How To Be Entrepreneurial At Your 9 to 5

There’s a lot of talk about how today’s twenty-somethings (currently millennials and soon to be Gen Z) are moving towards a gig economy and a freelance society. The trends seem to indicate that we crave creative freedom and flexible schedules. But is that true for everyone? I know plenty of people who are quite happy with a structured schedule, steady salary, paid time off, health insurance, and the mentorship that a 9 to 5 provides. It’s okay that we all have different coffee orders and it’s okay that we all work best in different environments.

You don’t have to start a business to be entrepreneurial. By definition, entrepreneurial means that you are taking financial risks in the hope of making a profit. As an entrepreneur, you’d be doing this with your own business (and probably your own money, unless you have investors). As an employee at a bigger company? That means you can bring big ideas and plans to the table that won’t cost you a penny.

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That said, you can still embody the entrepreneurial spirit in a traditional role. The truth is that not all of us want to have our own businesses and not all of us will thrive in that space. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it and put our best work forward.

Here are seven ways to be entrepreneurial at your 9 to 5:

1. Think outside of the box.

This is probably the most obvious point I’m going to make here, but it’s one worth noting. Many small and micro business owners offer similar services. They have to be creative in their offerings. A lot of this comes down to branding (which will cover more in depth later on) but it also means that they are going further in their ideas to differentiate themselves.

When you bring your ideas to the table, take everything a step further. Go in depth on how a new technology will bring you a step ahead. Take one idea and break it down into three more ideas. They might not all be viable, but when you have an excellent team around you, you’ll have even more brain power at your disposal to elevate your ideas.

If you struggle to come up with your own ideas, develop current ideas and proposals even further. What are other companies in your niche doing and how can you do it better? Take a look at what products are selling and which aren’t. When you think outside of the box, you’re going to come up with ideas that are riskier and haven’t been tried before. They might flop, but they also might pay off big time. Remember, being entrepreneurial is about taking a risk for profit. Your team will decide what is most viable but the idea has to be put out there. If you’re stuck, look at the ideas on the table and do market research on your own to see how these new developments can be as successful as possible.

2. Do market research on your own.

You probably already know your company’s target market, but how specific can you get? What are the people who are buying the products or services doing on a Wednesday night? What workouts are they doing at the gym? What are their favorite social media platforms? Targeting is becoming more and more important as media platforms adjust their advertising. They know that they have millions and millions of potential customers and they want advertisers to pay for access to that.

On the flip side of the coin, dig into the analytics on your own time and narrow down what the people who buy your company’s products and services have in common. Look at the ads from your own social media perspective. What is underperforming? What is performing better than expected? Go a step further and look at how competitor’s are performing. Don’t copy their ideas and marketing, instead dig to find why exactly their campaigns are performing well.

3. Plan for the long-term (think 3+ years out).

Not only is this impressive to higher ups, but it shows that you’re committed to your role. For small businesses to succeed, it often means their owners are planning for years ahead as well as putting in 12+ hour days regularly. I’m not saying that you should feel obligated to work beyond your required eight or so hours, but any extra effort you put in will show.

What goals do you hope to meet in your role in the next six months? What about the next year? The next 18 months? How do you plan to meet these goals? Keep a paper trail as often as possible lest anyone else tries to piggyback off your ideas. It’s a sad warning to have to put out there, but copycatting happens all the time, even in the entrepreneurial space.

4. Investigate what your company’s customers or users are saying.

Entrepreneurs have to be extremely responsive to their customer base. Consumers are more likely to purchase from large companies they already trust. That in turn means small business owners really rely on positive customer feedback and have to take negative feedback very seriously.

Dig through reviews, surveys, online forums, social media comments, and hashtags to find out what customers really need from your product or service. They might even be talking about a feature they don’t realize already exists. In that case, a tweak to the marketing could open your sales up to an entirely new demographic. If you can find enough instances of this, it might warrant more product testing that could lead to an explosion in sales.

If you’re finding repeating themes throughout the feedback, document them! Take screenshots so you’ll have hard evidence to bring with you to meetings and drive your point home.

5. Be a mentor and find a mentor.

Mentorship is hugely important, no matter which career path you take. The people you look at to be a mentor should be two or so years ahead of you and then around ten years ahead of you.

On the other side of the coin, it’s important for you to pass your knowledge and experience on too. Most of us share a common goal and want our work to be successful. When you pass on your knowledge, you’re making a positive impact on what comes after you. Teamwork makes the dream work.

Read more: How to Be a Valuable Mentor in Your 20s, Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor, 5 Questions To Tell If Your Mentor Is a Good Fit For You, 5 Life-Changing Benefits of Having a Mentor

6. “Brand” yourself.

Your personal brand is basically how people describe you when you aren’t around. It’s the characteristics and traits that you embody. And maybe even a mantra that encompasses your entire work ethic. In most offices, not many people fall under the “entrepreneurial” description.

My friend Erin from has a fantastic three part formula to brand yourself. She writes primarily for entrepreneurs, but her advice can be adapted for 9 to 5-ers as well!

7. Learn on your own time.

Entrepreneurs have to be scrappy and do everything they can to stay ahead of the game, and you should too. Nothing says “motivated” like someone who goes out of their way to learn something useful. Skillshare has ample resources and courses for you to use to your advantage.

For some examples to figure out what to learn: Get a better grasp on programs and technology you use on a regular basis, dip your toes into a newly released program that your company may adopt one day; learn how to understand analytics (get Google Analytics certified); take a course from an expert to learn how to improve conversion rates; enroll in a writing course to sharpen your writing skills and communicate more effectively. The options are nearly endless. Extra bonus — many sites will also give you a “certificate” that you can add to your LinkedIn profile.

Your unique experiences, skills, and certifications will make you invaluable in the work place. Throw in an entrepreneurial mindset and you immediately stand out from the rest. While most of the examples given here reference a B2C model, they can be easily adapted if you work in a B2B field as well. Get creative with your ideas and you’ll go far, all-star. 

About the Author

Nicole Booz

Nicole Booz is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of GenTwenty, GenThirty, and The Capsule Collab. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and is the author of The Kidult Handbook (Simon & Schuster May 2018). She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, eating brunch, or planning her next great adventure.