How To Grow An Online Career When You Already Have A Full Time Job
Meet the Bae-Gal
I’m a B2B copywriter and marketing consultant working mostly with SaaS companies, startups and sometimes agencies. I spend my days emailing my clients, writing copy, writing briefs, writing proposals, scheduling zoom calls… Basically I spend hours upon hours at my computer.
But here’s the thing… I have an entirely other career as well.
All of that stuff is done on top of my full time job… I own and operate my family’s bagel shop, which means I take care of 10 employees, hundreds of customers and get my name called whenever there is an issue, which happens almost daily. I also take care of most of the marketing for the business, where I refer to myself in videos and marketing emails as “The Bae-Gal.”
Over the years, as my client load has grown in my online business, I’ve had to figure out strategies to juggle a demanding full time job, and a blooming career that I hope to grow large enough to carry me into the next phase of life. What works for folks doing client work full-time, just doesn’t work the same when you already have a schedule that’s imposed by your primary gig.
I’ve made myself a number of gorgeous, color coded schedules with a block for writing, a block for calls, a block for working on my various businesses, a block for “self care time.” But no matter how I arrange these blocks of time according to what feels like a natural flow, they never work. I follow a schedule for about a week, and then the next week comes and throws the entire plan into chaos because something new comes up that I hadn’t planned for.
Oh… and I also have teenagers. Their schedules tend to dominate my mornings, afternoons and sometimes weekends, keeping me always in need of flexibility. But somehow, in the past 4 years, I’ve managed to do it all, and slowly grow my online business into something I’m proud of, and is on track to replace my full time job by the time my kids are grown.
So I thought I’d share my take on working full time and… working full time on top of that. How I did it, mistakes I made along the way, and how I manage things now and still keep my sanity.
Strategy #1: Go Ahead and Take That Call
My first strategy is counterintuitive. Most time management advice suggests you limit distractions and create space to focus on your work for a predetermined period of time. That’s where these lovely color blocked schedules I used to make for myself came in. I was trying to create a mold to fit this dream of uninterrupted time when I could work on my list of priorities and projects and get through everything I’d planned at the end of each week.
But when you have a full time job on someone else’s schedule, the leftover time is minimal, and usually changes daily. Even though I own my own business, it’s the customers, employees and the store hours that determine my schedule, not me. So over time, I’ve adopted a different approach to task management.
I rarely make a list ahead of time. What I focus on each day, or during a certain section of the day, is up in the air until I’m actually sitting down to do the work. That’s when I decide what the priority is for that chunk of time and start working on that priority. But if something new comes up… I take that call, I answer that email, or I respond “Give me 2 minutes,” when one of my kids asks for my time. The key to this approach is knowing your priorities and working on whatever is the top priority at that moment for the amount of time you have. I’m not saying I respond to every email the moment it comes in. But if I thought I was gonna work on my writing and I see an email with a new job opportunity, suddenly my priorities shift, and I get that application or outreach email in as quickly as I can before doing anything else.
I keep this list of priorities in my head, which might sound insane, but the thing to realize here is this “list” of priorities is not a to-do list. There is no pressure associated with this list. Even if you decide you need to keep a running list of priorities in a physical place, on your phone, or a notepad, the point is not about crossing things off. Rather, it’s a general understanding of what are priorities, and working on those in chunks as you have time. Sometimes I work late into the night, sometimes I steal time from one project to work on another. It’s a constantly evolving puzzle of priorities fit into pockets of time. It’s not a straight path, but if you’re prioritizing the right projects, this approach built my online business incrementally.
While my copywriting and consulting business has not grown as quickly as others, I can tell you it has grown steadily. And I’ve rarely lost momentum or failed to meet a deadline.
Strategy #2 Be Honest With Yourself
Because I run my days based on priorities, I’ve had to learn that sometimes the thing you least want to do is actually the most important. If you aren’t honest with yourself, or you don’t take time to periodically sit back and evaluate your plans, then you run the risk of avoiding something you shouldn’t.
Some time management experts will counsel you to choose only one priority, and get that out of the way before moving on to the next. While my approach is different, with priorities changing sometimes like the wind, there is still wisdom behind that advice that I incorporate into my plans.
I am careful to notice what I am avoiding. Usually that avoidance is a clue that I’m ignoring something important and I need to tackle that project the next chance I get. If you don’t pay attention in this way, those projects you’re avoiding will become a horrible nagging feeling and decrease your efficiency overall.
Strategy #3 Form An Accountability Group
Some of you may be more intrinsically motivated than I am, so the way you build accountability into your life may look different than mine, or may not be necessary at all. But for me, having a group of people I’ve made a promise to, is sometimes the only thing that keeps me focused and able to reach my goals.
Accountability has been important in my business because not all of the work I do when building an online business is delivered to a client. I’ve created a successful business that inspires me and excites me because over the years I’ve been reliably producing content, like this blog, and putting that out into the world. Creating content for your own business helps you define the business, which is especially important in the beginning years, and it helps people find you so they can hire you.
While having a deadline has always been a great motivator for me to do my best work, when there isn’t a deadline, it’s easy for me to lose momentum. That’s why I find friends and colleagues to help me create that same sense of urgency and force good work out of me even when I may not feel like it.
I’ve taken a few different approaches to accountability groups:
- I’ve worked one on one with a friend, where we meet on zoom or in person once a month and each set a goal to finish before the next call.
- I’ve formed in person groups with other business owners where we meet quarterly in person, and then use communication apps to check-in and follow up on each other.
- I’ve been in online groups where someone sets up a challenge with very specific terms or participation.
One group I’m a part of has periodic 90-day challenges where anyone who signs up must publish one piece of content on a social network before 5pm on Friday or else we have to buy everyone in the group a gift off their Amazon list! How’s that for extrinsic motivation?!
It’s taken me several years of failing to meet my time management goals, and feeling like I’m doing it all wrong, to finally realize I need to relax and let my natural inclinations take over. Since I don’t have completely open work days in a row to focus on my online business, I can’t build my business the same way most of my colleagues are working on theirs. For instance I can’t say, “I will only take client calls on Tuesdays.” Because I never know what my Tuesday is going to look like from one week to the next. With so many people dependent on me and new initiatives starting in my businesses all the time, I had to give up planning my weeks ahead of time and learn to be flexible.
Now I move forward with the knowledge that I will get everything done, even if I don’t know exactly when. I’ve learned to relax and trust myself, that as long as I’m taking each priority as it comes, I will finish it all in time. Some days I just have to stop and remind myself, “I have all the time I need.” And it’s true. Time is funny like that.
I have all the time I need, and so do you.
Hi! I’m Annie Aaroe, a b2b marketing strategist. To find out more about story-driven, conversion copy and strategy that’s tailored for tech and SaaS brands, visit my website, aaroewriting.com, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.