How to Run Your Creative Business While Working Full-Time

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It’s the ultimate dream doesn’t it? Spending your days in your studio or in your home office running your own creative business. The longest commute of the day is from your bedroom to your studio. Not having to request vacation or sick days from your boss because, the boss is you! It’s just you, your work and your customers.

But if you’re like a good many creative business owners, that scenario is a daydream…at least for now. Your creative venture don’t quite pay all the bills yet. So as of now you have a full or part time job in addition to your creative side gig (or gigs). How do you effectively juggle all of that and still have a life as well?

Juggling a creative business with a full-time job (and a family and that thing called life) isn’t easy, but it can be done. Here are some tips on how you can maintain the balance.

Managing your time

The biggest factor in juggling your job and your business is time. Or rather the lack of it. If you’re struggling to successfully managing your time between your job and your business, here are a few ideas to consider:

Carve out time for your business– We all have have small pockets of time throughout the day that you can take advantage of to get some work done. Even if you feel like your days are packed, there are always some pockets of free time you can use to work on your business.

The first step in carving out your time is to keep a time diary for a week or two so you can track when you go to sleep, when you get up, how long it takes you to commute to work, how long it takes you to prepare a meal, how long it takes you to get ready in the morning, what you do during your downtime, and so forth. By the end of the week you should have a fairly accurate picture of what your days are like and how you actually spend your time.

Look over your time diary and see where your free time is. Can you find pockets of 30 minutes to an hour you can use to get some work done? Are you able to make extra time for yourself by giving up a few hours of television or waking up a half hour early or going to bed a half hour or so later? Can you allocate a few hours per week on the weekend for your creative business? Could you spend a couple of lunch breaks per week to tackle a few tasks?

Don’t underestimate the amount of work you can get done in a half hour. I often find that the amount of time it takes me to do something magically expands to fit the time I have available. The advantage of time limits is that it often forces you to focus and work efficiently.

Juggling a creative business with a full-time job isn't easy, but it can be done Click To Tweet

Make use of systems– When your time is limited, efficiency is key. There’s probably a lot of tasks that you do over and over again on a regular basis like shipping orders, sending invoices, posting social media updates, or following up on sales calls. If you don’t have a systemized workflow to handle these routine tasks you’re probably wasting a good bit of time.

The benefit of setting up and using a system for your tasks is that you follow the same steps each and every time you do it. You won’t have to waste time trying to figure out what to do next. You’re less likely to skip a crucial step in the process which may cause mistakes that you have to go back and fix. And you can easily train an assistant or employee on the process if you have a solid one already in place.

A system doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as a checklist or a set of tasks in a to-do list that you go through and check off while you’re working on a routine task.

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Setting up systems and workflows for common tasks to can help save time in the long run.

And remember that systems aren’t just a good idea for your business. You can use systems to save time in your personal life as well. For example, I created a system for preparing my clothes for the entire week on Sunday mornings. I check my calendar to see if there are any meetings where I need to dress up a bit, and check the weather to see if it’s going to be hot, cold, or raining. And I also check the clothes I want to wear to make sure there aren’t any missing buttons, wrinkled, stains that made it though the wash, or any surprise ripped seams or tears. The clothes are then arranged by day towards the front of the closet.

So instead spending five to ten minutes every morning trying to decide what to wear, all I have to do is grab my pre-selected outfit for the day and get dressed. This small savings in time every morning allows me to spend it on accomplishing business tasks before work.

Systems can be an awesome time-saver. Give them a try!

Get and stay organized– Another side benefit of creating systems is that they can also encourage you to organize your workspaces…which also saves more time. The less time you spend looking for more packing tape or trying to find that file on your computer is more time spend spent on more important things.

Take some time to organize your physical workspace. Set it up so you can quickly find materials that you use frequently and stow away things that you don’t need on a regular basis. Organize your digital files so that you’re not sifting through dozens of vaguely labeled folders or trying to sift through multiple versions of the same file to find what you need to work.

This doesn’t mean that you have to have to have one of those absolutely clean workspace with nothing but a pencil on the desk. Rather, set up your space so that you know where everything is and that you can lay your hand on the things you need when you need them instead of having to search for them.

Take advantage of mobile apps and services– There are a wealth of free and paid apps out there these days that can help you save time and manage your side gig while on the go. Everything from productivity apps like Todoist, IFTTT, Trello, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Evernote to apps that help your run your business like Sell on Etsy, Mailchimp, or Buffer.

With your mobile device and the right apps, you have the equivalent of a traveling office in your pocket. You can easily take advantage of spare minutes like waiting in line or at the doctor’s office, during commutes on public transportation, or for a few minutes between meetings to keep track of your projects, tasks, and schedule as well as manage your social media, update your Etsy store, send email newsletters, and update your blog.

