‘Build your own dream, or someone else will hire you to build theirs’ is a quote that I’ve heard a few times and in many ways it resonates with me. Buttttt like most inspirational quotes, it oversimplifies the whole process. What it essentially says is that it’s either one or the other, but in reality, at least in the reality I’ve lived, the process of doing your own thing always often starts working for someone else, whether it’s for experience or just to pay the bills (the most likely answer). Because unless you’ve had a major windfall or have a lovely sugar daddy or mummy, you’re going to have to do both. But don’t worry, it’s part of the process! A few of you asked me to go into my detail about my own personal journey and so I wanted to share with you my experience of how I originally balanced my day job and passion project, and managed to be (somewhat) productive, and a few of the things I learnt in hindsight. Because when you’ve only got limited time to work on something that could be big, you don’t want to waste it.
A bit of background about my experiences? As many of you will know prior to working on this site full time I was a town planner, and did that for 5 years after graduating from university. I kind of knew it wasn’t going be forever because it didn’t light me up in the morning, but I was happy (most of the time) and it gave me the ability to move to London with my boyfriend and work there. While working in London I started this blog, which at the time was more of an online journal/rambling where I shared my projects and inspirations. I did it because I had been making my own clothes since I was 5 and started reading DIY blogs so I thought why not? About a year after starting this blog we decided to move to Hong Kong, where I was working at a Town Planning firm on projects mostly in China and India. Truth be told? I was miserable at that job – which is something that helped fuel my out of hours work on this site, I really ramped it up. I was generally working on it one day on the weekend and 2 hours at night, it sounds like a lot but really helped build that foundation. After two years of solid groundwork (hours and hours and hours) I was approached by a publisher who wanted to publish a book based on my blog, the advance from which gave me the space to transition into full time blogging (more on transitioning some other time – that’s a whole other blog post!). The one constant through this all was the fact that I couldn’t afford to work full time on my blog, which, it turns out was a really good thing. Here are a few IMHO tips for making it work.
First things first, don’t feel bad about working for someone else when you’re starting up/working on your passion project! This is a normal step on the pathway to having your own business, and contrary to what people think can be a really important foundation if you approach it the right way. Turns out you CAN build your own dream and also help someone else build theirs too.
Soak Up the Knowledge
Change your perspective on your day job a bit by focusing on what you can learn from your employer that will help you in you next phase. You don’t even need to be in the same field! I feel so lucky that I spent a year working in Hong Kong (in a job that made me miserable haha), because what that super OCD boss taught me was the skills of putting together proposals, checking contracts and negotiating what I think I’d worth. Remember, when you run your own business it’s not all the fun creative stuff, it’s the hard, pragmatic and logical stuff too – a lot of which you can learn from those around you in your day job. In many ways I actually think it’s better to have experience working for other people before you do your own thing!
Choose the Right Job
One thing, if you’ve got the choice between a day job that is or isn’t in the area/role you’re thinking about going into, you should probably lean towards one where you can get on-the-ground-experience of what you plan to do in the future. Better to do a bit of trial and error on someone else’s time, right? Just make sure to check the non-compete clause in your contract because you don’t want that messing with your future plans.
Develop a Work Schedule
You’ve just finished a long day at work and the thought of going home to write up a blog post or do some illustration might sound like wayyyy too much work. And yes at times it is. But what I would suggest is that much like your day job you create schedule of time you plan to work on it. Dedicating Sundays to working on my blog when I had a day job made it possible to be productive without feeling guilty at other times. The fact that I loved it made it easier… If it feels impossible to dedicate time to your passion project, perhaps you need to change your focus a bit? After all, you need to be passionate about your passion project 🙂
Go for Goal
Knowing what you want to achieve before you set out is super important when you’ve only got limited amount of time, so set yourself some things to aim for before you start your week and make sure they get done, whether it’s contacting 6 people or writing 3 really great blog posts. When you’re short on time? Focus on quality over quantity.
Build A Critical Mass (and be patient)
It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Thanks Maybelline! Or whoever. One of the best things I did (in hindsight) was to wait to build up a critical mass of readers, really find momentum of this site before I decided to leave my day job. Whilst some people might prefer the concept of being able to leave your job within a few months of starting something new, in reality this is rarely a good idea, and you’re much better to do that in a year or two (or three) when you’ve got something concrete and reliable, whether it means a great product about to go to (or better, yet, having success in the) market, a set of amazing customers or a few guaranteed freelance projects per month that you know covers your major bills. If I hadn’t had a book contract, I would have waited until I had a long term project that would cover a few months rent to give me a buffer. Cos while a girls gotta do what she loves, she also has to eat.
I’d love to hear if you’ve got any other tips or questions about juggling a day job and your passion project. xx