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Five Ways Your Day Job is Just Like a Startup

Dec 5, 2019

Founder of Hey J. Nicole and HJN Design Studio, Janelle, on the topic of ways her day job is like a startup

“I never want to run my own business.” I used to say those words. Regularly. Crazy enough, I now run two…and manage to half-way maintain a full-time job…

I’d say that’s a lesson in never saying never.

But a couple weeks ago, I was sitting in a training program at my law firm regarding a topic lawyers lovingly know as “business development,” and as the presenter began to speak, would you believe me if I told you how OBVIOUS it was that she was just reciting back the exact framework from a biz book Bae had just recommended to me?!

It was in that moment that I realized the truth that I’d been intentionally ignoring: (1) my job is a lot more like my startup than I’d care to admit and (2) the skills necessary to make me a great business owner would also make me a great rainmaker at my job, so I should maybe focus a lot harder on all these particular skills over the next year if I intend to be successful at anything.

As the presenter in my office spoke, I split my notes page into two columns: one for Hey J, and the other for the law firm, and below are the ways in just a two-hour presentation that I’ve found that my full-time job is actually just like my startup.


1. You need to know your core values

I’ve always found talk on core values to be a little “woo woo.” To be honest, I didn’t start this website with any core values in mind. I just knew I had a message I wanted to share and that I needed a place on the internet to do that.

But as “woo” as it sounds to make core values, you actually need them for ANY type of employment. Mainly, because it helps guide your moves in sticky situations.

Knowing what’s true for you will help navigate what will be acceptable behavior, whether that behavior happens at your 9-5 or your own business. Example: if “Respect for All,” is one of your core values, you would be alerted to a possible misalignment of values when your boss marches out of his office and begins screaming at the secretary until she cries.

Just saying.

Same is true when your name is on the front door. One of my personal core values is to leave folks better and happier than I found them. And that resonates in everything I do. Any content I put out on the ‘Gram or any convos I have with Work Becky in the hallway all have “adding value” front of mind. If my employer and/or bosses don’t lead with the same value, there will be a misalignment, and one (or both) of us will begin to be uncomfortable and unhappy. If my business does not exude this value, I will begin to get tired of working so hard for it and want to quit. Period.

2. You need clear benchmark goals

All the great and weathered business books tell you that you need to sit down and set super clear goals: 3-year goals, 1-year goals and quarterly goals. I’ve never considered it before, but you also should be doing that in your day job too!

You should be sitting down and thinking intentionally about what you want your job and your startup AND YOUR LIFE to look like in 3-years. And then you need to figure out what you need to do in the next year to get yourself there. And even smarter to figure out what you need to do in the next quarter to achieve the yearlong benchmark.

I find that a lot of my friends struggle with goal setting. Over the last few months, I’ve hosted a few “Goal Setting Dinners” here in ATL, and in the process have made a little guidebook to help anyone who is looking for some guidance in setting goals. You can grab that Goal Setting Guidebook and worksheet template here.

The idea in instituting goals in both your job and your startup is that you understand where you want the ship to go and you make conscious, focused efforts every freaking day to move in that direction.

3. Your brand is everything

I didn’t realize that brand and reputation are one in the same, but I have always been very intentional from day 1 at the law firm on curating and controlling to the best of my ability what the narrative was about “me” as an associate. For example: I intentionally aligned myself with administrators and top associates who were “at the table” so I could keep a pulse on what was explicitly being said about me and my performance (particularly when I wasn’t in the room) and adjust accordingly.

Now that I study business (disregarding the four years that I apparently did that in college), I found out this hoarding of your reputation is called “marketing” to everyone else in the world…

And it’s V V important – both internally and externally. Whether you put up your own shingle or work at a large conglomerate, your reputation with your bosses and colleagues is JUST (if not more) important than your reputation in the community. Just as your reputation with clients will dictate the further trajectory of your startup, your reputation with your bosses can make or break whether you’ll continue to get great work that you enjoy.

