We are living in the gig economy era, where just about everyone you know is moonlighting as an Uber driver, delivery person, virtual assistant, or a myriad of other quick-money schemes.
But there’s a major difference between doing some work on the side to make extra cash versus starting a real revenue-generating business that may one day replace your current full-time income.
That’s what I’ll be focusing on today — how to start a legitimate side business that will generate a quality, sustainable income and give you real financial freedom.
Tens of thousands of new businesses are started every month, with research showing that nearly 70% of all small businesses are started in the home.
And if you think you don’t have the knowledge or experience it takes to start a successful business, you’ll be surprised to know that 51% of entrepreneurs say that the best way to learn is by jumping in with both feet.
But let’s look at the other (and less shiny) side of the coin for a moment: of all the businesses started in 2014, only 80% lasted more than a year. And by the 4th year, only about half were still in existence.
The truth is, not everyone is ready to be a successful entrepreneur right out of the gate. Even some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs will tell you of their dozens of failures before they finally got an idea to stick.
The good news, however, is that you can increase your chances of winning bigger and losing smaller over time if you take time to build your entrepreneurial strength. This guide is a great start because I take you step by step into what it takes to create a successful, income-generating side business in 30 days — and help you avoid some of the biggest entrepreneurial pitfalls along the way.
Before I get into the specifics, I think a disclaimer is in order: Don’t quit your day job too soon!
I say this because I’ve seen many entrepreneurs experience early success that isn’t quite sustainable, but they make the leap to full-time business owner anyway and find they can’t scale as quickly as they want.
The security of a paycheck can go a long way, especially in providing you a financial cushion to pay your bills or even fuel your business venture. My best advice is to be overly cautious about handing in a two-week notice. Wait for your first major slump and see how you fare. Or at least save up several months’ worth of expenses to give you some wiggle room.
Point made — now let’s map out your side hustle blueprint:
1. Make the Commitment
Here’s the hard truth of entrepreneurship: if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Granted, there are LOTS of people who jump into self-employment. According to Forbes, there are more than 543,000 new businesses started each month! They won’t all make it, of course, but the ones that do are going to struggle in many areas for a long time.
Specifically, you’re going to be stretched thin. You’re working full-time for someone else, then you’ll come home and put in just as much time and effort for yourself. This might leave you very little time for family or friends, or doing the things you love. You might spend your weekends slaving away over a keyboard or networking at events instead of relaxing by the pool or hitting up the big game.
The question is: are you ready to make those sacrifices?
Building a business is a deep commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Take inventory of all of your commitments or activities in a given week (all of them, even Netflix!), then note how much time you need to devote to each of them. If you can eliminate any commitments (do you really think you’ll have time for book club?), do it. See where you can reduce your involvement, or even outsource certain things to give you more time to work on your business.
I recommend looking at the activities with the most flexibility and least amount of friction. Netflix, Facebook, and video games are time fillers that add no real value, and you’ll likely be too busy to miss them anyway.
Also, think about when you’re at your most productive or creative, and try to work on your business during those times. You’ll end up getting more miles per minute and won’t feel like you’re spinning your wheels when you’re exhausted after a long day at work.
The more you can prioritize your business over everything else, the quicker you can start generating income and inch closer to your self-employment dreams.
2. Review Your Interests and Strengths
Got a business idea? Let’s talk about the skills and strengths you’ll need to bring to the table.
It’s never a good idea to enter a battle you’re not prepared to win. Many times, knowledge holds people back from achieving their business goals. But even if you don’t know something now, you can always learn it. Different side hustles will require different skill sets, so it’s important to figure out what you need to know to be successful.
There’s also the interest factor to consider. Many people are keen on the idea of generating a side income, but that’s about as deep as their purpose goes. Their mind is in the game, but their soul is left behind.
If you want to increase your chances of building a successful business, you need to align interest and skills for perfect harmony.
Let’s start with interest…
Make a list of all your hobbies and interests. Does anything on your list stand out as something you can monetize? Do you think you’d be happy doing that particular activity full-time over the long term?
Once you find a genuine business idea, start mapping out the strengths and skills you’ll need to make your idea successful. Be honest with yourself about your expertise on a certain skill. You have two choices here:
- Take time to learn and develop a new skill, or
- Outsource to an expert
There is no right or wrong answer here. Rather, you’ll want to consider how much time and money you’re willing to invest, as well as your timeline and desire to reach the next level.
In either case, I always recommend spending your time on the things you do best. Trying to tackle tasks that aren’t suited to your skill set can be time-draining, not to mention it can kill the creative process. When you stick to your strengths, you can better maximize your time without having to reinvent the wheel.
3. Validate Your Side Hustle Idea
Before you get too invested or emotionally attached to your business idea, you’ll want to make sure other people are going to love it, too. Because let’s face it: what’s a business without customers?
