How to start a business while juggling a full-time job

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my own business. When I was eight, I converted some of my keychains into accessories and sold them to my fellow classmates for extra pocket money.

Like many others on the corporate treadmill, I was unwilling to give up a stable income for a risky startup life. It wasn’t because I did not believe in my business or my own abilities. Rather, I needed the time and financial buffer to test out different business ideas before I fully committed my resources. You can call it a practical diversification of risk.

As the saying goes, never put all your eggs in one basket - unless you have plenty more golden eggs in your family reserves.

If you need to scratch that entrepreneur itch but still need a day job to keep going, here are some tips on how to get started:

1)    Be prepared to sacrifice your leisure time

No pain, no gain. If you don’t want it bad enough to give up on watching Netflix and Korean dramas, you need to rethink your priorities in life. Refocusing 2-3 hours a day and investing it in yourself makes a vast difference in your life.

2011 was a huge year for me. I started two small businesses on the side while I was still working in a full-time job. Six months in, I resigned to focus on the businesses. Almost immediately, I received a new job offer I could not turn down, so I transitioned from one corporate job to another while trying to juggle two businesses on the side.

Time became an extremely scarce resource for me and I would often work till 2am daily and throughout weekends in order to keep things going. Be prepared for sleep to be the first thing out the window for the first few years of starting a business.

If I looked back on that period of my life, I sacrificed a lot of my leisure time, but it was all worth it. My best friends and family rallied around me and made time to meet me at my convenience. It was a test of the real friendships in my life and showed me those who cared most.

2)    Launch small, test and repeat many times

I graduated with some college debt and very little savings. Starting a business obviously requires capital and I had always assumed it would take a decade of corporate work before I saved up enough to start my own business.

However, due to the low startup costs of online business models, i was able to start my first business much earlier than I expected. My first online shop launched with an investment of less than $1000, which I quickly recouped within the same year.

Today, it is easier to discover and learn about new business opportunities than ever.

There are a ton of opportunities out there that do not require much funding to get started. Selling online is an option, content creation could be another option. Before I launched my first online shop, I experimented with various other small ideas which did not take off.

Set aside a low investment amount that fits your appetite for risk, launch a small test, refine and then test again. If it doesn’t work, move on to the next idea. Moving fast is critical in gaining experience and optimizing your way up the steep learning curve. You have the luxury of time while still being in a full-time job, but gaining momentum in the new business is equally important.

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3)     Plug into the right networks

Starting a business is not just physically hard but also emotionally and mentally demanding. Be sure to surround yourself with people who inspire you towards your goals. Remember, you are the average of the five people you spend time with.

As e-Commerce started taking off a decade ago, one of my friends was raking in a healthy side income selling online. She inspired me to put my free time outside of my office job to start researching on market trends and needs. I learnt a lot of tips from her on selling online.

At that time, I was also travelling regularly to China due to my full time job and that allowed me to tap into wholesale opportunities. In fact, I secured my first main supplier through the generous reference of a random marketplace seller to his supplier.

Attend industry events, trade shows and socialize. Tell people about your skills and goals. Even if your immediate contacts do not seem useful, you will be surprised at how often a random contact can open the door to important business partnerships much faster than other seemingly influential contacts.

4)    Tread the grey areas around your job carefully

Through my full-time job, I was able to learn useful people management skills which I could apply to my own business. My professional environment also afforded me access to smart individuals whom I could consult with.

Nevertheless, there are inherent conflicts of interest when running a side hustle alongside a full-time job, even when the business is entirely unrelated to your core profession. Tread very carefully in this area - do not use any customer or sales data from your job to unfairly benefit your business, or you could face dismissals or even lawsuits.

Unless your business is already raking in big bucks and you are ready to quit, I do advise against telling anyone at work about your side projects. Employers may view it as a lack of commitment to your job. In the event your business does not work out, it will be a double whammy to your chances of progression within the company.

5)  Keep your motivation levels high

There were quite a number of people who discouraged my pursuits in entrepreneurship. They felt I was sacrificing a nice cushy job for an uncertain life. Some even said I should be building a family instead of a business.

My advice is to reject people and environments that silo you into an imaginary glass ceiling. These will be times where you find motivational articles, quotes and podcasts inspiring. Constantly remind yourself why you started on this journey and don’t lose sight of the end goal.

You only have one life, so live it by your own rules.

Since plunging into entrepreneurship full time, I have met so many amazing business owners who started and nurtured a business while juggling a full-time job. It’s not impossible if you have the passion to persevere and keep pushing your limits.

You will never know if you never try.



Are you trying to start a business on the side, or do you know someone who is embarking on this journey? Share this article with your co-founders or friend and show them some support!