How I started my business while working full time — in 8 super hard steps.
Getting my business off the ground while still working full-time for another startup company was by far one of the most challenging things I ever did in my life. After several months of contemplating WHAT to do, WHEN to do it and HOW to do it, I finally got into execution mode.
Within 4 months I managed to reach quite a few milestones while still working in my day job:
- Designed my own logo & corporate identity with Canva (without any design experience)
- Launched my own website refinedlife.io with Wix (without any developer help) including writing up the entire website content
- Wrote about 20 blog posts for my website and Medium
- Created and launched my first digital product: a 50+ page self-coaching workbook “Identify & Crush your Limiting Beliefs”
- Did qualitative market research interviews with 20 people inside my target group
- Incorporated my company
Reaching these milestones required tremendous focus, determination and discipline. In short: it was f*cking hard.
Here is how I did it, step-by-step:
1. I finally wanted it bad enough
“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” — Tony Robbins.
Before starting my business in 2017, I had been thinking about a business idea for more than 2 years but not taken any real steps towards execution. My life was pretty good after all. I didn’t love my job, but it payed well. My life was not particularly exciting but it was comfortable. I just didn’t have a big enough reason to change.
But then I got to the point where the pain of staying the same became greater than the pain of changing my life for good and do the real work.
I created a holistic vision for my life and got extremely clear on WHY I wanted to start a business. For me, it was creating a life I loved with the freedom to work on WHATEVER I want, WHEREVER I want and WHENEVER I want. It was not necessarily about making lots of money — although money DOES buy freedom to a certain extent. I had to be brutally honest with myself and realise it was also NOT about changing the world for me. Of course I wanted to make a positive impact and change people’s lives. But I didn’t want to disrupt an entire industry with a bold vision.
I was simply in so much pain from NOT having the freedom I desired in my current job that I was willing to do whatever it takes to get there. I was willing to get up early to work on my business before going to the office, skip the afterwork socials and swap most weekend activities for spending time on my business. Living your life this way for an extended period of time will burn you out — unless you connect with your vision every single day. I put my vision on paper and sticked it on my fridge, I was thinking about it before going to sleep and first thing when I woke up. I visualised every detail of it in regular meditation sessions, connecting with the feeling of freedom and imagining myself living my dream life.
2. I got crystal clear about my priorities
When I started my side business, I decided on my 3 top priorities:
- Growing my business
- Maintaining good health & fitness
- My relationship
This sounds easy and reasonable. But what this actually meant was this:
- My full-time job was not on the priority list. Hence, I had to force myself to only work the required minimum and say “no” to any extra work or hours.
- Friends and family were not a priority for me. Instead, I defined a “minimum” of social time I needed to function well in my priority areas. Sounds crazy? Well, this is how unapologetic focus really looks like.
- Having fun and enjoying life was also de-prioritised — as long as it was not “needed” to maintain my mental and physical health.
If you are thinking of starting a business, ask yourself in all honesty: How important is starting this business really to you and what is more important than it (your relationship, your fitness routine, your friends)?
You can’t do it all. Making significant progress with your business idea requires deliberate focus. And deliberate focus means sacrifice. Pick a maximum of 3 priorities in your life and make the conscious choice to de-prioritise and “sacrifice” the time and energy spend on everything that is not on the list. Try to identify what kind of activities and how much of it you need to keep in your life to feel happy and productive. Think about defining minimums for things like meeting friends and family, spending time on hobbies, working your day job and taking care of admin stuff.
3. I established a side business work routine
After ruthlessly prioritising my life, I started to plan my week according to my priorities. First, I identified general free slots in my week (before work, lunch time, after work, weekends) and assigned them to my priorities.
Based on this, I created a Master Schedule for my ideal week — optimised for my goals. I still planned my week every Sunday and made some adjustments, but by generally sticking to the same routine every week I was able to consistently put in the work for my priorities and streamline my decision making process.
