Some people make all the money they will ever need. Good for them! They worked hard for that success. The rest of us, however, work a job we love but don't make as much money as we would like. So, what are we left with? Investments or starting a second business. I'm simplifying it, but here's how to start a side hustle (even if you've never started one before!)
In fact, most millionaires have an average of seven income streams.
And if you think about it, this makes sense.
They make gobs of money, so it makes sense that it comes from more than one place. Me? My blog used to be my side hustle until I turned it into my full-time income stream.
Now that I'm blogging full-time, I'm currently on the hunt for a new side hustle, which got me thinking about what it takes to make money on the side, so I put together this guide.
Here it is in all it's glory: how to find a side hustle idea, how to find your first clients, how to steadily grow your side hustle, and tools to help manage your side biz all in one place in a neat, pretty package.
How to Start A Side Hustle: The Comprehensive Guide
The opportunity for income growth fell into my lap in 2013 when I was approached by a coworker. We were both working at a tech start-up (she as a designer, me as a writer) and she had a thriving design firm she was running on the side that is now a big-time agency in Atlanta.
She wanted to add content services to her business and approached me about doing SEO for a design client since I'd been doing so much of it at my day job.
It then dawned on me in a beautiful instant—I have marketable skills other than just my wit and charm!!
And from there my “side hustle” was born.
Step #1 – Determine What Your “Side Business” Will Be
Often our biggest and best side hustles are in our back pocket already. If you really sit down and think, it's pretty easy to come up with a handful of side hustle ideas.
The biggest question: What are you already doing that you could monetize or package in a different way in order to make side income?
The second question: Is there a need for this business?
Still stumped on ideas? Here's more:
- 50+ Side Hustles You Can Start Pretty Quickly for $50 or Less
- 40+ Side Hustle Ideas and Tips from the Experts
- 95 Side Hustle Business Ideas you Can Start Today
- 50+ Ways to Make Money Fast by Side Hustling
- The Top 68 Side Hustles to Add Some More Money to Your Life
- 47 Unique & Legitimate Ways to Earn Extra Money Online
Step #2 – Start Small (a.k.a Ask People You Know)
I started my blog in 2012 because I wanted to write. I never intended to start a side hustle outside of the small income my blog made at the time, but when a graphic designer friend asked if I could do some copy for a website she was building for one of her clients, I said yes.
……And that work turned into a referral to another client of hers and suddenly I had 2-3 clients I was working with on a monthly basis.
If you're looking to start a side business start small and do two things:
a) figure out what product or service you want to sell
b) tap your personal network.
I have a friend who now runs a lucrative side business baking elaborate cakes and pies (which she used to do for free.)
Sometimes all it takes is a mention or a friendly email, “Hey I'm trying to start a small side business as a writer/cake baker/astronaut/whatever and am looking for clients. Please pass my name along if you know of anyone in need!”
I've been working with my social media assistant and graphic designer for nearly two years now and I couldn't live without them. I don't even worry about tax time because I have such a great accountant who gets how complicated my work, side business, and real estate situation can be.
My point is that I found all these people by asking around and getting great word of mouth referrals from family, friends, and my online network, which you should leverage FIRST before you turn to job boards, craigslist, or Elance. Don't be shy, people love to recommend others who do great work for them.
It may also be worth it to do a job for a discount or freebie for a friend or family member in exchange for a glowing testimonial you can use for your website or marketing initiatives. (If you're doing a service based side hustle.)
Step #3 – Do Great Work, Deliver a Fantastic Product, or Create a Memorable Experience
This is the most crucial step. You need to kill yourself doing/giving a great job/product/experience for these first few clients. It is off of this business that all referrals and positive word of mouth will be built. Not that you don't always do a great job, but be especially awesome when you're just starting out!
Step #4 – Building A Website is Really How to Start a Side Hustle
Everything is online nowadays. It's how the world works, how now-referral clients will find you, and how referral clients will vet you.
Even if you are side hustling under your own name, you need a website: either yourbusiness.com or yourpersonalname.com so people can find you, links to your work, information about pricing and services, and testimonials from happy clients all in one place.
Nowadays, it takes three clicks to build a website, so there really isn't an excuse for you not to have an online, digital footprint.
I mean, you Google your Tinder dates. And you likely wouldn't go out with someone who didn't show up online anywhere. Would you trust your hard earned dollars and business to someone who didn't even have a website (this is why when you're starting out you should attempt and work with PEOPLE YOU KNOW!)
Anyway, back to building a website.
