Do you spend your 9-5 work day imagining what it would be like to be your own boss, set your own hours and get paid to do something you truly love? You’re not alone. According to a recent study, 53 million Americans are doing some sort of freelance work – whether as a supplement to their full-time employment or as their full-time means of income as a small business owner. As technology progresses, there are increasingly more opportunities for entrepreneurs in the freedom economy.

And while the idea of walking out of your day job to go start your freelance empire sounds like an adventure, you would be wise to consider sticking with that full-time job just a bit longer as you build your business. Growing a new business takes time, and money, so keeping those steady paychecks coming while you get your bearings will give you a better shot at success in your freelance career. It will take a lot of mental stamina to build your business while holding down a full-time job, but here are 5 ways to get the ball rolling and help you navigate the process.

Let’s Talk Goals

If you’re just getting started with the seed of an idea, the most important step is establishing exactly what your goals are. Think about what you want your business to look like – who you plan to serve, what skills you’ll need to serve them, and what you hope to accomplish financially. Write your goals down and incorporate them into a business plan that give you a road map to success.

Without realistically setting goals for yourself, it’s very easy to wander off the path and lose sight of where you’re headed. It is especially important to map out your goals and plans when you are also holding down a full-time job. When you’re working to build a business while also having to head into the office every day, it’s hard to pick back up where you left off if you haven’t given yourself a clear set of aspirations and tasks. Write everything down and post your goals in a place that you will see them regularly to remind you of where you’re headed.

Set a Timeline

Once you’ve established your goals, it’s wise to work them into a timeline to keep yourself on track. Be realistic about your timeline, and don’t worry about making things happen quickly. Focus on making sure things are done well, even if it takes you a little longer to reach your goals. Remember that you are balancing a full-time job while creating your business, and give yourself permission to move slowly. It will ensure that you don’t skip steps and that everything you do fully represents your potential, leading to success. Start with the big picture – where do you want to be in 3-5 years? From there, work down to what you hope to accomplish within your first year. Divide your first year goal into smaller accomplishments to ensure that every day you are contributing to that goal.

Do Your Research

This is a big step that many new entrepreneurs forget or skip over, but it is crucial to your success. Research has two benefits. It can help you set yourself apart and it lets you know what your potential clients need. When researching your industry, get answers to these questions before moving forward:

  • Who are my potential clients?
  • What do they need that I can provide?
  • Who is my competition?
  • What are my competition’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What will make me unique within this industry?

Build Your Website

A major priority as a new business owner is to create a space where potential clients can learn about you. They should be able to view your work and learn about your style in one convenient place. The perfect time to work on your website is when you are just getting started and don’t expect much traffic. It will allow you to take your time and make sure your brand messaging is exactly how you want it. When creating your website, you’ll need:

  • Your business name
  • Your logo
  • A unique and engaging “About” page
  • A portfolio of completed work

Make sure that every part of your website ties together and that your brand messaging is consistent. What is the tone you’d like to set for your brand? How do you want your clients to communicate with you? Do you want to be comfortable and easy-going or chic and upscale? Whatever you decide, make sure the style is consistent not just in your branding, but in your work. Your clients should be able to get an accurate representation of the work they will hire you to do just by looking through your website.

Respect the Schedule

When you’re excited about a new opportunity, it’s easy to jump into the deep end before you’re ready. But it’s important to create a schedule that allows you to focus fully on your day job while you’re there, and organizes your time after work to allow you to accomplish tasks but also have a personal life.

The best way to stick to this schedule is to choose your first clients and projects very carefully. Work with clients who understand you are a new business and who will respect your hours of business. If you hire a big client who has unrealistic demands that you are unable to meet while building your business, you risk ruining a business relationship and developing a negative reputation before you’ve even gotten started. Don’t be influenced by how much money your first clients can pay you, but by the relationships they can help you build. Stick to your schedule, and focus on finding clients who will respect it as well. Slowly but surely, you will find your way to success.

Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. And, when you’re building a business while also holding down a full-time job, it can feel very overwhelming. But if you set clear goals for yourself and work them into a realistic timeline, you’re certain to see your business grow to a point where you no longer need that 9-5 paycheck.