You Can Still Become An Entrepreneur
Have you felt it? That demoralizing feeling of failure? You’re not alone. So many aspiring entrepreneurs have struggled to get their businesses off the ground—or even to begin working on them—because they’re tied up in a full-time job.
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you too have tried to balance a startup while working full time, but each time you found yourself not having the time, money, or knowledge necessary to build something from the ground up, to drive traffic to your website, and to convert interest into paying customers.
Or maybe you’re stuck with an idea and an untouched to-do list, failing to take those first few steps due to lack of resources, end-of-day exhaustion, or a feeling of being lost.
It’s frustrating, and for some of us, it’s a recurring experience.
Failure after failure, all your hopes and dreams of achieving freedom of time, location, and financial independence feel as though they are slipping further away. Maybe you’re just not meant to be an entrepreneur, you think to yourself.
Don’t worry, this kind of disappointment is not your destiny. For all of our false starts, many entrepreneurs launch their businesses while working full time, and go on to find great success.
Not only did I successfully start a business while working a full-time job, but I also did so after previously failing, multiple times. How many times, you ask? Eleven. But eventually, with a change of mindset and a good plan, I got it together.
To help you reach a happy ending similar to mine, I’ve outlined in this article exactly how I stopped making the same mistakes, charted a new path to success, and became the entrepreneur I always wanted to be.R
The Unique Challenges Facing an Entrepreneur Working Full Time
When I started the journey of launching a startup while working full time, I made many mistakes, but one of the biggest was listening to online “gurus” who had no knowledge of my particular situation and treating their words as gospel.
The advice I blindly followed came from successful entrepreneurs with amazing stories, but their stories were not like mine. They did not launch a successful startup while working a day job. It was impossible for them to advise me accordingly, because they had never walked in my shoes.
I’m sure their advice worked for some, but for me, it led to a path of constant failure, increased financial distress and a minor case of depression. Neither the gurus nor I understood that I wasn’t in a mental or financial position to invest thousands of dollars into business ventures that could be destined to fail.
One day, I realized I needed to take a step back, analyze my entire life and build a plan that worked for me.
This is how it started…
Evaluating Past Failures & Identifying Root Causes
Seven years after I set a goal for myself of starting my own business, I found myself right back where I had started, and I wanted to know why.
Why had I failed to successfully launch a startup 11 times?
In order to find out the “why,” it was necessary to break each of my failures down and attempt to find the single point of failure for each business. Doing so allowed me to define several factors that were holding me back from true success.
Identifying these problems also helped me establish a long-term, goal-oriented plan to eliminate such factors, which would in turn allow me to become financially independent, maximize my time, and leverage my full-time job to fund and launch a new business without repeating my mistakes.
The process I used is called a root cause analysis. I completed the process for each of my failed businesses. Below is one of my actual analyses:
Problem Statement: I started a business which consisted of a blog, podcast, online courses and a mentorship program. After eight months, I was forced to close this business.
1. Why were you forced to close the business?
Because it wasn’t earning enough to cover the monthly costs and I couldn’t afford to keep it operational.
2. Why was it not earning enough and why couldn’t you afford to keep it operational?
Because I didn’t have the time to consistently create new content and my earnings from work were tied up with bills.
3. Why didn’t you have time to create content and why were your earnings tied up with bills?
I was working 60 hours per week and I had just purchased a small airplane which was more expensive to fly and maintain than I originally estimated.
4. Why were you working 60 hours per week and why did you buy an airplane?
Because I needed the extra money to pay for the airplane and the airplane was something I always dreamed of owning. I am a pilot after all.
5. Why did you need the extra money to pay for the airplane and why did you dream of owning an airplane?
Because I underestimated the cost of owning an airplane and I really thought it would be fun to own an airplane. Maybe I shouldn’t have purchased an airplane.
Wait, you may be asking, you bought an airplane? It’s true. And you can clearly see from this example that the reasons I initially blamed for causing my business to fail (work, time, and money) were not the underlying, root causes of this failed business.
The real cause was my own poor decision-making, which caused unnecessary financial hardship on myself and my family. Work, time, and money were all simply results of my personal decision-making regarding my own finances.
