Balancing a Corporate Career With Your Start-up

Balancing a Corporate Career With Your Start-up


Work vs Work: Tips on managing your Career while attaining success in your start-up

by Zimasa Qolohle


Born between the years 1980 – 1995, I am a true Millennial woman: My search to find that sweet spot in the elusive work-life balance is unparalleled. I feel uncomfortable at the thought of remote work, adore collaborative thinking, crave overall fulfilment and often find myself frustrated at waiting for long term gratification. I thrive off technology and the latest apps. Most importantly, I desire to bring change to the world.

Being a Creative Corporate, I somehow possessed enough patience and methodological thinking to complete a Law degree, followed by a Masters - but continuously felt frustration at not being able to exercise a degree of creativity and intuition in my everyday life and career. I could not deny the importance of my career in the corporate world – it has helped me to become a strategic thinker and has improved my financial knowledge and acumen. However, the creative in me constantly felt the need to be unleashed, and eventually, the penny dropped and I made the decision to merge my talents, skills, experience and creativity, to found The Corporate Canvas – an online careers, finance and lifestyle magazine that serves as a mantra and aesthetic for young women in their early career years. Functioning as a weekly online publication, I currently run The Corporate Canvas whilst balancing my career at a large financial institution. Although difficult, I believe the strategy of maintaining your day job while running a side business or project is a great means of making a career change, lowers your financial risk (you have money coming in from your day job), emotional risk (you try out your idea and/or interest before making too drastic a change) and transition risk (you have time to build experience and skills before migrating 100% to your side pursuit).

As someone who is currently in that awkward crossroads of dedicating my time towards advancing my career or dedicating my all towards growing my online business, I’ve come up with a few tips on balancing a career whilst launching a start-up:

Don’t be afraid to fail and start over

I know this will sound like a negative tip to start off with, but hear me out. Before launching The Corporate Canvas, I ran my own personal blog for about two years. The purpose of the blog at the time was to share my favourite make-up tips and tricks, showcase the places I loved visiting in and around Johannesburg and sharing my personal views on significant issues. That was the very first sign of failure – I didn’t have a particular area of focus or niche, and resultantly found myself unable to come up with new content, and lost interest in it very quickly! Not only did the blog lack direction and planning due to not having a specific area of focus, but I also found that sharing what I got up to this weekend was not fulfilling, and that at my very core, my sweet spot lay in sharing information that would be valuable to people; ensuring that once I share a piece of information, it will contribute significantly to someone else’s life. Thus, I closed down the blog as deep down, I had failed to follow my innermost desires, and embarked on the journey of starting a careers, finance and lifestyle platform that would engage, add value, provide knowledge, and contribute towards our greater society. Although it’s early days, the site has garnered great traction – attaining 30 000 page-views in its first three months, I regularly receive positive feedback, and the great part is that I can take my site continental (which is next on the cards) as every women on the continent can relate to needing advice on their career or finances.

Protect your ideas, but don’t be afraid to collaborate and brainstorm

Let’s face it – imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery! Corporate espionage is a reality that has been faced by far too many inventors. Conversely, if you are overprotective of your ideas, and never share them with anyone, you run the risk of not allowing them to improve and flourish. Thus it is important to strike a balance. I kept a notebook and jotted down ideas for The Corporate Canvas for almost a year and used friends and family around me to improve on the idea by starting conversation centred around whether my friends and colleagues felt their needs and desires in the corporate world were being met, whether they felt as lost as I did in the workforce, and whether they knew of avenues in which to grow their money. I would listen carefully and jot down key points later in the evening. One need not always share one’s ideas, however, seeking advice and sparking conversation about what your business idea is centred around is a great way to ensure it flourishes.

Let your business mirror you and your passions

This goes back to what I said in #1. Your business and business idea must speak to who you are at your very core – your values, beliefs and interests. There will be many times when you feel despondent and want to give up, and you will certainly have days where the admin that comes with running your business frustrates you. However, if it speaks to who you are and what you believe in, you will always be able to bounce back and work harder the next day.