Here are some of my weekly time slots: Marketing Mondays, Product Tuesdays, Research Wednesdays, Date Night Thursdays, Power Project Saturdays and Admin Sundays.
4. I created rituals to get me in the right state of mind before working sessions
Working on my side business was often the last thing I wanted to do on a Monday evening after a full day at my job. On the other hand, I could work for hours on Sunday mornings after I went for a run. Over time I noticed some patterns regarding my state of mind: Cardio exercise really helped me to get my creative juices flowing. Working from bed on Saturdays with coffee and great music started to be my favourite part of the weekend. However, spending time with particular people really got my mood and motivation down. So did stressful phases at my day job.
After identifying this patterns, I made it a point to capitalise on my high energy slots which was great to get started in the first few weeks. But at some point I realised I needed more high energy slots so I could maximise the progress on my business. So I asked myself: What can I do to get excited to work on my business even after a full day at the office? How can I consciously engineer my day to create more of these peak state feelings?
After some initial experimentation, I integrated the following hacks into my day:
- To get myself motivated to work on my business BEFORE going to the office, I allowed myself to stay in bed with my coffee and great music — just like on Saturdays (but on Tuesdays at 6:00am).
- To get motivated after a full day at the office, I created a conscious “cut-off ritual” which included a brisk walk or run home from the office and a shower to wash off the day — before I sat down on my desk to put in the work for my side business.
- To let go of demotivation and negativity (e.g. after meeting negative people), I created a visualisation ritual where I would sit down on my meditation pillow and connect with my bigger vision. For 3 to 5 minutes I closed my eyes and imagined my dream life. This helped me raise my vibration and let go of negativity and worries almost instantly.
5. I separated planning from execution
Having a clear action plan, setting goals and defining clear milestones are integral parts of making your side business a success, but focusing too much on the planning part of things can make you a master-procrastinator.
With little time and energy for getting my side business up and running I fell into the “over-planning trap” again and again. I spend my precious side business time, thinking about my idea or making a plan for WHEN to work on it instead of actually working on it.
To deal with this trap, I scheduled a specific time slot each week for planning: I went through my goals and identified the most important tasks for the week, checked my stats and reflected on the previous week to identify potential for improvement. Then, I made a plan for when I would work on which task, put it in my calendar and let it go. Once the scheduled slot arrived, I focused on pure execution.
6. I focused on progress
What I did not know when I started: You really need to be in it for the long run. Things took SO much longer than I initially planned for. It took forever to get initial traction and sell my products or services to customers that were not family and friends. This demotivated me. This made me want to give up.
Instead, I focused on the progress I am making: I started to keep track of my accomplishments — I wrote them down every night in my journal. I celebrated small successes — like the first 100 website visits, someone sharing my blog article or the first $5 order. This made me FEEL like a success. And feeling like a success eventually created actual success.
7. I made a commitment that made it REAL for me
3 months into working on my side business I made a big step: I took 2 full weeks off at my day job and hopped on a plane to Lisbon. I had two goals for the trip: 1) Launch my website with a tool like Wix and 2) Finish my first e-book (aka my first product). I had not told anyone about my side project before because in my head it was not REAL. But making this big time and money commitment for achieving these two important milestones was signalling my brain: This business is actually happening right now. It is part of my life now. It is so important to me that I am willing to invest significant time and money for its progress.
Exploring business ideas, researching business models and making a financial plan is important work as well. But for your brain this is still open exploration mode without real commitment. However, buying a $2K website domain, hiring a developer to make your website or investing in a business coaching program are all actions that are showing your brain that you are serious about your business.
8. I trusted my intuition
Once I had a compelling vision and deeply connected with my WHY, I could feel I am on the right path. I developed a deep trust that things will eventually work out. I decided to let go of any worries, fears and other negative feelings that were not serving me within 90 seconds and chose empowering, calm and inspired feelings instead.
I made it a point to stay open to opportunities where my side business adventure is taking me. And although I initially planned on saving up 6 months of expenses, when a couple of things suddenly changed, I trusted my intuition and took the leap into the unknown.