What I learned when I started a business while working full-time

For years, I daydreamed about my own business. I saw myself leading, making decisions, meeting clients, raking in the dough. When it came time to build that dream, I was still employed and commuting four hours a day, four times a week. What I learned over six months of setting up my own freelance copywriting business while working full-time are lessons that I’ve found very useful as I’ve transitioned from employed to self-employed.


To those of you who are thinking about doing this or who are in the process of living this double life, take note: it can be done! And I’m happy I did it the way I did because it meant that when I left full-time employment to start working for my own business (more-than-full-time employment), I was ready to roll. Here’s what I learned along the way:


Next-level patience

Before I started my own business, when I still commuted to a different city and not just to a different room, I worked from home one day per week, and that day was a blessing. I used that time at home to schedule my bank, bookkeeper and legal appointments over lunch and in the evenings. But it also meant that I could only take care of these important business-building meetings at a weekly rate, which obviously extended the amount of time it took me to get things done. I noticed this the most when I needed to open the bank accounts – I had to constantly go back to sign forms and make transfers, but I could only go once a week. So, I kicked my patience up a notch.


Being patient and knowing that I was getting things done, no matter how slow-going it seemed, made the whole process a tiny bit easier – I just went with the flow. I can apply this lesson now as I begin marketing my copywriting business and reaching out to potential clients. Sometimes these things don’t work out as instantly as I would like them to, and that’s when patience comes in.


Make every moment count

With the four-hour commute, it’s pretty clear that I didn’t have too many extra minutes hanging around. I got home at 7:30 p.m. and at that point I had been out of the house for just over 13 hours. As soon as I put on my sweats and sat on the sofa, it was nearly impossible to get up and start working again. But I HAD to if I wanted to stay the course. As a nice-ish compromise, I began taking care of the things that I could on the train. I also took care of major decision making and planning on the weekends, usually on Sundays when everything is closed in Switzerland. Starting a business means a lot of meetings. I started my home office days even earlier so I had more time for appointments at the end of the day. And that’s how I made the most of my time while still having a life. Of course, I had to make sacrifices, but that’s just a given when you’re starting your own business.


Ask for help

No, you’re not dumb or incapable if you ask questions. Boy, was there a lot I didn’t know (and still don’t!) when I set out on this journey. PLUS: all the official administrative work I needed to do was not in my mother tongue. Legal and insurance things were particularly difficult to decipher because they were made up of vocab I don’t hear or use every day. I also didn’t know that much about banks, finances, invoicing, insurance, retirement funds and social security. That’s the first step: figure out what you don’t know. So, I swallowed my pride and started asking questions. I wanted to understand what I was doing with my business, not just go through the motions. Asking questions helped me handle things more efficiently because I was no longer using my limited and valuable time researching and trying to figure out the answers myself. Instead, I was going directly to the people who had the answers for me. When I started doing this, I felt like I had found a secret magical short-cut. I remember thinking: “So I don’t have to translate this whole document and find the part I’m confused about? I can just ask the insurance guy if emergencies are covered?” Revolutionary!


Haters gonna hate

There will be people who make you doubt yourself and question your plan. They’ll ask the questions that have been whispering in the back of your mind. And you will start wondering if it’s safe or smart to leave your good job for something that results in a possibly unstable income and lots of work. My relatives could not understand why I would give up something so good for something so… uncertain. “It will take at least two years to build up your business!” “How are you going to find your clients? You have to do that yourself, you know.” “But what’s wrong with your current job?” Of course they meant well (I hope), but I just didn’t want to hear it. I was discouraged until I started using these opportunities to practice my pitch and build myself up. Every person who questioned if I could do this or not was one more I was going to prove that I could! For me, that was a huge source of motivation. It just took me a few depressing conversations to get to that point.


Hard work pays off (really, it does)

I think it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyways – put in the time and the work and you will be rewarded. It’s that whole not-patient thing (see point 1) that makes this one a challenge. Starting a business – whether you’re still working somewhere else or not – does not involve instant gratification. I learned that putting in the time, even when I’m in my sweats and wishing I was watching Netflix, leads to results. Hard work over time will get you what you want. And as I’m now past the starting of my business and now running it, I noticed that there’s even more that I’m doing now that I know will get me what I want a bit further down the line. It probably won’t be tomorrow, but after my experience starting this copywriting business while working full-time in another city, I know I’ll be reaping the fruits of my labor soon enough.


What lessons have you learned while starting your business?