I did this same root cause analysis with each of my other 10 failed businesses and found similar results.
Here are the four main reasons I found that my businesses failed:
- Financial hardship
- My full-time job
- Lack of time for my business
- Lack of knowledge
Each of these four stemmed from my same poor decision-making and mindset, which meant I had some real work to do.
The real problem was always me and my way of thinking.
I needed to fix my decision-making process and mindset, but I also needed to solve all the problems I had created for myself over the last decade. You see, my initial problem (me) created long-term festering problems such as financial hardship that would haunt me and my business ventures for years to come. It was necessary to go into repair mode, if I wanted to ever to be able to successfully fund a startup while working full time.
This is a process and is not meant to be a quick fix, but rather a long-term and deliberate plan for success that can be used by anyone, to not only get their life in order, but to set them up for success in the entrepreneurial world.
While I understand that these are my results from my personal risk analysis, I have come to realize over time, that they are the most common problems associated with being an entrepreneur while working full time today.
Below, I’m going to analyze each of my root causes and develop solutions for each.
Root Cause 1: Financial Hardship
Before you can begin to think about how to keep your day job and start a business, you must first start working toward financial independence and increasing your monthly cash flow.
Any business you decide to start is going to have at least some startup costs. Even businesses that are 100 percent online are going to require fees to set up legal structures, web and graphic design fees, monthly or yearly web hosting fees, and more than likely advertising costs.
In order to grow a business, you must be able to invest in the business with both time and money, which is why this process starts by leveraging your full-time job to prepare financially for the world of entrepreneurship.
If you want your business to grow, you need to feed your business.
Realizing Debt and Cash Flow Were My Biggest Hurdles
After my risk analysis, I realized that half of my businesses failed because I simply couldn’t afford to keep them operational long enough to build them.
I knew that if I was ever going to be successful, I needed to get a grasp on my finances. So, I initially did a few things that I would consider quick fixes, but were also important steps that gave me the ability to get out of debt and launch my next startup while working full time.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can use these steps as a guide.
- I started using tools like this personal cash flow statement to help me track and get a visual on where I stood financially. The severity really doesn’t hit you until you see it written down.
- After realizing how bad my situation was, I started analyzing each monthly expense and determining what was necessary and what needed to go. Over the next few months, I started selling airplanes, vehicles, and anything else that had a monthly payment, but was unneeded. If it was a luxury and not a necessity, it was gone. I even went to the extreme of taking out a $10,000 personal loan so I could sell items that were not worth what I owed on them. I realized that over time, I would still be saving a large sum of money and that my cash flow would be much higher even with the loan payments.
- At the end of this process, my monthly cash flow was much better, but I still had lots of small payments that added up to a large amount. So I started doing research onDebt Consolidation. Eventually, I took out one of these loans and consolidated all my small bills into one larger one. I even ended up having a better interest rate than many of credit cards and bills that were included in the consolidation.
This process was a lot of work, but it was worth the effort. I ended up increasing my monthly cash flow by over $2,000 per month. This gave me a little breathing room, but certainly did not fix the problem.
It did get me started and led me to a long-term plan.
Rethinking My Budget and Setting Business Goals
After making some risky moves to increase my monthly cash flow, I knew I’d need a long-term plan to get out of debt. Becoming debt free was an essential part of my plan to start a business.
Never again would I fail because I couldn’t afford to pay for web hosting.
I did temporarily put all my entrepreneurial efforts on hold to focus on getting out of debt. This may seem counterproductive, but it’s not.
My goal was to work for myself, so being debt free meant a few things for me:
- I had more available income to invest in my business.
- It was possible to work fewer hours at my full-time job and invest more time into my business.
- My transition from employee to full-time business owner could happen sooner, because the income I needed to live on was much less.
As you can see, becoming debt free before you start a business can be very beneficial to both you and your business. Personally, I recommend at least paying off all credit cards and vehicles prior to launching a business.
At the time, I didn’t know much about budgeting or working toward getting out of debt, so I turned to the expert, Dave Ramsey. I used his 7 Baby Steps process and it worked like a charm.
