I know first hand how difficult it is to work a day job and still manage to be a “sidepreneur”. There is a significant lack of time to run an ecommerce business while working a 9 to 5, and you still need to commit yourself first to your employer.
I’m here to tell you that the good news is that it’s very much possible to grow and create a successful ecommerce business on the side. Many others before you have done it and I’m going to show you how you can, too.
If you’re working a 9 to 5 and want to start an ecommerce business on the side, the first struggle most people encounter is what product to sell. Generally, people working a full-time job and looking to start an ecommerce business want something “easy”. Low commitment, easy to source or manufacture, and something that can be sold with little maintenance and work.
While this is the ideal, don’t let your ideals prevent you from selling something you truly believe in, are passionate about or think would be a huge success. Check out our guide on how to find a product to sell and go from there.
But the real struggle every sidepreneur encounters is simply finding the time and making the time for their side business. It’s not going to be easy. If you want to see your ecommerce business become successful, you can say goodbye to most of your evenings and weekends.
So, while this all sounds brutal and difficult, the long-term payoff of creating a successful ecommerce business on the side is tremendous. These struggles are just barriers and challenges you must, and will, overcome.
The best part is that this can be done.
Why it’s possible
The first thing you need to realize is that it will take time. Starting your ecommerce business on the side means that it will grow slower than if you went into it full-time, which means that all the growing will be done in chunks when you make time for it.
You have your weekends and evenings, use them. Your weekends and evenings allow for you to work in these small chunks and grow your business in chunks.
Your income from your 9 to 5 also allows you to invest in your ecommerce business. This gives you a significant advantage over those that are dropping everything to run their ecommerce business and those that are unemployed and trying to start a business.
The advantage you have as a sidepreneur over full-time entrepreneurs is that what you’re doing is a lot less risky. If your business fails, you still have your job to fall back to, and even use your previous failure as a learning experience to quickly get back on your feet with another venture. This is especially important if you have obligations to your family, have a mortgage or any other critical responsibility.
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People that have done it
Jeff Sheldon started Ugmonk as a side business which he worked on during late nights and weekends. Ugmonk is now a successful lifestyle product business that Jeff works full-time on after two years of working on Ugmonk on the side.
Peter Keller started FringeSport on the side in 2010 while working a 9 to 5. Peter eventually took his side business from $100,000 to $3,000,000 in three years.
Valerie and Geoffrey Franklin are a wife and husband team that both worked 9 to 5’s as a project manager and architect, respectively. After founding Walnut Studiolo and selling handcrafted leather products in 2009, they were both full-time into the business by 2011 after seeing their ecommerce business takeoff.
Stefan Loble started Bluff Works, selling wrinkle-free pants, and grew it for 3 years on the side while working a 9 to 5, even after a successful Kickstarter fundraising. Recently, Stefan left his 9 to 5 software job to work on his ecommerce business full-time.
How to build a successful side business
The first component of building an ecommerce business on the side is that you need to focus. Since your time, resources and energy are limited, it's a really good idea to focus, especially when it comes to the niche you wish to serve or the product you want to sell.
Too many people, when they start out, have a bunch of ideas for products they would like to sell. Instead of launching that clothing line right away, why not just launch one product from the line initially? Instead of serving the entire parent demographic, why not just stay-at-home mothers? Where in your ecommerce business can you focus or niche down?
The other aspect of focusing is finding what works early and sticking to that. There are so many different strategies, tools and social media platforms out there. There isn't enough time for you to experiment and learn them all. You need to become exceptional at finding what works for you and your business and really honing in on that and mastering that craft.
Are you crushing it on Twitter? Put more of your resources into Twitter. Is your business finding a lot of success using Google Ads? Focus on that.
Work small, think big
It's going to be all about taking baby steps at first for your ecommerce business. You need to have patience and understand that in most cases, success doesn't and won't happen overnight.
As mentioned earlier, you’ll be working on the business in chunks, and you usually won't have the opportunity to work on it all day like a full-time entrepreneur. But that's okay. A slow and steady growth that is consistent is all you need to be successful.
This is why you need to look at those really overwhelming tasks to get your business rolling and start breaking them down into smaller, workable chunks. You will likely only have a few hours everyday to attack a task. So instead of trying build your ecommerce website in one evening, break down the design and construction of your website into a few days so that you’re not pressured or rushed with your limited time.
Because your time is limited, you need to start scheduling your side hustle so that you not only know what you're doing every evening and weekend, but also to keep yourself accountable. There are a lot of free tools that can help you do this, such as simply using Google Calendar. If you have a schedule or calendar for your 9 to 5 job, I would personally recommend keeping your 9 to 5 schedule and side business schedule on separate calendars.
Start using your calendar to find the gaps and time in your life where you can schedule time for your business. Whether that has you bringing a laptop to work so that you can work during your lunch or blocking out an entire weekend to finish your website, do it. It's okay to get a little selfish with your time initially, especially when you're trying to get the ball rolling for your ecommerce business. Those that support you (friends, family, spouse) will be understanding.
