12 Easy Steps to Start a Side Hustle

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Falling on hard times, paying off debts, setting up a retirement fund, or just having some extra cash in your pocket—there are many reasons you may need to set up a side hustle. And who knows, it could be so lucrative it turns into a fully-fledged small business. In any case, a side gig is a worthwhile venture.

Americans that work on their side hustle for just 12 hours per week earn an extra $1,122 per month. In other words, you can easily add an extra $13,000 to your yearly salary.

There are so many opportunities to start a side hustle these days. But that might be a good thing and a bad thing. Where do you start? How do you set yourself up for success? How do you compete with everybody else who’s trying it? We’re here to help you get started right.

Step 1 – Consider These Side Hustle Strategies

The first step in choosing a side hustle is to understand what works. Here are some proven side hustle types to consider:

  • Freelancing – Add some freelance projects outside of your everyday work, e.g. writing, marketing, design, tutoring, photography, videography, or creative.
  • Online – There are a bunch of ways to earn money online, e.g. affiliate marketing via a blog, social media page, or YouTube channel, selling digital products, or running online courses.
  • Services – Offer an in-demand service such as decorating, childcare, gardening, deliveries, rideshare driving, and so on. Or offer your services as an all-rounder through a tasking app.
  • Selling – Design and sell your own handmade products, buy wholesale goods to sell, sell second-hand, fix/upcycle used or defective goods to sell.
  • Sharing Economy – Rent out your existing assets such as your property, car, equipment, or land.

Step 2 – Choose the Right Side Hustle for You

As a rule of thumb, you should choose a side hustle that matches your skill set, is something you’ll enjoy doing, and will earn you a regular income. 

You must enjoy what you’re doing or it’s unlikely you’ll stick with it. Starting a side hustle requires dedication and work to get off the ground. Consider utilizing skills you’ve learned during your career or otherwise. You may wish to turn a passion into a small side business, for example. 

What’s more, nobody wants to grind hard for little reward. Most side hustle ideas can be lucrative, you just need to take the right approach. Say you want to sell second-hand goods. Furniture has a much higher profit margin than clothing, therefore you wouldn’t need to sell as many items to get a good return on your investment.

Step 3 – Create a Plan

It’s important to think ahead and give some structure to what you’re about to do. You hold yourself accountable. You’ll feel less overwhelmed with plans laid out in front of you. And you prepare yourself for success by identifying what resources you’ll need, potential hitches and how to work around them, and so on.

Because it’s a side hustle, your business plan doesn’t have to be super formal right now. All the same, the plan is a practical resource for you to utilize so it needs to be comprehensive enough to serve its purpose. 

Here’s an example of a simple business plan:

Example of a one-page business plan from Fit Small Business

It helps you answer the main questions about what you’ll provide, for whom, and how you’ll sell it to them. Also, the funding you’ll need to get started and how you’ll make money. Naturally, you can add any other sections you consider helpful.

Step 4 – Validate Your Idea

Give yourself a chance to come up with another side hustle idea or to pivot if your initial idea doesn’t have legs. The good thing with a side hustle is you can do a trial run while you maintain a steady income from your main job. 

For instance, create a mini version of your online course and send it to relevant people for feedback. Or set up a market stall with your handmade wares to gauge interest in real time.

Also, research the level of interest in a product or service online. Use Google Trends to see how many people are searching for your offering. Here you see there’s steady interest in renting a parking space:

Google Trends results for the search term "rent parking space"

Another idea, check if people are talking about issues/topics related to your idea on local or relevant social media pages, e.g. on Facebook or LinkedIn groups. Will your offering make a good solution to a common problem?

Step 5 – Set SMART Goals

Setting SMART goals helps you stay on track and fulfill your ambitions. It also helps determine the logistics of your side hustle and criteria you can use to monitor your progress along the way.

SMART stands for: 

  • Specific – What precisely do you want to achieve? You may wish to include where you’ll do it and what you’ll need to accomplish it.
  • Measurable – How will you quantify success?
  • Achievable – Is it possible to achieve the goal considering aspects such as the time frame or your current means? How can you make it happen?
  • Relevant – Does this goal make sense for you? Do you have the right skills and motivations?
  • Time-bound – How long will it take to achieve your goal? When is the end date?

Let’s say you intend to start freelance copywriting on the side, your SMART goal might look something like this:

“I will obtain three copywriting clients in three months after setting up my LinkedIn page to attract potential leads.” 

As you can see, the goal meets all the criteria and is much more defined than simply saying “I want to start taking on some freelance copywriting work”.

Step 6 – Research Your Audience

Establish who exactly you’ll target and what they need or desire most. This will help you make important business decisions and you’ll learn how best to encourage your target audience to buy from you.