Leveraging My Full-Time Job to Speed Up the Process
One of my best subjects is math, so it didn’t take me long to figure out that if I could make more money, I could get out of debt faster and ultimately start my next business sooner.
I could have asked my current employer for a raise, but I knew that I would have only gotten a 2-3 percent raise, which really doesn’t help that much in the grand scheme of things. However, a few years prior, I had read an article about people who change jobs every one to three years and that they sometimes came out with much larger increases in pay, since each time they were offered a new position with a new company, they were able to negotiate.
I didn’t use this method myself but have personally seen other people use it and get up to 15 percent pay increases. So, it’s certainly something worth considering.
The major change that helped me get out of debt very quickly is similar but comes with some risk. I applied for, was offered, and accepted a position working in a designated combat zone supporting the military. I was able to increase my salary by over 300 percent with this position. I come from a military background, so this wasn’t that big of a deal for me, but clearly, it may not be for everyone.
Here are a few things you need to know about this method.
- It’s not just for ex-military. There are positions like this for cooks, nurses, construction workers, laborers, lawyers, and many other fields. Whatever you are doing now, there is probably an opportunity working in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and various other countries.
- The pay is typically much more than similar opportunities in non-combat zones.
- This opportunity isn’t only for United States citizens. There are many people from many different countries working in these types of positions.
- I can’t speak for any other countries, but for United States citizens, there are major tax breaks for people working in designated combat zones. Please speak to your accountant prior to making any life-altering decision based on this alone.
- While working in these positions, you are not paying for food, fuel, and many other daily necessities. Over time, this adds up to a large sum of additional income.
I wanted to point this method out because it allowed me to speed up my debt payoff by approximately two years. But I also want to emphasize that is not for everyone, and I’m not saying the key to starting a business is necessarily to go work in a combat zone.
The point here is merely to ask yourself what possibilities you have within your grasp that could substantially increase your cash flow, consider what you would need to sacrifice to pursue them, and decide if it’s worth it to you.
Balancing Debt and My Startup
Once I realized the importance of being debt free and having a respectable cash flow before launching a startup, I decided that I wasn’t going to start another business until I had met my financial goals, or was at least close.
However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything. During this entire debt payoff period of my life, I knew what my next business was going to be.
So this is what I did while I was waiting:
- Analyzed my competition and conducted market research
- Planned my marketing campaign in detail
- Created social media profiles, started sharing content and building a following
- Started building an email list of potential customers
- Interviewed people from my industry, pitched my business idea and adjusted my business based on feedback
- Took courses in accounting, marketing, and sales
While I hadn’t launched my business, I was still working on and improving my future business and myself. Most everything I did was either free or very cost effective. The best part about all of this was that it was easy to balance these activities with my full-time job because I wasn’t in a hurry and could do these things on my own time.
I wasn’t in business, but when it came time to launch my business, I was more prepared than ever, and not just financially.
Root Causes 2 and 3: My Full-Time Job and Lack of Time
Starting a business or side hustle can be an overwhelming task and most of us have the burden of completing this task while maintaining a full-time job.
For me, this wasn’t a choice, it was a mandatory requirement. As you saw above in the Financial Hardship section, I was living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to pay my essential bills and was in debt up to my eyeballs. Leaving my job was not an option.
So, I thought to myself, “How can I use my full-time job to my advantage and make more time for my business?”
This is how I did it.
Setting Boundaries at Work
Most of us want to be rock stars, to be valued, to be the go-to person at work.
To do that we have to become “yes men or women.” You must become the person that always answers the call of duty, regardless of the situation. If it’s a short notice work trip or an alarm going off at the office at 3 a.m., you must be there.
A successful business requires a significant time investment and that requires us to be available. As much as you’d like to be a rock star at work or in your business, it’s not possible or at least not ideal.
You must decide what’s more vital to you personally. Is it your job or your business? If it’s your business, taking the necessary steps to ensure you are available to work on it is priority number one. That means setting boundaries.
Here are some tips on setting boundaries at work:
- If possible, have an open and honest dialog with your manager. Let them know your personal and professional goals, stress the fact that you are a loyal member of the team, but going above and beyond normal working hours is very difficult for you due to the obligations you have outside of the office. You won’t be the go-to person anymore and you probably won’t get that next promotion, but you’ll still have a job and you will also have time for your business.
