side business

Have you ever wondered how they do it? Building successful businesses on the side while juggling everything else. Full-time jobs, families, household responsibilities. People like Leo Babauta, who juggled a full-time job and six children and still managed to build one of the most successful single-authored blog on the internet. Or people who juggle day jobs and children and the pressures of everyday life but still have the energy and time to build insanely successful courses or write eBooks in their spare time. Yet you're exhausted by the end of your 9-5 work day (9-7 on some days). You hardly have the energy to make dinner and avoid falling asleep on the couch while watching House of Cards, let alone start building a successful business in your time off. I get it. Life can be exhausting and you feel as if those who do this have some sort of advantage. Expertise, experience, a lot of help. An extra hour or two each day that you don't have. But they don't. They have the same 24 hours as you do, and like you, they had to start somewhere. Luckily, there is a simple way to start building a side business, even if you have a day job. I discovered this method when I started to build Unsettle in September, and it gave me the freedom to build and grow the community while still giving 100% to my day job and maintaining a social life, too. I've described this process more in my newsletter (click here to join my email list), but this simple system makes it easier to maintain the energy and time to do the work. Try it out and see if it works for you.

1. Reframe Your Thinking

If only you didn't have that day job. If only you could work fewer hours. If only you knew how to let go and wind down from the day better. Then you could build a side business. If you've ever thought any of these things, you're not alone. I know I've had thoughts like this as well. But instead of looking at your day job as a barrier, reframe your thinking. Sometimes, it's difficult to see anything positive about working a day job and trying to build anything on the side. But there are plenty of positives if you flip the coin over. For instance, your day job provides:

  • Constraints: Sometimes the constraints provided by our jobs feel like a bad thing, but constraints are positive. They ignite creativity and don't allow for procrastination. Think back to school when you had to write a report in an hour. You probably did better on that report than you did on the ones you had weeks to write.
  • Skills: Our day jobs give us an environment to learn new skills and sharpen our existing skills. We can then transfer them to our businesses.
  • Funding: You have a day job, so you have an advantage: you haven't been laid off and forced into entrepreneurship unexpectedly. Our jobs provide us with the funding to get things up and running, or at least put food on the table while we build our businesses.

When you begin to reframe how you look at your job, you can start to use it as a tool rather than a barrier.

2. Determine Your Key Actions

No matter what business you are building, there are 1-2 key actions needed to build it.

  • If you want to become a freelance writer you need to write and send pitches
  • If you want to build a web design business you need to design websites and get your work in front of potential clients
  • If you want to build a successful Etsy store (more on how to get started), you need to write great descriptions and take great photos
  • If you want to become a professional blogger, you need to write and build your audience.

What are key business building actions you need to take? Note that I didn't ask for all actions you should do to build an empire. If you want to become a professional blogger, there are dozens of things you could do to get ahead. Maintaining a presence on Facebook, hosting Webinars, hacking Pinterest, hosting giveaways, doing keyword research.. the tasks are endless. But underneath the “nice to dos”, there are a few key actions that make your business idea. Let's think of your business as a raspberry bush (because I love raspberries). There's the root system, the branches, and the leaves. The fruit, the buds, and the little fuzzy thorns on the outside of the branches. If you didn't the roots, your raspberry bush wouldn't exist. And only when the roots are strong can the raspberry bush bear fruit. The leaves make the bush prettier and capture nutrients for the bush, and the little fuzzy thorns protect the bush. The buds and flowers before the fruit gain nutrition by attracting bees. But none of this would exist without the roots.

side businesses

What are the roots of your business? All of the other stuff is great and will come after the roots are strong. The roots are your key actions. If you're creating a course on how to use a software program, your key actions are your course modules and probably building relationships with the users of that program. If you are a cartoonist who wants to sell your art on Etsy, your key actions are drawing and photographing cartoons.

3. Spend One Hour

Now that you've identified the key actions unique to your business, you need to actually do them. So schedule one hour of this work each day. I've discussed the power of scheduling in another Insanely Simple 3 Step Guide, and when you're building a side business while working full-time it becomes even more important. When you're creating the schedule, think of a contingency plan. What if you oversleep, get caught in traffic, get behind on work or otherwise don't end up putting in your hour? What will you do? When will you put in your hour? When you've finished scheduled, show up. No matter what. Rain or shine. If you are tight for time and have to wake up earlier, then do it. More on how to do that here. If you have to sacrifice an hour of TV, then sacrifice it. If you have to spend your lunch break building your business, that's your new power hour. And tomorrow? One hour. Show up. Do the work… And repeat. No matter what.