Here’s some initial information you need to find out:

  • What are the demographics and psychographics of your market?
  • What are their biggest pain points?
  • What influences them to buy?
  • Where do they currently get the product or service?
  • How can you do better than the existing provider? 
  • What online platforms do they use?
  • How much are customers in your niche willing to spend?

Researching competitors and their customers is a good place to start. Go to their social media pages and analyze their followers to start making customer profiles. Perhaps you see a certain demographic is most interested in this kind of offering. Read comments and reviews to find out what’s lacking from existing providers and how you can provide a better service.

Step 7 – Create Branding Materials

You need to establish a trustworthy brand if you want customers to buy from you. Your side business must appear professional and credible.

First, come up with a memorable brand name that’s representative of what you do. Then design a logo to attach to all of your materials and legitimize your side hustle.

The other branding materials you create depend on what kind of side hustle you’ll operate. For instance, if you’re working online, you may create banners and graphics for say, social media pages, and online marketplaces. Whereas, if you’re operating a small service business in your local area you’d create materials such as business cards, flyers, and brochures.

Use a free design tool such as Canva to create branding materials:

Canva marketing page with header that says "Everything you need for an on-brand logo"

The platform has a bunch of templates you can customize to design your materials quickly and easily.

Step 8 – Set Pricing

Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth, even if it’s your first side hustle. At the same time, your pricing needs to be reasonable in order to be competitive.

Research what others charge for what you do—the lowest, average, and highest values. If you sell products, for instance, go to an online marketplace and filter the results by the highest and lowest price to get an idea of the range:

Example of ThemeForest filtered results for CMS themes

If you sell a service, you may need to do a bit more detective work, looking at competitors. Or go to a service marketplace such as Bark.

You can charge in the higher end of your bracket as long as you provide the value to match. That means having a unique value proposition, something your competitors don’t provide.

For instance, you can charge more for your online course if you offer one-to-one feedback to customers. Similarly, you can charge more for your homemade jewelry if you use high-end materials.

Step 9 – Set Up Shop

Where you set up shop depends on your side hustle. You’ll likely start via some kind of agency, app, or online marketplace as they have an existing set of customers. But we advise you don’t stick with them for too long. 

You’ll start to build your reputation, get customer testimonials, and/or get a portfolio of work under your belt. Then, you should migrate to your own website or online store to cut out the middle person and remove fees. 

For example, you go from offering your services as a freelance graphic designer on Fiverr to having your own portfolio website. Or from selling goods on eBay to setting up your own online store with Shopify.

Step 10 – Outsource Help

There may be some areas of running a business in which you lack the skills or knowledge required. But that shouldn’t hold you back.

Maybe you need somebody to take care of the legal aspects and formalities, for example. In this case, a business formation service will help with business registration, protecting your assets, staying compliant, and similar administrative tasks.

Another reason to outsource help is to run your side hustle more efficiently. Have somebody else focus on laborious, repetitive tasks while you focus on the important stuff such as forming relationships with customers.

Advertise for help on a free listing site, such as CraigsList. Also, see if there are any niche job sites or freelance marketplaces where you can acquire the right person for a specific task or role. 

For one-off jobs, use Fiverr where you can find a range of cheap freelance services. 

Popular professional services in Fiverr

Another idea is to seek out a virtual assistant service to hire an all-rounder that can help you with the day-to-day running of your side hustle.

Step 11- Promote Your Side Hustle

Let your audience govern the way you promote your side hustle. Through customer research, you found out info that will guide your messaging. Speak to people in a way that appeals to them specifically. 

Take this Airbnb ad for a rental in Brussels that addresses the needs and desires of young, enthusiastic travelers seeking a “lively” atmosphere in the center of things:

Example of an Airbnb listing

By now you should have gained an understanding of who your customers are and where they spend their time. Let’s say you’re offering a gardening service to local senior citizens—you’d be more likely to find customers posting flyers door to door. Whereas if you were selling an ebook to marketing professionals, it’s best to promote it on LinkedIn. 

Step 12 – Boost Customer Loyalty

One thing that’s true for any business large or small is it takes more time and effort to acquire new customers than to retain them. You’ll find success if you create a loyal customer base (or fanbase) that returns to you. These loyal customers are also likely to become ambassadors and promote your side hustle through word of mouth.

Go above and beyond expectations with your product and/or service. Respond quickly to requests, questions, and even negative reviews or issues.

Include small, personal touches that help you stand out in people’s minds. This might be a personalized thank you email when somebody buys your digital product or a handwritten note with a physical product.

Here’s a simple yet effective thank-you email:

Example of a thank you email

Continue to engage existing customers through email, SMS, and/or social media content. It might seem counterintuitive but don’t “always be selling”. Customers these days are more likely to be drawn to an authentic brand. So incorporate content that just adds value with nothing expected in return.

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