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Day to day tasks and longer term projects can be successfully managed using productivity apps such as Todoist.

Have a plan– If you’re first starting out or even if you’ve been working at your business for a while, you may find yourself flailing around, doing one task, then switching over to another task, and eventually you find that you’re doing a bunch of work, but you’re not really going anywhere.

This drifting around from one unrelated task to another is usually a sign that you don’t have a clear plan for your business; a tangible goal to reach and a roadmap to get there. Without a goal or a timeline to work towards, it’s easy to simply fill what time you have with aimless tasks that gets you nowhere.

What do you want to accomplish with your creative business in the next year or so? Do you want to write your first novel? Build your first collection? Get into your top three galleries? Take some to to really think about where you want your business to go in the next 12 months. Express that accomplishment in the form of a tangible, measurable goal, such as; “In 12 months, I want to launch a collection of 12 new designs“.

Once you’ve decided on a goal, all of your tasks should be focused on that goal. This tight focus keeps you from wasting time on useless tasks. If a task isn’t closely related to your main goal, it shouldn’t be on your list.

Annual_Plan_CoverOne tool that can help you break your main goal down into an actionable task list is an annual plan. An annual plan steps you through on planning your main goals in various areas of your life for the next year, and then creating a plan help you reach your goal. You can download a copy of the Annual Planning Guide from the Creative Business Toolbox.

Get help where you can– Getting more done doesn’t mean that you have to do it all yourself. If you need help managing your Etsy store or building a website or managing a lot of your office related tasks, consider hiring an assistant for a few hours a week.

A virtual assistant can answer emails, update your website, or do marketing research, or send newsletters while you’re at your full time job or even while you’re asleep. You can opt to hire a local assistant to come in during the evenings or the weekend to help you with fill orders, filling, or organizing your workspace. This can free your precious time up to do higher level tasks like strategizing, creating your work, or finding new customers.

You may even find that your spouse or children are actually eager to help you with certain business related tasks as well. I recently completed a full inventory of my jewelry and supplies with the help of a teenaged cousin who also helps with household chores from time to time. Inventory is a task that I always find to be an exasperating, yet necessary evil. She found it infinitely fascinating to learn the ins and outs of keeping inventory and why it’s important. And of course, the main attraction for her was seeing all the jewelry. It was a win-win for both of us.

Don’t forget that the less time you spend on normal household tasks like cleaning, cooking, and running errands, the more time you can allocate for your creative gig. If you have a significant other or children, work with them to redistribute some of your household related chores so that you have more time to spend on your business.

If you don’t have anyone to redistribute chores to, consider hiring a cleaning service once or twice a month to clean while you work on your business. For other household projects line small repairs, errands, and yard work, you can use a service like Task Rabbit can help you find people in your area that will offload those chores on a one time or ongoing basis.

Task Rabbit

Services like Task Rabbit can help you manage household and personal tasks so you can have more time for your business.

Managing your energy and focus

Making time to work on your creative business is only part of the battle. You also need to be productive with the time you set aside. Being able to divide your energy and focus between your job and your creative business is just as important. Here are some tips to help you manage your energy.

Work with your natural energy flow– Everyone has natural energy peaks and lows. If you work a regular 8 hour day at your full-time job, you may often find yourself too tired and mentally drained to work on your side gig before bed, especially if you’re not a night owl. If you’re not a morning person, the thought of waking up early to work seems ludicrous when there’s always more sleep to be had.

When you’re carving out time to work on your side gig, remember to work as much with your natural energy flow as possible. If you’re a morning person, take advantage of that energy by rising an hour or two earlier before work. If you’re a night owl, use your extra burst of energy in the evening to get your tasks done. Match the tasks you’re doing to match when you have the greatest amount of focus. I focus best in the mornings, so I choose those times to do tasks that require more brainpower for me, like planning and writing. I save tasks that require less focus like listing Etsy store items, editing photos, inventory, or filling orders for the evenings.

And take note of your limits as well. If you’re a morning person but you’re still sleepy at 5am, adjust your routine so that you either go to bed earlier to get enough sleep to be alert at 5am or simply get up a bit later, say at 6am instead.

You’ll also have days where you seem to be super focused and days where your mind seems to be a bit “fuzzy”. In many cases it’s better to adjust your tasks and schedule to accommodate the days that you seem to be off instead of trying to power through them.

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Use your calendar to map out your day-to-day work schedule and tasks.

Don’t forget that it’s just as important to manage your energy at your 9 to 5 job. The energy you spend at your full-time job will effect how much you’ll have left for your creative business. If you find that you’re frequently coming home from work exhausted and fried, that could be a sign that you need try to take better control of your work day.