Be prepared to sacrifice

There is not a single business that doesn’t require your time, resources, attention and money! I knew I wanted to take my publication online and since we live in an aesthetically driven world, it meant I had to invest in a good camera. I had to save up and purchase a professional camera and I knew that I wanted a professional-looking site with a clean, beautiful aesthetic and thus I had to seek and pay a great web designer to help The Corporate Canvas come to life. Without great sacrifice, comes no great reward. Understand that your business will take much from you as a person; be prepared to put in the time and resources. It takes 1000 hours of practice to become good at anything, but 10 000 or more to achieve excellence.

Gain mental fitness

Not everyone will believe in your idea – and that’s ok! You will certainly receive criticism from some, and family may not always be supportive. Thus it will be up to you to gain mental toughness and not allow people’s opinions of you and your business to disturb your train of thought and your ambitions. I truly believe that of all the tips I can offer, mental toughness is the most important as it’s what will keep you afloat and resilient when you experience inevitable difficulties in your start-up. Believe in what you are doing wholeheartedly, realise that not everyone is as brave as you and bear in mind that people have different ways of thinking than you do. 

Set goals, ease up on the pressure

You’ve all heard it before – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Setting realistic goals and targets for yourself is imperative. I am a believer in setting small goals and achieving them, as these “small” successes accumulate and allow one to reach one’s ideal goals and targets. After all, you eat an elephant piece by piece! This is not to say that you shouldn’t set goals geared for a year from now, or on a longer term. Your long term goals should be ancillary to your smaller, short term goals and be stepping stones to achieving those bigger targets. Small successes can mean giving yourself three important business tasks to complete per day, which collectively result in numerous tasks that you’ve completed in a month.

On that note, however, do not put too much pressure on yourself! Giving yourself unrealistic, difficult or strenuous goals will only result in you feeling despondent in the event that you do not achieve them.

Let it be a labour of love

If you are balancing work and starting your own business, there will undoubtedly be days when you get home and feel too exhausted to do anything later in the evening. I find that on those days it is not always ideal to work on the business, as I may end up feeling irritated, which is far from ideal.

On the other end of the spectrum, when you haven’t had a good day – use it to fuel your passion, motivate you and propel your business forward.

Ensure your business is supplementary to your career and expertise

This is a tricky one as it may be perceived as a conflict of interest. However, making use of skills and expertise you have already learned in your journey in the corporate world is a great way to build your confidence. Just ensure that you carry out everything you do for your business with integrity and do not, under any circumstances, use resources or ideas that stem from your company!

Disclose Your Business

While running a start-up and balancing your day job, it’s important to remember that your day job is your bread and butter. So treat your employer with respect and disclose your outside business interests. This is technically for your own protection, as your transparency will ensure that you don’t find yourself in trouble in the event that any conflicts of interest arise. If your business is totally unrelated to what you do from day to day, it still speaks volumes about your character if your employer is aware of your side business. Who knows, your boss and colleagues may play a vital part in growing that very business!

Work vs Work

Having a career while following your entrepreneurial endeavours is certainly exhausting! Sometimes after a long day or week, the last thing you want to do is put all your energy into your business. Understand that working on your business does not always necessarily mean giving direct attention to it; work can also be scheduling meetings on weekends with friends and acquaintances who can give you tips on a technical skill you aren’t so great at, watching webinars such as TED Talks etc, spending the weekend updating and adding character to your business’s social media portals, attending conferences, perusing other company’s websites or even spending time with yourself at a quaint restaurant jotting down some ideas! You will find that come Sunday morning you will be totally motivated to work on the business since you have spent time upskilling yourself in other ways.

A fundamental aspect of putting in the work towards your business also involves Networking! People are integral to almost every business, therefore it is imperative that you ensure you continuously network with friends, colleagues and acquaintances and attend as many networking functions as possible. Make sure you always look the part, carry business cards and take a genuine interest in the other person before bombarding them with information about your start-up.

The road to entrepreneurial success is certainly a long one that requires patience, dedication and labour, more so when balancing a demanding career in the corporate environment. And while it is no easy feat, it is certainly the most rewarding journey you will ever undertake!

Photograph by Nuno Da Silva

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