How to launch a dream business while working full time, by the women who did it

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Sejal Kapadia Pocha
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For many women the idea of launching their own business is a long-held dream.

While 9-5 jobs offer security and, hopefully, great career opportunities there's no denying that for many people the thought of being your own boss, having flexible hours and pursuing an idea you've always nurtured is incredibly tempting. 

The New York Times reported over a quarter of the sellers on Etsy hold day jobs and chances are you already know a friend or two who has started their own side project to earn a little extra cash. 

So, in the hope of inspiring those of you who have always held hopes of working for themselves long-term, profiles ten women who have successfully launched their own side businesses while working full time. We wanted to know how they juggle it, the impact on their personal time and the golden rules they live by. Some have become so successful they have been able to leave their day jobs, while others still maintain both their full time work and side ventures.

And while (like us) it's just fine to want to go home and crash out on the sofa when you walk out of the office door, these women who go home and pursue their own businesses have some useful lessons on time management, determination and business acumen that we could all learn from. Read their tales below...

From fax machine saleswoman to Spanx founder

American Sara Blakely was 29-years-old working as a door-to-door fax machine saleswoman when she had the idea of launching a footless pantyhose undergarment, after regularly cutting off the feet of her pantyhose and wearing them as a bod support and underwear concealer. She launched Spanx in 2000, which is now worth $1 billion (£630 million).

Her first steps: Having never worked in fashion or retail Blakely set aside her entire $5,000 (£3,151) savings. In the evenings and weekends she spent recurring nights at the Georgia Tech library researching every hosiery patent ever filed, she visited craft stores to find the right fabrics and started cold-calling hosiery mills listed in the Yellow Pages. With not much success from calling, Blakely decided to show up at the Highland Mills hosiery factory in North Carolina. She was turned away but two weeks later she received a call from the manager after being convinced by his two daughters that Blake's product was a win.

Time management: Keeping her side business top secret, Blakely spent her evenings packing Spanx orders into padded envelopes and answering customer service calls 24/7 from her bathtub or bed. Unable to afford advertising, she tore out journalists’ bylines from magazines and called them and took over morning staff meetings at department stores to show sales associates how Spanx should be sold.

Top tip: “Don’t solicit feedback on your product, idea or your business just for validation purposes. You want to tell the people who can help move your idea forward, but if you’re just looking to your friend, co-worker, husband or wife for validation, be careful. It can stop a lot of multimillion-dollar ideas in their tracks in the beginning.”

The radiographer who launched a fashion label

One day, an idea struck Brooke Roberts, a Locum Cardiac Radiographer at Hammersmith Hospital. She could create a fashion brand that combines her two loves – science and fashion having completed two degrees in both subjects. She now designs knitwear under her eponymous label, Brooke Roberts, and has given a TED talk on fashion and technology.

First steps: Brooke started by experimenting with digital knitwear techniques. She tackled tough financial obstacles by building close relationships with her suppliers and negotiating special payment terms. She generated additional funds by working extra shifts at the hospital and cutting excess costs that were threatening her business’s viability.

Time management: “I work 9am-5pm in the hospital four or five days per week and run my business mostly in the evenings and on weekends. I take annual leave to design and create my collections for fashion week. I also use all of my time on the tube to reply to emails. It’s difficult and I rarely have holidays, but I feel very rewarded in both radiography and as a business owner and designer.”

Top tip: Write daily lists of the most important things you have to get done and make sure you get those checked off before dedicating time to other tasks. 

The PR who became a photographer

Two years ago Sarah Lincoln decided to take her hobby seriously and launched her own successful wedding photography business alongside working full time as a consumer PR at a London agency. She has since been featured on the Mail Online and has worked as a photographer at the Isle of Wight festival.

First steps: Sara scoured the internet for local photographers and asked the ones she liked the look of if she could shadow them to learn the ropes of wedding photography. She received a lot of “Thanks, but no thanks” until one photographer gave her a chance. “We met, he gave me regular projects to make sure, I knew how to use my camera in different situations and then when he felt I was ready, I second shot with him on his weddings.” She also joined several photographer communities (such as Welcome Home) which offered her tips and advice in photography and the building of her business. “Then, I got bookings through good old word of mouth and it sort of snowballed!

Time Management: Lincoln spent a lot of late nights and early mornings editing her work. She also takes her laptop into work to edit pictures through my lunch break and drinks lots of coffee.

Top tip: “There is no rush. Don't put unnecessary pressure on yourself to make your dream job work if you are not ready. There is no shame in keeping the safety net of your day job and waiting until you have nailed your brand/business before taking the leap. When people used to ask me what I did for a living I used to say "right now work in PR, but I will be a photographer" by just saying those words it made me believe it and strive to make it happen”.