- Stop volunteering for new work. Many of us have the habit of immediately raising our hand or jumping in line when additional responsibilities come up at work. Resist the urge. Sit quietly until someone else takes on the additional duty.
- Avoid being issued company computers, phones, and other electronics. These devices make companies feel like it’s OK for them to reach out to you anytime they feel like it.
- Take your company email off your phone! This one is huge. Stop checking, reading and responding to emails outside of working hours. When you do this, you are working for free and taking time away from your family and your business.
- Use the clock. While there are times that staying late is necessary, most of the time it is not. Stop worrying about what others think about you and when it’s time to go home, go home. Take the walk of shame, go home to your family and work on your business. Stop staying late just because the boss is.
Recruiting Coworkers: Trading My Skills for Their Time
While working a full-time job, you get to know coworkers well. Many times, you become good friends and learn about their families, their hobbies, and even their life goals.
At some point, your entrepreneurial spirit and your business ventures are going to come up. Some coworkers will think it’s silly and others will take genuine interest.
Typically, people take a genuine interest because it’s something they have always wanted to do themselves. Like you, they have higher aspirations. However, as with many people, they have probably never started or ran a business and don’t really know where to start or how it all works.
This is your opportunity to take them under your wing and teach them the basics of how your business runs. In return, you get some much needed and appreciated help. All you have to do once someone takes a genuine interest, is ask the question and pitch your proposal.
Like this: “Brad, I noticed you seemed very interested in my business. I’d be happy to teach you more about it. If you work with me for a few months, you’d probably learn most of what you’d need to know to start your own in the future.”
The point is, ask the question. Based on my experience, one in five will be excited about the opportunity.
This situation is a win for everyone. You get much needed help within your business for free and your coworker gets to see the inner workings of a real business and gains valuable knowledge and skills that will help them succeed in the future.
There are always people who are willing to trade their time to better themselves. Seek out people like this, become a mentor to them, and build relationships that will last for years to come.
Using Employee Benefits
Employee benefits vary by the job, but I can say for certain that there are many benefits that go underutilized. It’s your personal responsibility to do the research necessary, find the benefits that can help you the most, and apply for them through your employer.
Companies like Boeing, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Amazon offer a range of continuing education, retraining, and student loan repayment programs. Programs like these offer the opportunity to learn more about business, management, and other various subjects that can be beneficial to you and your business. In addition, the student loan repayment programs can help to speed up your debt payoff.
Remote Working Opportunities
Remote working opportunities are available in most fields these days, but they can take some work to set up. Tim Ferris outlines an amazing method to achieve remote working opportunities with your current employer in chapter 12 of his book The 4-Hour Workweek, which is not free, but in my opinion, is a must-read. Personally, I prefer the audio version as I can listen to it on the go.
This article by Victoria Yershova also does a good job showing how to obtain remote working opportunities in a practical application.
Once you’re able to free up some time to work remotely, this will benefit your business in a couple of ways. For one, if you can increase your productivity while at home, or you’re otherwise able to complete your duties early, you can work on your business with the leftover time. There will also be more opportunities to fit in small tasks, as described above. And finally, by eliminating the commute, the average employee can gain around two additional hours a day.
Just don’t let your productivity at work slip, or your remote working opportunity will be short lived. As with all of these tips, use caution, as your full-time job is a very important asset when it comes to launching your startup. Do not risk losing it.
Even if this is something you can only achieve for a few days a week, it’s still a massive benefit and worth working towards.
Root Cause 4: Lack of Knowledge
When I first decided to launch a startup while working full time, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I was paying web designers, graphic designers, marketing agencies and a host of other people and was honestly, receiving low-quality work.
The first website I ever paid someone to build cost me $500. It was a simple, one-page WordPress website. It was red and black with a dragon for the logo, which I thought was amazing. Like most new entrepreneurs, once the website launched, I thought I was done. I was now in business. All I had to do was wait for the sales to start pouring in.
They never did.