If you’re able, try to build in more breaks throughout your day at your full-time job where you take a few minutes to get away from your task and regain your focus. One study showed that people tend to work better if they work in 1 hour increments followed by a 15 minute break. If you can, try this technique in your own 9 to 5 job and see if it makes a difference in how you feel at the end of the day.

Set the mental stage for work– Squeezing a couple of extra minutes into your schedule here and there can help you knock out small tasks. But a lot of your more impactful, meaningful work is going to require your full energy and attention. How you go about starting your work and setting up your work area can help you set the proper stage.

For tasks and projects require your full concentration, set the stage in so that your mind is totally focused on your work. In a recent Creative Live article, writer Suchi Rudra described how she juggled writing fiction pieces on the side while working as a staff writer for a business journal. She would come home from work, shower, change into comfortable clothes, light a stick of incense she brought back from a recent trip to India, turn on some mood music and spend the next few hours writing. Using this method she managed to write her first novella in less than a year.

Think about what kind of work ritual you can implement that will help you focus on your side gig. For example, I do most of my blog post writing in the mornings a couple of hours before work. I get out of bed, put on my most comfy robe, perform a brief morning ritual to wake me up, make myself a cup of tea, go to my office/studio, turn on my favorite focus app Focus@Will and concentrate on writing for an hour and a half. This sets me up not only to have a productive morning for my business, but it also puts me in a good mood for my full-time job.

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If you have difficulty concentrating, a productivity app like Focus@Will can help you focus while your work.

What kind of ritual will work for you? Make it into an experience. Where will you work? When? How for how long? What will you be wearing? What kind of sensory cues will you use to put you in the mood for work? Things like music, sounds, smells or drinks like tea and coffee can be a signal to your brain that it’s time to start working. These cues will make it easier for your brain to settle down and focus on work, which will make your work periods more productive.

Explore workspaces away from home– As strange as it sounds, sometimes you’ll get much more of your work done when you’re away from your home workspace. This is especially true if there’s a pile of laundry in the corner waiting to be washed, or a stack of dishes in the sink, or if your family like to come into your office to see if you can do “just this one thing”, or if your friends have a habit of dropping in for surprise visits.

If you find that frequent interruptions at home are constantly effecting your ability to focus on your business, see if you can find a spot away from your home workspace to work, like the library, the local Starbucks, or a shared workspace. Even if your home space works quite well most of the time, sometimes an occasional change of scenery can keep you focused on days where your brain seems a bit fogged in or you don’t quite seem to be in the mood to work at home.

Take care of your health– What is the most valuable asset in your creative business? You are. You won’t have the energy to successfully handle your full-time job and your side gig if you’re sleep deprived, sick, stressed out, or all three at the same time.

When I was running my freelance business a few years ago, I spent more time trying to get more projects done and get more clients and less time getting enough rest, exercising, eating right, and just spending downtime with family and friends.

I refused to slow down even when I occasionally felt dizzy, or when I found it harder to walk up and down the stairs to my office, or even when I got so exhausted I couldn’t stay awake past 9:30 pm. Finally, I was forced to slow down when I ended up in the emergency room with severe anemia. And when my health crashed, so did my business.

It took that hard lesson to teach me that spending time to exercise or prepare a good meal or just hanging out with family is just as important as getting that new client or finishing that project. Remember that the energy and creativity you need for managing everything you do comes from how well you treat yourself. Make it a top priority.

Managing your attitude

Juggling your job and your business doesn’t just require good time and energy management. A big part of the juggling act is your attitude about it, because when that sucks…everything sucks.

Shake off the “part-time” artist stigma– If you have the notion that you won’t be a “real artist” until you’re making a living from your work, get the idea right out of your head. Ever heard of Elizabeth Gilbert, Marie Forleo, or James Franco? They worked a variety of day jobs while building up their respective crafts and businesses. So you. So do I. So do a whole lot of other unknown artists all over the world.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book about creativity, Big Magic, she quickly dispels the notion that that in order to live a creative life one has to give everything up and move to Paris to paint the rest of their lives. She stresses that, “living a creative life is simply having the courage to follow your interests and going where creativity may lead you”. She even cautions against depending on your art to support your life too soon (or at all) because the stress of doing so may end up killing your creativity.

If you’re telling yourself that you’re not a “real” artist or creative because you’re not doing it full time, stop it.

Have the right attitude– There will be days where you absolutely hate your job. These are usually the days where you’re itching to get a business project done and you can’t because your spending 8 hours of your day on the job. Or they’re the days where you’re having a crappy day at work. Or perhaps you just have a terrible job.