The charity fundraiser who created a travel company for groups

Radha Vyas worked as a a fundraiser for charities including Macmillan, Open Cinema and Citizens Advice Bureau when she experienced a bad group holiday to Cambodia. That sparked the idea to set up group travel company The Flash Pack which creates holidays for the professional who wants to backpack and get under the skin of a country, but do it in style and comfort. So far she has done trips across the world from Vietnam to Costa Rica.

First steps: Radha and her partner Lee Thompson started thoroughly researching the travel industry and attending numerous travel events. They started to build up a big social media presence and got a website made to get their first bookings.

Time management: “Juggling both jobs was extremely difficult. It involved working on my fundraising five days a week between 9-5 and working on The Flash Pack until the early hours of the morning. I managed to get myself to the gym to work with a personal trainer two mornings a week and kept my diet healthy which helped me get through these long busy days. I managed to keep this going for almost a year”

Top tip: “The biggest challenge was to persuade people to simply put their trust in an adventure holiday company that didn’t have reviews. We had built a brand and had a great social media following but needed to come up with a big idea to tell the world about us. That idea was taking the first ever selfie from the top of Christ The Redeemer statue in Rio just before the football world cup. The idea worked and our picture went viral over night. Lee appeared on most major TV networks across the world as well as leading websites which gave us priceless free marketing. It was from this that we managed to get our early adopters who booked our flashpacking group trips and adventure honeymoons."

The Financial editor who launched her own planning stationery business

Kimberley Palmer felt overwhelmed with responsibility, grappling with motherhood, having just given birth to her first child, and working as a reporter in a struggling industry. After interviewing a businesswoman who made her living by selling cutting boards on Etsy, she asked herself 'What if I started an Etsy shop of my own, selling money planners based on my years of personal finance reporting?' She now earns an additional $5,000 (£3,152) a year from her side business Palmers Planners.

First steps: Withing two weeks of her idea, Kimberley designed her first planner, enlisted a freelance illustrator for around $100 (£63) and sent her planner to the printer to create a dozen spiral-bound planners. Her entire shop was off the ground for just $400 (£252). Without a first sale, she began picthing her shop to bloggers who wrote about motherhood, family life and money - her target audience. She hosted giveaways and wrote guest posts. Her visitor numbers slowly climbed and so did her sales. 

Time management: "As my business grew, so did my stress level. I was suddenly juggling my young daughter, a full-time job and my online shop. I worked on my planners whenever I could, which was primarily during nap time on the weekends and in the evenings after my daughter went to bed. The kind of business that it is — requiring a lot of upfront work creating the products but then very little as sales are made, since Etsy handles the payment collection and file downloads — made it possible for me to continue to fit the shop into my life. Like many side-business owners, I never want to leave my full-time job. I still build my shop when I can, which is usually when my children are asleep. (And thanks to Etsy, my sales get processed even when I am asleep.)"

Top tip: Start your own PR by contacting bloggers who write for your target market, and keep adjusting the business according to demand. 

A solicitor launches a luxury baby clothes brand

When Solicitor Henrietta Newman (left) had her first daughter, Martha, over five years ago, her childhood friend and Fluer Vidler (right) found it difficult to find her new godchild a gift. The women partnered up to launch their own babywear brand Belle Enfant, now stocked at Selfridges in the UK and ABC Home in New York.

First steps: Fluer started designing cashmere baby clothes and finding suppliers.They then put the first collection into production, perfecting the brand and designed the website.

Time management: By the time they launched the business in July 2012, Newman had returned to work following maternity leave with her second daughter, Margot, and they were both having to juggle launching a brand and the challenges of pressurised careers.  “I have to compartmentalise the work,” says Henrietta. “I have a high pressured job as a solicitor, I'm a mother of three young children and I'm co-owner of a growing business. The only way I can ensure that I'm as good as I want to be at each of these is by organising myself such that none of them encroach on the other.  This is easier said than done - I don't get much sleep, I rarely take a lunch break and I never watch TV.” But both Henrietta and Fluer pencil in 'down time'. “When you feel like you are spinning plates it is important to factor in a little time each week (for yoga, mediation, a massage, even an episode of Towie) so you can give yourself a chance to switch off and recharge.”

Top tips: “Find yourself a business partner. There is no way I could have done this nor wanted to do so without Fleur. Our respective skills compliment each other and we're there for each other during the highs and the lows. The second is that and don't for minute think it will be easier than your existing work. Although a business has every chance of being just as rewarding as you'd hoped, it will also be far more demanding on your time and resources.”

A sales manager launches a glamping site

Kerry Roy had a lifelong dream of owning a glamping village which she fulfilled whilst working as an account manager at toy manufacturers Great Gizmos. Her site Camp Katur in Yorkshire has a range of tents and pods including the UK’s first 360 degree clear panoramic woodland Unidome and an outdoor eco-spa.

