How I run a six-figure side business while working a full-time job
Straight up: I don’t like talking about money. But I’ve had a couple of people ask about this before, and I can’t really give any solid advice without quantifying just how much my business is turning over.
I also don’t want this to come across as bragging. I’m grateful for any opportunity in front of me; this could all disappear tomorrow. I’ve just learned some things along the way and want to share them. They may work for you, they may not.
There’s a lot of talk about side hustles, but not a lot of practical details. Gary Vaynerchuk is probably the best at it, but even then he keeps things at a pretty high level. I haven’t seen anyone talk details about the mechanics of running a side operation that produces income - while still being able to kick goals at your full-time job.
To get it out of the way - I’m a copywriter. I write whitepapers, web pages, longform, shortform, award submissions, anything, for my side hustle: Stafford Content. Some of my clients: Data Republic, KPMG, Loud + Clear, SelfWealth...you get the drill.
Let’s get one thing straight: this is not an aspirational post. I’m not saying this is for you. I don’t want to contribute to the idea that everyone needs to have a side hustle, and if you do it needs to take up all of your time. Nah. Trust me, this isn’t my plan forever.
It’s not prescriptive. But if you do want to have a side hustle, maybe this post could help.
Why are you doing this?
Working 70-80 hour weeks is not ideal, nor should it be your norm. It’s a hell of a lot of effort, so you better know why you’re doing it.
My motivation? Allowing my wife to stay at home so she can look after our son, and go to university. This is a temporary situation. What’s your why? Is it to eventually quit your job and become a full-time entrepreneur? Is it to save enough money to buy a house?
That “why” needs to be enough to help you say no to parties, movies with friends, hanging out on a weeknight or just lounging in front of the television. All wasted time if you’re trying to up your income.
You need to separate your business and your job
This only works if you dedicate yourself to your job when you’re there. That means: don’t use company time to work on your own stuff. Even when it’s quiet. If you need to work through the day to get things done, you need to change your plans.
Something will suffer in the end, and you don’t want it to be your full-time gig. Earn the trust of your coworkers and your boss. Don’t lose it.
You need to be a scheduling machine
Here’s what my schedule looks like when I’m working on a major freelance project:
- 5.30-6am: Wake up
- 6.30am-7.30am: Train to work. I’ll get an hour of work done on the train
- 7.30am - 8.30am: Get freelance work done at my desk before I switch to my mind to full-time work. That's if I have a project. Otherwise I'll catch up on industry news, blogs, etc.
- NOTE: I use the “Headspace” app to meditate before shifting to my full-time work. More on that below.
- 8.30am - 12/12.30pm: Full-time work
- 12.30pm-1.30pm: During lunch I’ll get more work done on my freelance project or projects
- 1.30pm - 5/5.30pm: Back to full-time work
- 5pm-6/6.30pm: I’ll get more freelance work done after work
- 6pm-7pm: Go home on the train. I’ll typically chill out during this time - I’ll need it!
- 7pm-8pm: Say goodnight to my son, have dinner with my wife.
- 8pm-12am/1am/2am: Freelance work
What you don’t see in that schedule:
- Time to play video games
- Going out to dinner with friends
- Watching TV/movies
- Reading books
- Catching up on news
- Any other social activity
There’s no secret. There’s no special formula. It means working as much as you can to get projects done, and working hard. That means, taking calls in your car during lunch, on the way to work, on the way home. Staying up until 11pm to make a call halfway around the world. It means occasionally taking annual leave days to attend meetings for clients.
Some tips that might help:
- Delete social media from your phone
- Don’t use phone calls, text your partner/SO/friends instead
- Set a traditional alarm clock and put your phone in a different room of the house. It’ll stop you getting distracted at night, and it’ll make you get up quickly in the morning. Less wasted time.
Scheduling: part 2
I live by my calendar. If you're not in there, you're not getting my time.