No matter what type of business you own, your success is dependent on other people using your services. If people don’t understand what you do, can’t afford your prices, or otherwise have no need for you, then no amount of know-how and expertise is going to help you push forward.
This is the number one reason why most businesses fail. According to a study published by Fortune Magazine, 42% of startups fail because of the lack of need for their product or service in the market.
That’s why it’s essential to validate your idea and test its viability.
This sounds like a big, scary, daunting process, but it’s not as difficult as it seems. To start, you can put together a test product or service and get it into the hands of your desired users. Offer it for free in exchange for their honest feedback.
Another idea is to conduct surveys with your desired users, find their pain points, and introduce a potential product or service that could solve them. Gauge their interest level and try to find out how much they’d be willing to pay for such a product.
Also, don’t forget to do your competitor research. Saturated markets are going to be harder to break into, but it also indicates there’s enough demand in the market for the product.
The point is, we all think our ideas are special. As entrepreneurs, we take pride in our work. We know we have a good thing, and we’re blind to the fact that other people might not agree. We’re dreamers, but we also need to be realists when it comes to making decisions that might leave us financially broke and emotionally broken.
4. Define Your Competitive Advantages
Once you’ve tested your product viability (and have decided to keep pressing forward), you’ll want to make your product stand out against similar products. Know that your product doesn’t have to be something new to the market. In many cases, trending products come from existing ones that are innovated and recreated. This is what we call a competitive advantage — the mojo that makes your business and product unique.
Some businesses choose to compete on price, which is common when you’re offering a commodity service or product. Others may have a highly unique product, such as Apple’s iOS that you can only get with Apple products.
Ideally, you’ll have more than one thing that makes you you. These elements should be infused throughout your brand. It’s the strength of your business and will help you attract and retain customers and grow revenue. It tells people why they should choose you over a competitor.
Keep in mind that your competitive advantages today may become par for the course in the future. What happens when your competitors start adopting the same perks and benefits you built your business on?
Therefore, competitive advantages are elements that must be continually honed, explored, and refined over time. If you don’t have a unique product, consider ways that you can remain relevant and desirable to your target audience for the long term.
5. Set Valuable, Measurable Realistic Goals
To this point, most of what we’ve worked on have been ideas and concepts. Now we’re diving into the tangible aspects of your business and watering the seeds we’ve already planted.
Think for a moment: what’s the difference between a goal and a dream?
The one-word answer: a deadline.
Dreams become goals when you put a timeline to them. You create a goal and decide when you need to cross the finish line. For example, you want to own a business. That’s a dream. Now, you decide to take your idea and turn it into a revenue-generating business in 30 days. That’s a goal.
Without setting goals, you’re going to spend a lot of time thinking, dreaming, and spinning your wheels while trying to gain traction. But starting a business requires action, and you need to know where you’re going if you want to start moving the needle.
In the first few weeks, your goals will probably be based on small, quick wins. For example, you get your website up and running or you make a social media page. These smaller goals will help you to climb the ladder toward larger goals, such as replacing your full-time income or even hiring your first employee.
I suggest sticking with short, sweet goals that you can achieve quickly, with the big picture in mind. The more planning and waiting you do, the more unrealistic those goals become. It’s best to start working and gain those quick wins to keep you motivated and help you see that your hard work is paying off.
I also recommend using an app or tool to keep track of your goals and progress. I’m a huge fan of Asana and Trello for organizing tasks and helping me see exactly what I need to do each day. Trello is great for creating linear, methodical timelines, if you’re into that.
6. Use Your Goals to Set Milestones for Launch
Turn your goals we talked about in Section 5 and break them down into smaller, measurable milestones. These micro goals are a lot easier to digest and can help you better measure your progress as you work toward something bigger.
This is what I like to refer to as a road map that connects your current position to your desired end position. Think of it as a Google Map that’s showing you five potential routes to reach a destination: which one do you choose?
Granted, Google usually does a good job of displaying construction work, accidents, and other issues along a route that can delay your progress. But with your business road map, you have no such thing. Rather, you’re having to connect your own dots and piece together the route to take without knowing if it’s the quickest or least challenging route.
This is a challenge that only you can do. Ask for advice and mentorship, but ultimately, you’ll need to make the tough decisions to figure out how to reach your goals.
But in the end, ability to solve tough problems and navigate challenges will allow you to become an even more successful entrepreneur. Take it as an opportunity to test your merit and prove your worth.
7. Delegate Work to Boost Your Abilities
Remember we talked about building skills in Section 2? I’m still a huge advocate for ongoing education and teaching yourself the skills you need to succeed. But some skills, such as coding an entire website, are going to take more time than they’re worth. Technically, you don’t really need this skill to have a successful website, and spending years learning how to code is not going to be the best use of your time and money.
