12 Steps to Starting a Successful Side Hustle
Is launching a business one of your quaran-goals?
Here’s how to build a biz from the safety of your home.
Last month—which may have been the longest March in human history—the COVID-19 crisis escalated, changing life as we know it in dramatic, unprecedented ways.
Now, millions around the globe are in a precarious place, questioning not only when businesses will be back up but also their health, their lifestyles, their desires—and, yes, their bank accounts. And while it may be tempting to ride this era out by claiming Westworld as your new religion and joining FaceTime happy hours, the extra time and quiet the pandemic has prompted is nothing if not an opportunity for personal change—and achievement.
In other words, it’s high time to get that hustle you’ve always dreamed about off the ground —and, no, you don’t need a corner office, thousands in the bank, or a degree from Harvard to do it.
“There are no limits on who can be a great entrepreneur,” Associate Editor of Entrepreneur Matthew McCreary says. “You don’t necessarily need a college degree, a bunch of money in the bank or even business experience to start something that could become the next major success. However, you do no need a strong plan and the drive to see it through.”
Got that motivation—or at least a sliver of it during these surreal times? Grab it and read on, so that you can turn your idea into an income:
1. Discover What You Love
No matter what you choose, choose wisely—and by that I mean select what you genuinely love. (McCreary’s “drive.”) Building a business from the ground-up requires unshakable passion to get you through the hours you’ll have to invest in it.
Don’t know where to start? Write an exhaustive list of everything you enjoy—your hobbies, your leisure activities, the subjects you keep Googling, the matters that make you feel most alive. Somewhere in this list rests the secret to your startup. Circle the three things that appeal to you most.
2. Identify Your Values
What’s most important to you? Is it family, financial security, health? Honesty and compassion? Creative expression? In a separate document, list five values you treasure most; then, connect these values to the three things you identified above.
Why? Your values dictate your decisions and motivate your behaviors, and aligning them with your passion is the key to creating a business that will resonate with likeminded souls (read: your target market).
3. X-Ray Your Skillset
Say you’ve always been mad for nutrition—so much so you’ve completed some sort of training that enables you to offer your knowledge to others—juiced celery just this morning, and prize wellness and friendship. Your business is about to be born: You can create a personalized nutritional coaching company.
But here’s where honesty—your other value—comes in. Are your skills sharp enough? Do you have true authority over your subject? If so, do you have marketing savvy? And do you jump for joy at the thought of sending an invoice, or hate it so much you’d rather not get paid at all? (Trust me, it happens.)
The point here is to analyze your skillset. Pinpoint your talents—say, interpersonal communication and an in-depth understanding of the nature of cravings—and create a strategy to maximize them. Identify, too, your threats and weaknesses, whether it’s bookkeeping or time management. From here, you can construct a list of the outside sources you will have to enlist, or areas of personal growth you’ll have to strengthen.
4. Test Its Viability
Now that you’ve found your value-aligned passion, consider its viability. Will it solve a problem for others? Will it contribute to a better world? Will it ride on growing trends, or is it already considered old hat? If it’s the latter, how can you give it a spark of freshness?
Let’s return to the nutritional coaching company. A cursory look at Thumbtack reveals that there are at least 20 personal nutritionists in my area—and this is the first page of results. IG demonstrates that there are thousands across the U.S. This suggests that such a business will need a creative edge.
Hence, the reason for making a list of your interests. Perhaps you’ve been studying hormone health. How can you become a nutritionist who specializes in creating dietary plans for balancing hormones? Can you team up with an ND or MD to validate your suggestions? What knowledge will you need to become an expert in your niche? What additional certifications will you have to work towards?
Now, answer this: Will people pay for it? Who is your target audience? Who are your competitors—and how can you stand out from them?
5. Validate Your Concept
You trust your best friend, your sister-in-law, your colleagues. Test-run your idea with them and ask for frank feedback. Ditto with your followers on your personal social media accounts. Additionally, ask people to make suggestions—and listen.
6. Research Success Stories
We learn from the masters. From the example above, scout out nutritionists with substantial followings on social media, “above-the-marquee” names within the field, and those that are frequently featured in media. What did they do right? What kind of approach have they taken with their—and your—audience? Study their stories. Find inspiration in their successes. Then consider the uniqueness of you—your voice, your education, your experience, your gifts—and how you can use them to your benefit.