I then thought the website needed more, but of course I couldn’t get the designer to call me back, so I did my own research, took a course and started building. At the end of the first day I had added four additional pages to my website—About Me, Services, Blog, and Contact Us. It was beautiful. I was proud of myself and I knew it would make people want to contact me.
The fact was that I basically didn’t exist, because no one could find me. I wasn’t showing up on Google searches or maps, I had no social media profiles, and I wasn’t advertising anywhere. Of course, this business was a complete failure, but I learned a valuable lesson.
I needed to learn and become a student of business and online marketing. This realization hit me hard once I realized how expensive it was to launch a business. I couldn’t afford to pay others to do everything for me. Being an entrepreneur while working full time is not a great recipe for success, unless you are willing to put in the time, invest in yourself, and learn.
Investing in Myself
A large part of business is simply being found. Search engine optimization, social media, influencer marketing, content marketing, Google AdWords, and Facebook Advertising are all basic and essential tools that most businesses use.
Each one is either about being found or tracking people who have found us, so we can find more like them.
Hundreds of thousands of people and business sell their products and services on sites like Amazon, eBay, Fiverr, Freelancer, and Jet.com. They do this because these sites have a built-in audience, meaning they can more easily be found. They save work, but even these sites have their own built-in algorithms and advertising platforms that you must learn and navigate.
The point is, if you want to be a successful business owner, you need how to learn to be found. You can pay others to do these tasks for you, but there’s a major problem with that.
If your plan is to keep your day job and start a business, I can only assume you are doing this for financial reasons. That was my reason—I had bills to pay. That means people in our position likely can’t afford to pay freelancers or professionals to do this work for us.
We must learn to do it ourselves, at least in the beginning.
This realization hit me after I had already wasted thousands of dollars that I did not have to lose.
One more time for the people in the back row. You must learn! Become a student of the field.
I’m going to leave you with the first five things that I learned that allowed me to launch new businesses in the most cost-effective manner possible.
- Adobe Illustrator (Graphic Design)
- Web Design viaWordPress
- Search Engine Optimization
- Facebook Advertising
- Google AdWords
With these skills, even at the basic level, you’ll be able to design a logo, build a website and send traffic to your site both organically and with paid advertising. It won’t be easy, it will take some practice, and unless you use these skills consistently over many years, you’ll never become an expert. You will however, be able to create a brand and launch an online business in a cost-effective manner.
Here are some resources you can use to start learning these skills.
- YouTube – This is free and has courses and tutorials on all the above tasks. Complete a simple search and find what you are looking to learn.
- Udemy – Courses cost around $11 but are very detailed and include step-by-step instruction. There are courses available for all the topics above.
While these sites may not be new or exciting services, they are the most detailed and cost-effective websites I have found to learn new information.
Once you have a basic knowledge, here are a few places you can go to practice these skills as a freelancer. While you can earn some additional income on these sites, this process is about practicing and honing your skills, not earning. All you need do is sign up and start doing simple projects for others. Practice makes perfect. I used these websites for two years, simply to learn, practice and perfect my new skills. I didn’t earn enough to even make it worth my time, but I did get very good at building online businesses from the ground up, which is what this exercise is all about.
Use these websites as your playground and training ground, not a source of income:
After some time and lots of practice, you’ll be ready to build your own online business without a large financial investment.
The most important tip I can give you once you’re reached this point is this: Never stop learning and investing in yourself.
Mentors and Coaches
Launching a startup while working full time is a difficult task and there are times when we all need a little motivation, technical guidance, or just help from a friend. There are plenty of online mentors, coaches, and groups you can join, but finding the right one could mean the difference between success and failure.
I mentioned in the beginning of this article that some of the advice I received from trusted sources (mentors) led me to failures and additional financial constraints. It wasn’t their fault though—it was mine for not doing the proper research and finding a mentor or coach that was right for me.
Mentors and coaches can be huge assets, and I recommended everyone starting out in the business world seek out and find someone to guide you. Articles like this are certainly valuable, but there is no interaction or dialog, which can leave unanswered questions, confusion, and an unclear path forward.
I’m going to share with you what I found to be the most important aspect of a good mentor or coach, but first, let’s make sure we have a clear understanding of the difference between the two, in the context of the advice I can offer.