That brings me to my favorite entrepreneurial secret weapon: outsourcing.
If you have weaknesses that are damaging your focus, give those tasks to someone else. It’s better to “buy once, cry once” than waste countless hours and dollars on something that will only ever be mediocre if you do it yourself.
Remember, this is your business. You want to do it right because it’s an impression of you.
Hire a skilled freelancer to take off some of the weight. They’re experts at what they do, and since most freelancers work at home, their overhead is low and they can afford to charge lower prices for quality work compared to an agency.
8. Continually Ask for Feedback from the Right People
Feedback can be a powerful development tool, but only if you’re receiving it from the right people. For example, if you’re asking for feedback about your logo from someone that doesn’t know branding or isn’t part of your target audience, their opinion is going to be worth a lot less than someone who might actually buy from you.
One of the greatest luxuries you have when building a side business is the fact that you’re not hugely dependent on immediate income. You have your day job to pay the bills, so you can take your time in tweaking and fine-tuning your idea until you get everything just right.
Talk to people in your professional circle and ask for their feedback. Talk to potential users to gain their opinions. Skip family and friends that might give you biased information.
I like to use Google Forms (it’s free!) to track user feedback. I’ll send out a form to my LinkedIn peers and ask them to give their honest insights. You can also go to professional websites like ProductHunt or GrowthHackers for more feedback.
9. Recognize the Signs It’s Time to Go Full-Time
As you’re building and growing your business, there may come a time when you’ll need to choose whether to continue that path and quit your day job. For most of us, this was the goal all along, and that day couldn’t come soon enough!
But when will you know that your time has come?
This answer is different for everyone, but I’ll give you a few helpful hints:
You Can’t Scale Without Quitting
At some point, you won’t be able to grow anymore until you have more time to devote to your venture. It’s scary and often a leap of faith, but it’s the only way if you want to continue scaling.
You Have Enough Money Saved to Support Yourself
Losing the security of a steady paycheck is terrifying, so make sure you have enough in savings to pay the bills for a few months.
You’ve Proven Your Ability to Succeed
Ideally, your side income will have fully replaced your day job income before you quit. But if you’re seeing steady, noticeable growth month after month, then it’s a good indication that you’re on the right track.
Side Hustle Best Practices
I’ve just covered the basic methodology for starting a side hustle from scratch, but I want to touch on a few best practices that have helped me achieve a higher level of success. I hope they help you, too:
Remember Your Why
We each have a reason for starting a business. More than 25% of us want to be our own boss. Others want more financial freedom, while others love the thrill of creation. Whatever your “why,” keep it at the forefront of everything you do. When things get tough, your why will prevent you from giving up on your dreams too soon.
Success means something different to each person, so think about what your definition looks like. Some people start a side hustle simply to bridge the gap between pay day. Others want to double their income. If you know ahead of time what success looks like to you, then you’ll know once you’ve officially reached that point.
Keep Work and Home Life Separate
It’s easy to invest every inch of your being into your business. But just as you separate your home life and day job, try to keep your business out of your home life, too. Set aside time to work on your business, and make time for family and other things you enjoy so you don’t burn out.
Maintain Rigid Flexibility
Even with a solid business idea in mind, you might have to bend in directions you didn’t plan for in order to reach your goals. Stay rigid on your idea, but be flexible in how you’re able to achieve your objectives.
Side Hustle Ideas for Quick, Sustainable Income
In closing, I’m going to leave you with some of the most popular (and proven!) side hustle ideas that can fuel your inspiration. I handpicked these ideas because I’ve seen how many people have turned them into successful ventures — quickly. Here they are, in no particular order:
Turn your iPhone photos (or any pictures you snap) into money. Post your photos on stock photo websites, where you can earn a commission every time someone purchases it.
Information Product Developer
If you know a lot about a subject that other people want to know about, consider turning your expertise into an online course or other resource. People pay good money for education, with the e-learning industry raking up more than $325 billion per year.
Dropshipping allows you to sell products without buying or stocking inventory. All you need to focus on is good marketing and customer service.
Social Media Manager
Every business who wants to stay in front of their audience is using social media, but many don’t have the time or the know-how to do it right. Social media managers can put their expertise to work and charge $50 or more per post!
If you love to cook, why not get paid for your passion? Cooking for sick or elderly customers, large dinner parties, or busy professionals can help you make money on the side and enjoy what you do.
Mobile Pet Grooming
People love their pets, but don’t always have time to venture to the groomer. Instead, you can bring your grooming services straight to their door.
As more people are becoming health conscious, bicycles are taking over cities and suburbs everywhere. Starting a mobile bike repair business can provide lucrative income if you have the right tools and skills.
Don’t feel limited by this list. There are hundreds of potential ways to make money on the side, many of which might one day become your new full-time job.
Check back on the blog for more entrepreneurial insights and resources to help you get started.