7. Sit Your Bum Down and Write a Business Plan
An excellent idea is just that—an idea that exists in the ether. And as gorgeous and promising as it may seem to be in that ether, it won’t manifest through the strength of your daydreams alone. You need a business plan.
While I can hear every creative in the room groan at this suggestion—I get it—a strategy for moving an idea into action has innumerable benefits, from demonstrating the nuance (or “newness”) you may be able to bring to your notion, to rendering the whole endeavor exciting. Indeed, the value of a business plan is in the planning, not the plan. The process is an education in itself; a living, working document that’ll pave the way for turning your dream into a reality.
Download a template from a reputable source and get started—tackling it not all at once but in digestible chunks (say, dedicating one day to developing your bio for your website, and a week to your executive summary). Keep track of your progress to sustain your incentive and “can-do” attitude.
8. Go to the Pros
Once you have your business plan, seek professional assistance (bonus points: finding professionals with direct experience in the field you’ve chosen). A business coach will hold you accountable and, if she’s worth her salt, offer perspective and some good ideas. At the very least, you will need a CPA, an attorney, and assistance with building a website/an on-line presence.
9. Finance Your Dream
One of the most daunting aspects of starting a business is that, yes, you will need loot—not thousands, as McCreary pointed out, but certainly some.
Take it from The Balance: “Starting a business doesn’t have to require a lot of money, but it will involve some initial investment as well as the ability to cover ongoing expenses before you are turning a profit.”
Their advice (and mine)?
“Put together a spreadsheet that estimates the one-time startup costs for your business (licenses and permits, equipment, legal fees, insurance, branding, market research, inventory, trademarking, grand opening events, property leases, etc.), as well as what you anticipate what you will need to keep your business running for at least 12 months (rent, utilities, marketing and advertising, production, supplies, travel expenses, employee salaries, your own salary, etc.)” Then, call up the moxie within you and dive into the sources that will provide you with this approximate number, whether it’s a small business loan, grants, angel investors, or crowdfunding.
10. Make Your Mark
Now comes the fun—and super necessary—part: Creating a brand that is uniquely yours. You’ll want a distinct, memorable business name, logo, and presence that communicates a clear and powerful message.
As Forbes frames it, “Looking out into the world today, it’s easy to see why brands are more important now than at any time in the past 100 years. Brands are psychology and science brought together to promise mark as opposed to a trademark. Products have life cycles. Brands outlive products. Brands convey a uniform quality, credibility, and experience. Brands are valuable.”
With this in mind, name your company. Aim to keep it simple and succinct. Try it out with yourself and others. Does it say who you really are? Is it interesting? Is it easy to remember? Check for and secure the domain name, and then start researching logos. (Squarespace, for one, can hook you up with designers who specialize in logos.) Decide on the color/visual scheme for your social media so that your message remains consistent. And, above all, have a blast and get creative.
11. Set Up Internal Business Operations
It’s finally time to set up your bank accounts. Choose your accounting software and acquaint yourself with profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. Explore whether you need business insurance, or discuss with one of the professionals whose help you solicited earlier.
12. Finalize Your Marketing Plan
Unless you have a product or service that sells itself, marketing is one your most critical factors for success. To get seen and be heard, say something different, simple, and visual. Commit to engagement marketing (such as blogs, newsletters, social media, e-books, and podcasts) and hear your prospects out. This is your opportunity to give your target market the WOW factor that’ll score them quality products and/or services—and win you long-term loyalty. Show your passion. Demonstrate those aforementioned values. Surprise, delight, enlighten—and start living the vision you’ve so carefully crafted.
Starting your own business is like training for a marathon, where you prepare your body and mind for peak performance. Physically, start moving, even if it’s only walking a block. Be mindful about how you’re nourishing your body. Develop a daily morning practice of intention to focus every cell of your body on your objective. Watch your time, even if you feel like you have a surplus of it while you’re sheltering-in-place. (Or, as Payal Kadakia, founder of the membership program, ClassPass, put it to Elle, “I’m absolutely ruthless about scheduling my time to maximize productivity. I spend Sundays planning the week ahead and I begin each morning reviewing my schedule and priorities (both business and personal) for the day.”) Celebrate your successes, big and small. And if you’d like to accelerate your results, go here to sign up for my LunchBag MBA, where for the next 30 days, I’m offering a free, one-hour coaching call to get you started.