week to turn off your laptop and stop answering emails. This is your day to treat yourself. No side hustle hours on the clock.
Go out to dinner; grab beers with a friend; go for a hike. Make the most of these 24 hours. Tomorrow, it’s time to go back to work.
Moonlighting means giving your prime productivity hours to your full-time job. The hours that you’ll be able to devote to your side business are limited. To compensate, invest in tools that will allow you to automate as much as possible.
· Use Gmail’s canned responses to avoid typing out repetitive emails
· Use Boomerang to schedule a better time for email delivery
· Eliminate meeting scheduling with You Can Book Me
· Automate content promotion for your new articles
Hiring freelance talent is one of your best ways to do more each day. Set a monthly budget for hiring freelancers and virtual assistants.
Identify the areas of your business that must be handled by you, and work towards finding freelancers to take care of everything else.
One of the difficulties that comes with moonlighting is communication during working hours. Embrace time differences and lunch breaks as the time to handle anything that relates to sales, vendor relations, customer development, or client calls. Calls with East-coast companies often happened before our official workday started. Website previews often happened in our cars during lunch breaks.
Avoid in-person meetings whenever possible. Commute times will further cut into your limited availability. Before accepting an in-person meeting, consider the importance of that meeting. How likely are you to be the right fit for that potential customer? Don’t feel bad about asking for a phone call instead.
How likely is your boss to fire you for devoting too much time to your side hustle? Assuming your boss was to find out and fire you tomorrow, how long would you be able to survive on your savings? Identify the smallest monthly income that you would need to survive. Jot down 10 different shops and restaurants near you. These will be your safety net. If you were to get fired tomorrow, know that you have 10 potential places that could pay you $400/week while you grow your business.
Is your boss a spiteful person? How likely is he/she to try to ruin your career if they find out about your startup? Not very likely. Even if they were to seek vengeance on you, how much could they really do? People like this typically have very little influence in their network. Their peers often ignore them.
Then make sure that you didn’t sign a non-compete agreement when you first started working there. If you did, consider talking to your boss about pursuing your idea as a joint venture with your current company.
So what’s holding you back from starting? Share your feedback in the comments below.
Pat Ahern is the Director of Traffic Generation at Junto, the digital marketing agency offers web development, traffic and lead generation for a fraction of the cost of the traditional agency. Click here to learn about SEO services to see what it would look like for the Junto team to help you out. Follow him on Twitter: @PatAhern1, @junto_digital