First steps: Roy travelled around various glamping sites in the UK, snooping out what facilities they had, what they did right and what could be developed. She also read about the owners, how they started the business and where possible, their financial information and booking patterns. Before investing, she calculated what the costs will be for initial investment, running costs, VAT implications, return on investment and factors like realistic occupancy levels. Once she found the perfect location she set up a website and heavily marketed four months before the opening date.

Time management: “It was very difficult, mainly from an emotional point of view as there were times that I had to ‘tell tales’ to my boss and colleagues. My sales role involved attending different trade shows around the UK for 3-4 days at a time with the team and company directors with very little time for personal space during the day and evening which proved tricky as I needed to use that time to catch up on my own emails and planning of the business. My boss did eventually get wind of my ulterior motives and confronted me which was hard because I saw her and many others in my team as good work friends and the lying actually started to make me ill. That’s when I decided to leave my full-time job.”

Top tip: Be realistic on how long you can juggle the two without it compromising your relationship with your work peers or with the setting up of the business.

Advertising accounts manager to wedding stationery designer

Nishma Mistry, a project manager at London advertising agency Publicis started designing bespoke wedding stationery for friends' weddings when she realised there was a real gap in the market. Since she launched her business Doves and Peacocks two years ago, she has been inundated with requests from brides and grooms around the world.

First steps: Nishma started by thinking about why she wanted to start Doves & Peacocks and how she wanted to structure her services. She pulled together a few pictures of her design work and created a Facebook page to generate interest and soon the enquiries started coming in.

Time management: "I try to be as efficient with my time as possible. I reply to client emails and brainstorm ideas in the morning on my commute into work, in the evening after dinner and during the weekend. It's great to be busy and inundated with requests but it is hard when you're juggling two jobs. I had to teach myself to look at my immediate deadlines and politely inform other customers that if their wedding or event is in six months to one year away, I would be in touch in due course. I felt I had to attend to everyone and everything all at once which really wasn't the case."

Top tip: There is never a right time. If you want to launch something just get that Facebook page up or website to get it in front of people. Don't wait for it to be perfect because you can build on later after you've generated some interest in the product. It's more important to get enquiries coming in.

A Private Equity Research Analyst launches her own food stall

Louise Maddy worked as a Senior Research Analyst, focusing on private equity fund managers and trends in the global marketplace, when she launched The Avocado Cafe, a market stall which serves dips and salad boxes all containing avocado. She now trades every Friday and Wednesday at the One New Change food markets.

First steps: "One of the first steps I took when setting up The Avocado Café was looking into whether the idea was viable and what competition there was in the London marketplace for an avocado-based business. I quickly discovered there was a gap in the market, so began researching and testing different avocado recipes and ideas. Once I was happy with my recipes I held a tasting session with friends and family to gain their feedback. I then went to my first market to test the water on the general public. Markets are a great way to get instant feedback from customers, and this market gave me the confidence to progress the business further. I took out a small loan from start-up loans, started promoting my business and also applied to the National Market Traders Federation (NMTF) first pitch competition, which involves pitching a product and winning a recurring time slot trading at a local market."

Time management: "It was certainly hard managing my time between my 9-5 job and my new business. There was about six months of finishing work and coming back to focus on the business every evening. I'd spend my weekends looking around different markets and developing new ideas. One week I worked around 100 hours, I was up cooking before work and rushing back straight after. It was getting too much so at that point I knew I had to go for it and hand in my notice. It was quite a scary prospect that I would no longer be earning a regular salary, but it allowed me to put all my energy into the business to get it off the ground."

Top tip:  Use your time wisely. Setting up a business is very time consuming but make sure you take the time to get things right before you launch the business properly. Also try and get used to the long working hours as when you come to launch the business full time you will be working non-stop!

The account manager who created her own fashion events company

Georgie Woollams was responsible for marketing strategies for her client Hewlett Packard but she wanted to get into fashion. Now her company Katch is an international events brand with clients from Canon to Fashion TV.

First steps: Over time, she built up a network of designers, came up with the name, bought a website domain and went on to set up Katch which initially put on launch events and shows for collections. She continued to develop the company and make it well known in the industry in her evenings for a year. She made a 12-month business plan and then quit her day job.

Time management: “On one occasion, I had a conference for 500 people for my old company and at the same time Katch had launched and our first client was showcasing at London Fashion Week. I found that I was working very late nights and weekend to get everything done. I hired an assistant and had to trust and delegate a lot of the work to her.”

Top tip: Be strategic in your thinking and ensure that you plan your week in advance. If you are disorganised you cannot fulfil your workload(s) effectively and launching your own business just won't work well. 

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Sejal Kapadia Pocha

Sejal Kapadia Pocha covers stories about everything from women’s issues to cult foods. She describes herself as a balance between Hermione and Luna Lovegood.