Seriously, three clicks. I use HostGator to build my websites, (although there are many other hosting platforms) but I like HostGator because it takes three clicks to get my domain name uploaded onto a hosting platform, and the wordpress app installed. You can read my tutorial on how to do all of this here.
Your side hustle website can be as simple, or elaborate as you want.
Step #5 – Start Networking
With your website up and rolling, it's time to get out there and start networking.
Mastermind groups, your local chamber of commerce, professional associations: these are all rife with opportunities to meet people and sell your services. Just be sure to go armed with confidence, a smile, a business card, and be able to sum up what you do in three sentences or less. Not networking can be a huge mistake!
Once you've networked and hopefully get a business card from a potential lead, then you can email a follow up about how you'd like to work with their company.
Step #6 – Add a “Hire Me” Page on Your Blog and Social Media Channels
If you are already online via a blog or are active on social media, simply adding a “Hire/Work With Me” page or putting out the word over social channels is all it takes!
Your business is so new and young, it takes awhile to get word of mouth out. The important thing to remember when starting a side hustle is that you have to ask for business when you're starting out.
Step #7 – Protect Yourself (Get an LLC)
You can choose to be a sole proprietor and cash checks/pay taxes under your name which many freelance writers do. Still, many go the route of LLCing themselves in order to protect their assets in the (rare) instance of a legal dispute with a client.
Since I own my own home, and also have renters who pay me, I chose to LLC my freelance writing and content business to keep it separate from my personal/house expenses.
It also makes me seem incredibly legit. And since I have staff that I pay (graphic designers, staff writers) and have to prepare W-9's for them, it just makes sense to LLC and get my own EIN. You can read more about what it takes to LLC a company here.
Step # 8 – How to start a side hustle that leads to success? Get the Right Tools
- Dropbox – I love Dropbox. I use it to back up all of my computer files, but I also create a separate folder for each client, so I always have a copy of their work, our contract, and any other important particulars ready and available. When you side hustle, particularly if you are in a service-based side business, you'll need to save work agreements, invoices, receipts, graphics for your business, templates, you name it. It's best to keep a copy of this in some type of cloud-based software so in case your computer dies, (and you haven't backed up) you're prepared.
- Separate Checking Accounts for Your Side Business – Trust me, things will be a lot easier with your personal finances if you keep your side hustle, full-time gig money, and money for spending and paying bills SEPARATE. You can set up another account at your bank or apply for a new account (I like a separate account at a separate institution so I don't “touch” that money as often).
More FREE Tools for Starting a Side Hustle
HelloSign – A rule to live by when you start a business or taking on freelance clients: get everything in writing. Because of this, you may need to execute documents or work agreements and send them to clients for signature. I love HelloSign, which is free for the first three documents you send each month. It is so much easier than sending to a client, asking them to sign and scan back, and then having to sign and scan on my end.
Accounting/Invoicing Software – Previously I just used paypal invoices, which was fine, but having a separate accounting software (I like Freshbooks- it's awesome!) helps provide a layer of legitimacy, and rather than reconcile my business expense at the end of the quarter, it is now automated through the software.
Separate Folder in your Inbox – As with any business, you'll need to make some purchases for your businesses, which you can then write off on your taxes. For me, since I make a lot of purchases online, I have a separate folder in my inbox to folder these transactions, this way they're in one safe place for the rest of the year and ready for me when tax time rolls around.
Step #9 – Set up an Email List to Keep Marketing
Whether you are a freelancer, sell products online, or do one-time gigs here and there, it's important to keep an email list of your old and prospective clients and buyers. This way you can email them consistently or from time to time to pitch for work or remind them of what an excellent service and value you provide.
It doesn't have to be big or fancy, and not every side hustle needs a blog or super active content marketing strategy. But every side hustle/business does need a way to keep in touch with those who are buying your products or services.
How to Start a Side Hustle – My Biggest Business Lessons
Below are just a few of the biggest lessons I learned when I first started my blogging/freelance writing side hustle.
“Fake it till you make it.”
I'm not a large agency, but I've implemented a lot of the policies and procedures of some I've worked with in the past to add an air of legitimacy to my solopreneurship. Clients didn't balk, in fact, they've taken me more seriously and I've been able to substantially raise my rates while providing added value.
Lean on Your Support Groups
I honestly don't know how I would have gotten by the last three months without the mastermind brainstorms, Facebook groups, and lunches with other solopreneuers. It's been great for venting, as well as getting fast answers to some newbie questions I've had from others who have worn the path ahead of me. It has also helped me feel connected to something in the days and weeks when I've felt impossibly adrift without an outside-the-house office and structured schedule to anchor me. (For productivity hacks I've found helpful, click here.)