For a little bit of time here at Hey J, I was helping folks get their side hustles started with a bang. I knew that was never the primary function of what I wanted to do, but I made sure to do it professionally and add as much value as I possibly could.

Those people in my baby side hustle academy have gone on to be my BIGGEST supporters and cheerleaders. Just yesterday, I got a call from a local magazine here in town that they want to feature me, and you know who recommended me: ONE OF MY SIDE HUSTLE GIRLS, Y’ALL.

My best advice (whether for your job or your startup) is to tie your reputation back to your core values and make sure everything you do, say, wear, email, whatever (!!) is in accordance with the plan. Whether in your job or your startup, your reputation is the most valuable thing that you own.

4. You need to continuously sell & market yourself & your skills

Whether internally at your job or to perspective clients, sales is a skill you’ll need. I’ve always found this to be the hardest part in this whole success roadmapping. I am TERRIFIED of coming off as too “salesy” whenever I’m sharing (whether that’s sharing my legal skills at a networking event or sharing the sous vide that I can’t live without with my IG followers).

At the law firm, we call sales “business development” but truly, it’s just sales and marketing.

Two second crash course: Find a niche you’re passionate about and focus on it. Add so much value that people naturally think of you. Bleed value to folks before you ever need anything. Make sure you stay top of mind in the most positive ways.

It’s all the same, people.

If you want to bring business to your company, you have to get out there and sell yourself and your entire corporation. But not in a sleezy way to off puts folks – in a genuine way that shows that you have value to add and a solution to their problem.

If you want to get clients in your own business and for your own startup, you’ve gotta do the same damn thing.

5. You need a team to advance

At my old job, there were a handful of associates who I pledged allegiance to. It didn’t matter what was on my plate or what deadlines I had, if my beloved senior associates asked me to do something, I bent over backwards to get them whatever it was they needed before anything or anyone else.


Because they showed a clear investment in me. Because they took the time to teach me when no one else had two minutes to explain. Because they made sure I knew the “right” way to do things (from how to draft certain documents to the order I put folks’ names in an email “To” box). Because when someone yelled at me or sent a sharp, hurtful email, they reminded me why I was capable or even sometimes went and told the jerks off.

The beauty of these relationships is that they were somewhat circular. I was loyal to them because they added SO MUCH value to my professional life, but they were loyal to me because I made sure to make them look great and take work off their plate when I could. They could accomplish more and be a star because I was under them pushing the smaller rocks forward.

The same is true for your startup.

One of the first business lessons I learned was that you can’t grow past a certain point alone. As a one person show, I was very limited in what I could accomplish and what could get done. So, I hired help in the form of a virtual assistant. And y’all, that was one of the best decisions I’ve made as a business owner yet.

I could (and probably will one day) talk at length about hiring folks in the form of contractors, vendors and employees, but the point to keep in mind is that the relationship is circular. The more that you pour into helping, teaching and adding value to them, the more the folks you hire will want to do the same for you.

In business, there are clearly defined steps you take and practice to be successful. AND THE SAME IS TRUE AT YOUR JOB.

So now, you’ve got two options as I see it: (1) you can invest in learning these skills to use at your job and (2) you can acknowledge you’re not enjoying your job enough to put in all this effort and use that energy and these skills elsewhere.

I created the Happiness Planner just for this purpose. A few years ago, I looked up and found myself thinking, “Why am I here right now,” and the exercises I did to get me not only to a much happier place but with a much better life plan, I’m sharing with you on my website as a free download.  

If the thought of doing the above steps to advance your career for your current 9-5 makes your stomach turn, head over to the Resources tab of my website and download the Happiness Planner to help you get a little more intentional about what you want from life and how you can achieve that.

What are some other ways you’ve found your 9-5 is just like a startup? Let me know if the comments below!

With Love, Janelle



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