Mentoring, historically, is an informal professional relationship in which a more experienced person gives periodic advice to someone earlier in their career. In this form, there’s no handshake or contract that makes someone your mentor. You simply develop this connection over time. There’s a lot out there on how to find a great mentor, including Foundr resources here, here, and a post on how Nathan Chan found his own mentor here.
One increasingly popular way mentoring is done today is within a larger group, focusing on big-picture topics. This is the form of mentoring I’ll be advising on (although some of these principles are valid in any search for a mentor). A great example of this is the popularAsk A Millionaire mentoring program, which is run by Shawn Thomas. This program is run through a Facebook group that consists of approximately 250 mentees and seven mentors, all with different specialties. The mentors conduct weekly live streams where mentees can ask specific questions and gain advice based on their own business needs. There is very little, if any, one-on-one interaction.
Coaching is where you have one-on-one interactions geared toward you and your specific business needs. For example, the mentees of the Ask A Millionaire mentoring program have the option of paying any of the mentors for additional coaching. Coaching is almost always a professional relationship, meaning you hire someone, and is typically much more expensive and billed at an hourly rate. There are, however, a bunch of online platforms out there to help find a coach.
Disclosure: I have been a member of the Ask A Millionaire mentoring program before, and this is neither a recommendation or review of this program, but simply an example to explain the difference between coaching and mentoring.
The most important aspect of a good coach or mentor (outside of prior success) is that they have a similar background to you. Someone who has walked in your shoes and overcome the challenges you are currently facing can advise you better than anyone. When looking for a coach or mentor, you should be looking for someone who can understand what you are dealing with on a deep level.
I once took on a mentor who had overwhelming success, but I failed to notice that he started out with an inheritance of over a million dollars and did not build his business while working a job. He advised me based on his own prior knowledge and did not understand the specific struggles I was dealing with.
This led me to make bad decisions in my business, take on more time-consuming ventures than I could maintain, and make a larger financial investment than I could afford. I still recommend finding a mentor or coach, but it’s crucial that you seek out someone who has been where you are currently.
Changing My Mindset
Hopefully you’ll find this article is packed with information, processes, and tips on launching a startup while working full time. I know this topic can be overwhelming. Being an entrepreneur while working full time is not for the faint of heart. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
It’s no secret that I struggled my entire journey. The longer I let myself and my way of thinking be the problem, the longer it took me to fix all the issues I had made for myself. In order to break out of my cycle of failure, I needed to accept that I was the problem, and change my mindset.
When I failed over and over, I always told myself these things:
- I don’t have enough money.
- I don’t have enough time.
- I don’t know how.
Eventually I realized I had to stop falling back on these excuses, stop looking for quick fixes to my problems, and start working on long-term solutions. That meant making a plan to get out of debt, changing the way I approached my day job, and investing in my own knowledge.
Every day, I am grateful that I had this realization this and put a stop to this cycle. It took me one amazing epiphany, then another two years to fix all the problems my mindset had created for me.
And then I launched.
Today, I run a website called Flyer Jobs, I have a private label physical products brand, I’m writing a book, I do consulting work for Department of Defense contractors, and I have a private mentoring program.
With any luck, this is just the beginning, and it’s all because I took the time to fix myself first.
Implement This in Your Own Life
Many people have dreams of starting a side business while employed, or launching a startup while working full time, and it’s all possible. Face up to the core problems that are in your way, make a long-term plan, and use your job as an asset to work through them.
Follow the Plan:
- Change your mindset. The problem is probably you.
- Evaluate yourself and find the things that are truly holding you back. (finances, time, and knowledge)
- Set long-term goals to fix each of the things that is holding you back.
- Use your full-time job to get out of debt. This is essential if you want to start a real business and give yourself the best opportunity to succeed.
- Make time for your business by setting boundaries at work.
- Recruit coworkers to help you. Teach them in return for their services.
- Become a student of the field. The time to start learning is now. Start learning and never stop.
- Get help. Find a mentor
Leverage your full-time job to help you accomplish each of these, work hard, and prepare to launch a successful business.
You Can Still Become An Entrepreneur was originally published on Foundr.