I'm one of those terrible people who books you in for coffee two weeks from now.
What makes this work is the fact I have time allotted for every little task. I write for Data Republic on a weekly project, so I always make sure I do work for that at the same time.
I wrote an in-depth whitepaper for SelfWealth, a shares trading platform, back in 2016. I scheduled time during the day for research, then would write later at night. Just the way my brain works.
But the point is that I would schedule each block to a specific task. Say, “research 12 points for chapter #1” at 7am-9am. That gives you a deadline, rather than just a generic “work on X”.
Of course, that means you need to have oversight of your projects and the ability to break them down into chunks. (For that, read “Getting Things Done”.) I look at my deadline, then work backward, factoring in contingency.
I plug those projects into Todoist, with a sync to Google Calendar. When I create an event in Todoist, it creates one in Google Calendar. Very handy.
The takeaway: I know what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, and every hour on my calendar has a specific purpose, rather than a generic description.
No job is too small
A job may be underpriced, but it’s never too small. If someone will pay your rates then you shouldn’t give up jobs just because they’re only a few hours. Looking at last year, those small jobs made up about a third of my overall revenue. They’re good money, so don’t overlook them.
Understand when you work best
I tend to believe we work best at certain times of the day. For me, that’s the morning. So if I need to get work done on major projects, I’ll try to do this during the day before work, or at lunch - or on the train home, even.
I try to stop writing at 10.30pm or 11pm. After that, I’ll work on admin or marketing. It works for me - may not for you. Find your own rhythm.
You need to increase your prices
Obviously, price to your market. But if you want to make a side business worthwhile then you need to price yourself based on worth, which may very well mean upping your fees.
Sometimes you’ll lose them. I just lost a potential client this week because I budgeted them too high, but them’s the breaks. Once you start competing on price, you open yourself up to so much pain.
The ultra-popular “F*ck you, pay me” talk is a good primer for this.
You need time to yourself
As a rule, I don’t work weekends. From sunset Friday to sunset on Sunday, I put my emails, scheduling and work aside, and take 48 hours to recharge.
It’s necessary for me to go so hard during the week, once I know there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Take care of yourself! Hang out with your partner, your kid, your friends. Play a game. Watch a movie. Take a day where you have NOTHING ON YOUR CALENDAR. Take another day for learning, reading, etc. No expectations.
Your clients will be so demanding. So two days of the week, demand nothing of yourself.
Know your body!
There is a huge undeniable link between your physical health and your mental health. What does that mean?
Get sleep. Enough of it. Sometimes you can’t, but most days you can.
- Eat well. Don’t load up on sugars and caffeine. Eat vegetables, fruits and things that will keep your mind sharp instead of sluggish.
- Be lean. Don’t eat lots of fatty foods that will make you sluggish and tired.
- Go on walks! They are good for you and are proven to help your creativity.
Be honest with clients, and be prepared to lose them
I tell my clients straight away: I work a full-time job, I work full-time hours, so I’m not always going to be able to attend meetings when you need me to.
That isn’t going to work for some people. That’s fine! For some, it’ll work but there needs to be rules around how you interact. That’s fine too. Just make sure you put all those expectations up front.
Prospect, and follow up
Identify 200 potential clients. Email all of them individually. Follow up on your previous clients. Try to identify ongoing work, rather than one-off projects. Those are the opportunities that will keep cash coming in.
The secret - there is no secret
There’s really not much I can say that hasn’t already been said. Want to make more money using your skills on the side? Hit the bricks, identify prospects, and sell. Then, work hard outside your main job to get it done.
If that means staying up until 2am to finish a project? Well, then, that’s what it takes. That shouldn’t be the norm - but if you’re trying to build something, it might be what it takes. Just for a little while.
Look, maybe you think I'm wrong about all this. I'm open to that! But I'm just saying - this is what's worked for me.
Chat to me any time in the comments, or at firstname.lastname@example.org