Welcome to Ask Shopify, a series where ecommerce experts tackle real questions and challenges from store owners who are trying to launch, build, and scale their stores. We’re here to help with every aspect of your store, from marketing to HR to accounting.
Who’s we? We’re the ecommerce experts both inside and outside of Shopify. Between our team, who spend all day immersed in the world of ecommerce (and who sometimes run stores themselves!) our squad of Shopify Experts, and our amazing customers, we have access to world-class expertise—and now you do too. So let’s dig in and get to your questions, because they’re good ones.
Building a business on the side of a full-time job comes with some great perks, like building skills and earning additional income, but an abundance of time in which to work on it isn’t one of them.
That said, it’s entirely possible to build a business in the time you have available, and creativity (and productivity!) thrives on constraints.
Here at Shopify, you can’t walk down a hallway without running into a colleague who runs their own business, so we have a big community of store owners rocking a full-time job who were more than happy to share how they make it work.
Planning is your friend
Since we know time is at a premium for you, one of the most important takeaways from the advice we gathered is that planning is going to be critical to your success.
Planning is a broad topic, so to narrow it down, this might include:
- Making a list of the different things you need to tackle and prioritizing them
- Mapping out your marketing funnels
- Choosing and setting up software to automate parts of your business
And while it can feel like you only have time to handle day-to-day tasks when you’re running your business in addition to your job, carving out time for these more strategic activities will end up freeing space in your calendar over the long term.
Automate, automate, automate
Almost as soon as I hit “send” on a message asking if anyone had advice on how to manage your store with a full-time job, notes singing the praises of different automation tools were rolling in. Beyond any other topic, this one wins the coveted Most Advised way to run a business with limited time.
“I use Kit to place ads in just a few seconds via chat. I can literally place an ad, send an email marketing campaign, and post to FB and IG while on my morning commute.”
Pirate Happy Hour
“Non-paid social media has been amazing for me, even with a small following under 1k. Using a tool like Buffer has been instrumental in staying ahead of the game when planning things out and ensuring they are executed on time.”
Build processes that run without you
It sounds the same as automation, but doing a bit more upfront work to implement systems that run on autopilot is a way to step up your automation game. Beyond relying on tools to do the heavy lifting, there’s also some upfront strategy work involved—but once you’ve done it, it’ll continue to work for you without you ever having to think about it.
“Build retargeting campaigns for site visitors, buyers, and people who add items to their cart. This way, you’ve automated targeting these people to come back to the store and make a first purchase, check out their cart, or buy an upsell.
You can also build drip email campaigns. These become automated and get sent out based on time delays and user actions. This is a great way to focus on other things, and still know that your customers are getting valuable content and offers based on what they bought or what they showed interest in.”
Separate planning and doing
If you only have an hour or two of focused work time, one of the best ways to optimize it is to plan out exactly what you’ll do before you sit down to work. That planning can be in your head, or done in the small breaks you can carve out during the day, so when you do sit down to work, you don’t waste any time figuring out what to tackle next.
Or, in Jen’s case, you know what you’ll be handling while you catch up on your newest Netflix obsession.
“On one of my breaks, I searched ‘digital patterns’ [Editor’s Note: Jen sells digital patterns on her store] and researched what keywords other stores used, so I can revamp all my products while I watch Netflix tonight and tomorrow.”
Another way you can approach this is to brain-dump all of your ideas into one place, and sort through them and create priorities when you sit down to plan your week.
“I rely heavily on Trello to brain dump all my ideas, and then arrange these ideas by the “department” they belong in: marketing, storefront, supply chain, etc. Then I go in and set weekly goals using Trello and the ideas I’ve already got on my list.”
Block your tasks
Another way you can optimize the time you have available to work on your business is to plan it so you’re handling a lot of similar tasks all at once. It can save you time in a few ways: if you need to set up for a task, you’re only doing it once, and you also won’t need to switch out of the mindset required for that specific task.
“I spend a day or two to take about 20-30 unique pictures, which I then schedule and post on Instagram throughout the week.”
Oberlo Customer Success Manager
The Kundan Shop
There’s something to be said for using your environment to help you get into the business zone. Whether it’s a dedicated workspace in your house, or a separate location entirely, paying attention to your physical space and how it impacts your productivity can help you make the most of the time you have available.
“I usually go work out of a coffee shop to differentiate what work I'm doing. For me, the coffee shop equals ‘this is side business time.’”
Find and use small pockets of time
Even in the busiest of calendars, there’s usually tiny pockets of time you can use to, if nothing else, think through what you’re working on and dealing with in your business. Whether it’s making notes during a public-transit commute, or making a mental to-do list while eating your lunch at work, optimizing those moments could help you find a bit more time in the day.
“I'm trying to hack to find more time in the day, which has been really key. When I'm commuting, it’s about 40 solid minutes on public transportation. During that time, I’ll do things like open up my notes app on my phone and start writing copy, or think about strategies to grow my Instagram following, or plan out my posts.”
Outsource if at all possible
It’s not always possible to throw money at the problem, which is why this suggestion is our final one, not our first, but hiring expert help can make a big difference if your business can handle the cost. It doesn’t have to be a cost of thousands either—even a small budget can help take some time-consuming but simple tasks off your plate.
“Hiring VAs to do small tasks on sites like Fiverr and Upwork is an affordable way to get small, easy, time consuming things done like order fulfillment, social media scheduling, and product research.”
Make time your ally
Finding the time to grow your business, not to mention keep it running in the first place, on top of a full-time job can be tough, but at the same time, it can also be hugely rewarding.
Balancing all of your work and your learning really comes down to prioritizing the highest impact activities, being intentional about what you’re doing and not doing right now, and asking for help where and when you need it. Hopefully these strategies can help you make the most of the time you do have for your business, and get the benefits of entrepreneurship without the pressure of making it your full-time gig (yet?).
And if you’ve found other strategies that help balance a business alongside a full time job? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.