For me, my time priority chain looks something like this:
Me/health > Family/friends > 9 to 5 > Side business
Sometimes, my side business will take priority over everything when necessary. However, it's important to not neglect things like your health or your family. This is why scheduling your time and making time for your ecommerce business is so important.
Be sure to get creative as well. Get up a few hours earlier every morning to work on your business or simply sleep less (yes, I’m serious). If you’re going to bed at 9pm to get up for 6am, you can sacrifice a few hours of sleep and get up at 4am every once in a while. That’s still a healthy 7 hours of sleep.
Do the things now that create more time for tomorrow
Let's say you spend 30 minutes doing something every week such as checking and responding to customer emails.
What if you could cut down from 30 minutes a week to just 15 minutes a week by investing 4 hours today?
For example, if you spent 4 hours today creating a "frequently asked questions" page on your website to reduce the number of incoming inquiries and it saved you 15 minutes every week, you would do it, right?
After 16 weeks, this upfront time investment would begin to net a time gain.
This is just one example of how doing things to save you time later and investing your time now can make it a lot easier for you to run your ecommerce business.
Another example of this is creating a series of "canned" responses to questions you frequently get in your inbox, to make it easier and quicker to respond to common questions you might get about shipping, your product, pricing, etc.
It might take you a few hours to create all the canned responses and figuring out what your common questions are. However, the idea is that you're putting that time in upfront to save time for yourself later. There are other productivity apps such as text expanders that you can take the time to set up now, to save you time later.
If there's something you can do today to save even just a little bit of time later, do it.
Stop doing the things that don't matter
You have no excuse when you say "I just don't have time" when you're binge watching Netflix shows on the weekends. It's okay to indulge and enjoy yourself but if you're truly serious about your ecommerce business succeeding, you’ll stop doing the things that don't matter.
As Gary Vaynerchuk is known to say, "Everybody has time, stop watching Lost".
This is also important when it comes to dealing with procrastination when running and creating an ecommerce business. Yes, it’s fun to come up with a name for your business and design a logo. Ultimately, these things are not as important as the amount of time most people pour into these aspects of their business. It’s really disproportionate. I have seen people spend days coming up with a name for their business and only a few hours on the content and copy on their website.
Focus on the things that matter. Your time is limited, don’t spend it on the things that have little to no pay off.
How much is your time worth to you? If it's worth more than the cost to outsource a process, then you should strongly consider doing so. As mentioned earlier, using the money you earn at your 9 to 5 to invest into your business is one of the advantages you have as a sidepreneur.
For example, instead of processing, fulfilling and shipping each order yourself, look into hiring a company to do this for you. Look at your options for packaging and shipping instead of taking the time to fulfill and ship your orders yourself.
Another ecommerce business challenge most sidepreneurs struggle with is bookkeeping and accounting. A lot of people try to take the initiative and do this themselves. Outsourcing and automating your accounting is one of the best things for your business. Not only will it save you a lot of time, but also a lot of headaches. Let a pro handle it. There are also a lot of useful apps and integrations for Shopify that make this easy.
Look at the things you are doing or have to do to get your business up and running. Can you hire someone to get it done faster or even better?
Automate as many processes as possible
Thanks to technology and the amount of tools available on the internet, automating aspects of your life or business has never been easier. There’s potential for you to automate some aspects of your ecommerce business to allow you to put your time in the things that need your attention.
The first thing most people automate is their social media. Tools like Buffer and Hootsuite allow you to schedule your Tweets and Facebook page posts ahead of time. While it's still very important to have that human touch to your social media, it's also a good idea to sit down on a Sunday night and schedule out a few Tweets and Facebook posts for the week.
The next thing you can automate is your email marketing. Set up an autoresponder sequence of emails that go out automatically after a visitor opts into your email list. For example, instead of manually emailing your list weekly, set up a 12 week newsletter full of great content, ahead of time.
It might also be worth it for you to explore other things you can automate in your life and business. Sites like IFTTT provide a lot of opportunities for you to save time on things you might be doing everyday by automating them.
As a sidepreneur myself, I know the struggle. It’s a battle for your time everyday. However, persevering despite the struggle is one of the most satisfying things in the world. I was always told being an entrepreneur was the most difficult job in the world. If a sidepreneur has less freedom and time than an entrepreneur, then naturally it beats out the entrepreneur for this title.
Work hard, hustle, stay motivated, realize your passion and remind yourself on a daily basis why you are doing what you are doing. If it’s that important to you, you will find the time to work on your side business and hopefully make it become your full-time business if that’s what you eventually want.
I encourage you to leave a comment below and put a stake in the ground. Tell me and tell yourself that “yes, I can and will do this!”. If you’re not quite ready yet to commit yourself as a sidepreneur tell me why. Let me know what is holding you back and I will address it. If you have any questions, be sure to let me know below, as well.