Those are the days you want to simply walk out the door. If quitting is completely out of the question, you may simply try to disappear. You’ll want to hide away from co-workers, start taking too many breaks, or try to do as little as possible while keeping your eyes on the clock, waiting for the end of the day.

Don’t do it. Just don’t. If you’re not reasonably sure that you can meet your financial needs after you quit, you’re dooming your creative business to failure. Desperation over finances usually leads to crappy business killing decisions, and as Elizabeth Gilbert pointed out in Big Magic, it can kill your creativity as well.

On the other hand, a having a bad attitude at work all day can be pretty energy draining and you risk having that bad attitude spill over into your creative business. If you absolutely can’t stand where you’re working, try to find a better job first. Unless you absolutely thrive on stress, quitting may put your side gig at risk.

If you’re going to stay at your full-time job, commit yourself to doing the work and doing it well. See if you can find ways to introduce your creative skills in your job to make it more enjoyable (The Todoist blog has a nice article about this). Instead of seeing your job as a burden, see it as an opportunity to get your business where it needs to be before you add the extra stress of making it profitable enough to go full time. You won’t be as tempted to make decisions based purely on the fact that you need to bring in money and you’ll have more leeway to experiment and take a few risks.

You can also use your full-time job as a training ground to master the skills it takes to run your business. Many of the same skills you’re likely using on the job; time management, customer service, and presentation skills are going to be some of the same skills you’ll need to be successful in your business. Use your time at your full time gig to sharpen those skills and apply them to your business.

Learning to successfully juggle your full-time job and your creative business will make you a ninja at managing your time and making your business run efficiently. Remember that your time constraints aren’t going to magically disappear on the day you finally quit and go full time with your gig. Your work will simply to expand to fill the rest of the day. So use this time to get the foundations of your business; systems, goals, and good work habits in place before you quit.

Other people's 'overnight successes' always seems more glamorous than building your own Click To Tweet

Become an intern at your job– One of the valuable things about internships is that it gives you a peek into how certain industries run and allows you to pick up a variety of skills. Depending on where you work, you may have the opportunity to learn specific skills that may benefit your business. In my job, I work within the marketing department, which gives me the opportunity to ask the social media team questions about Facebook advertising, or I can pick the brain of the public relations guy to see who the local media contacts are in our area, or I can gather a few more Photoshop tricks from the folks in the graphic design department.

What can you learn from your current job? If you pretended to be an intern at your current job, what can you learn that may benefit your business one day? What can you learn about customer service from your job? What can you learn about managing employees and teams? What can you learn about managing projects? What can you learn about local markets and trends? What can you learn about presenting your ideas? Or about setting up procedures and systems to manage everyday tasks?

You don’t have to work in a creative field to learn something that would apply to your business. Even if you feel that what you do is the most useless, soul killing position in the world, you can at least learn how not to run your business and see what doesn’t work. Keep your eyes open and take advantage of any lessons you can find at your job.

Be patient and stay motivated– Let’s face it. Working a full-time job or a couple of part time jobs while running your gig can be exciting. But sometimes it will be utterly exhausting and the exact opposite of exciting. When it seems like you’re doing so much work and not getting much out of it, it can be an absolute motivation killer. What do you when you feel like you’re not making any headway?

Recently my husband and I had dinner with a group of friends, one of which was someone we really hadn’t seen much of in a couple years. During dinner he talked about how well his business was doing. He’s getting lots of new clients…more than he could handle in some cases. He’s also getting lots of referrals and he’s projected to hit his yearly sales goal five months ahead of schedule.

Listening to my friend talk about his recent success, I reflected that it’s easy to forget that he had actually started his business over 13 years ago, building it slowly in the mornings before going to his full-time job and working on it before bed in the evenings. There were a few years where he always had an additional side gig or another part time job as well to keep things afloat. The past couple years, the ones where he “disappeared”, he had gone back to school to get a business degree….while working on his business…while working a full-time job.

Finally after 13 years of hard work, holding down multiple jobs, going to school, and slowly building his business one customer at a time, he was an “overnight” success.

Bottom line, it’s going to be a lot of hard work. Other people’s “overnight successes” always seems more glamorous than building your own. There’s going to be trade offs. There’s going to be setbacks. There’s going to be times that you wonder if you should just give up your creative business altogether.

Be patient. Focus on what you’ve accomplished so far. Focus on your routine instead of your results. Put your current results in the proper perspective.

Conclusion

Managing the demands of a day job and creative business can be a bit daunting. With the right strategies, the right tools and the right attitude, your day job can be the catalyst to help you take your creative venture full time.

Your turn! What strategies do you use to balance your full-time job and your creative business? What difficulties have you come across managing the two and how did you manage to overcome it? Share your thoughts by entering a comment below.

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