How I Use This System in My Life

When I started Unsettle, I was working in my contract full-time. Initially, I was using my evenings to maintain my businesses and spend time with my husband, so I scheduled in on hour of uninterrupted work each day first thing in the morning, for a few reasons: First, I find myself the most focused first thing in the morning. Second, my husband is still asleep so the house is quiet and calm. Third, it feels good to get the work done before everything else. It's my priority, and when do you do high priority work? First thing, of course. When I did an analysis on the key actions that I must do to be successful with Unsettle, it became obvious that writing would be the most important thing. The second most important thing I could do would be building relationships, both with my audience and my peers. So every morning at 5:20 AM, I sit down and write. Sometimes, the finished product is not publishable. But it doesn't matter. Every day, I write. I try to write for an hour. If I finish before the hour is up, I spend the rest of my hour responding to questions from readers, connecting with peers and readers on Twitter (follow me here) or Facebook. I launched Unsettle on January 5, while I was still working full-time, and I had an incredibly successful launch. I have more time now. But when I launched the site, if I didn't follow this system, I wouldn't have launched with so much success.

Start Building Your Side Business

If you're thinking that an hour a day isn't nearly enough time to become successful, you're missing the point. You have a day job. You have responsibilities. You can't spend all day every day building this thing. You can however find somewhere to start. And this is the best place. In The Creative Habit

 (affiliate link), Twyla Tharp describes a commercial writer who coaches writers to write a page a day of their first draft for a year. It doesn't seem like much, but at the end of the year, the writer has 365 pages under their belt. At the end of the year, you'll have 365 hours under your belt. That's a lot of time. So you might as well start here.

13 thoughts on “An Insanely Simple 3-Step System to Building a Business On the Side

  1. Lauren Hayes says:

    Hi Sarah,
    This is exactly, what I am looking for! Thank-you for this post, it is really informative. Now I just need to make myself start!

  2. Colleen says:

    Hey Sarah,
    I know what you mean about constraints. As a homeschooling mom with only one 13 year old to lead right now, I have few constraints. It takes a lot of discipline to use my time efficiently. Sometimes I think I’d get more done if I had less time to do it!
    Not complaining though. Just purposefully pushing myself.
    Thanks for drawing out how this process really is insanely simple.

    • Sarah says:

      You are a hustler, Colleen! I’m so proud of you for how hard you’re working to make things happen for yourself. I have no doubt you’ll have a lot of success with it.
      I always get a lot more done with less time. That’s why constraints are awesome.

  3. Will says:

    The part I struggle with is spending days and days working on key actions while getting paid $0. Honestly, even just $10/day would be hugely motivating when working on additional side projects. But of course not even $10/day is possible until I go to market.
    Fantastic post. I’m probably just being a baby about not getting paid right away.

  4. Nyle says:

    I’m a mom of 3 kids (4y-2y-5mos). Working full time commitment and few other side clients to hustle. I’m glad to some have had the opportunity to identify pitfalls at this early stage in my business.
    If I want to grow my business (which of course, I would want to), this is exactly what I need to do. Thanks for the tip, Sarah! Sounds simple but difinitely one of the hardest foundations to build.

    • Sarah says:

      Hey Nyle,
      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂 I’m glad it was helpful for you. Let me know how it works for you! I’m especially interested in hearing how the system works for people with children.

  5. CharlesMakesCents says:

    Hi Sarah,
    This is pretty inspiring stuff. My wife and I are trying to straddle the line between early-independence (through side/entrepreneurial work) and long-term financial independence through investment income.
    In a way, the investment income is easier for me because it’s concrete and immediate. Sure, you have to lock away $3,000 this month that would be fund to spend, but I know it’ll be paying me $10+ a month in dividend income from that point forward.
    The side hustles are harder, and staying motivated while making nothing and getting few hits has got to be the challenge that separates the wheat from the chaff.
    Here’s hoping we’re all the wheat 😉

  6. Terence says:

    Nice one Sarah. I follow a similar process, maximising the time I get on the hour-long train ride to and from work every day. After I implemented certain tasks to do on certain days, this greatly reduced my anxiety and increased my productivity! 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      That’s awesome Terrence! It’s great to hear you’re taking advantage of that free time 🙂

  7. Chuck D says:

    Great post! This is how I spent nearly everyday for 2-3 months. Then I got a breaking point with 12 hour workdays and family life. I could push forward, but right now I’m applying for a job that would allow me my daytime free for meeting up with potential clients. Then I can have my income and potentially build the business faster than before. Glad to see all of the other comments 🙂

  8. Venkata Kopalle says:

    Thanks Sarah. I like your idea of spending an hour a day for a sample / draft / product to come out after one year. It’s a great idea. I will start implementing it and will test the outcome after an year.

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