Getting your side hustle off the ground

People come up with plenty of advice on getting your side hustle off the ground. Sometimes this advice is “no shit, Sherlock.” Find time. Hustle.

What you need to do when you have too much to do and not enough time is be so ruthlessly focussed on what you need to do, really need to do, and what will have the best outcome.

It’s the 80/20 rule to a real extreme. Find the 20% that is creating 80% of the results and just do that. Then strip it down again. Then again.

It would be nice to tell you if you put three months in then you will be off and away. That would be lovely. I’m not sure it would be true. Can some people bring a side hustle to life in three months? Sure. Will most of us, will you? Probably not. Six months? A year? Five years?

I don’t know, and the truth is that no-one knows. Everyone is different – their experiences, their contacts, their starting point, their definition of success, their aims.

Also, I’m not going to pretend that these things don’t matter. Someone who has tons of friends and colleagues in the industry they want to get into will say to email them all to let them know what you are up to, ask for referrals. And that will help – those people. That will be good advice for them and people like them. What if you don’t have friends in the right places, or high places? Hell, what if you don’t have friends? What if you don’t want to tell anyone? That’s okay too.

When you are working to get your stuff started, your side hustle, you need leverage. Big leverage.

Make it a condition of your work that you can use clients as case studies. Make sure they are measuring the stats you need to be able to prove yourself to new clients and that you have access to those stats. Devote yourself wholly to that client and the work you are doing but have half a mind on the future and how you are going to leverage what you are doing.

Target customers where you can tap into their network and get plenty of good referrals. Partner up with other business – you can refer people back and forth if you have complementary offerings. For me a copywriter that means web designers, for instance. Their clients need words for their shiny new websites. With people in the same industry look for the bigger fish with overflow. If you can prove your value to them they could pass on clients they don’t have time for, or use you as an extra pair of hands.

But listen, there’s word of mouth and referrals and marketing and then there’s spending hours on Twitter reading what other people are up to, or marvelling at their beautiful handwriting on Instagram. How much traffic is Twitter bringing you right now? How many customers? If the answer is “basically none” and I very much suspect it is, then put it on autopilot, check it for 5 minutes a day and get on with the stuff that is bringing you customers.

Investing time

Systems. Procedures. Standard operating policy. Whatever you want to call it, doesn’t matter. But use it. Even if it is just you right now. The advantage of it being just you right now is that it doesn’t need to be complicated. A check list on Trello or Evernote, a spreadsheet. Whatever.

It puts your brain on autopilot while you are working through and you are conserving precious energy that you would otherwise be spending on thinking about what comes next or just the process in general.

I have set up so many WordPress installations I could do it in my sleep. Sometimes I dream about it, which is in effect doing it in my sleep. But I still have it written down and still follow my checklist. It’s less stress, I’m pretty sure it’s quicker, and it keeps me focussed. Plus, when it came time for someone else to start doing with me all the details were there and I didn’t have to break my stride to write it out or procedurise it for them. (Spellcheck is telling me procedurise isn’t a word, but I reject that.)

That said, about the future-proofing, absolutely invest time in the short term to benefit the longer term. So although writing down everything you do might seem like a pain in the butt you just don’t have time for, let me tell you, you don’t have time in the future not to do it. You can literally do the maths to work out when you will break even on the upfront investment of time.

Note that I am calling it an investment because it is. You will be tempted to see it as an expenditure, as something that you are losing today. But you will reap those rewards because it is an investment.

Investing money, and still time

So to other forms of investment. Spending money. Where to spend your precious pennies especially in the beginning when you don’t have many, or any. Or even later when you are running things on a shoestring because anything you make is going elsewhere.

I absolutely believe in investing in yourself and in your business. Again, it’s not an expense, it’s investment. But – but! – it has to be done right. One of the best ways to do it right is to not do it at first. Then you can narrow in on exactly what would make the biggest difference to you. And not just a difference, but real, income-generating difference.

You can do most stuff for free. But at some point that is going to start handicapping you in at least some areas and you need to upgrade.

Don’t spend your money because you think you should, or because everyone else is. Don’t spend money because it looks cool. Don’t spend money in fear, or from being pressured. Don’t spend money if you don’t know exactly how it is going to make you money, or make you more productive etc, which will make you more money.

Here are some good, quality, useful things that you might need, that you can get for free.

  • Boomerang or MixMax for your email.
  • Buffer and Quuu for social media.
  • Evernote.
  • Trello.
  • Mailchimp.

You can upgrade them if you need to. You can look for more fully featured similar products if you need to. If you need to. If you are using it regularly and thinking how you want it to be better or more.

I use all of the above and I started with the free version. I upgraded them as and when I found I needed to and have no regrets whatsoever. Which is a good way of doing things. Because I am absolutely not arguing that you should struggle with substandard services rather than spend money. No. Make those investments, but make them right.

So what about training, information products? Again, start slow and work out where you absolutely could benefit from training or information. Investing in your development and your skill set will pay dividends. Just make sure to do it right.

Look for specific help that targets what you need. That targets something you are stuck on right now and will help you get to the next step. You do not need to take every course on starting a business. That’s perfectionism and procrastination.

Investing time and money together

This targeted approach will save you money, yes, but probably more importantly: time. Do not get bogged down with information overload and analysis paralysis. The best way to learn is to do.

There is so much information out there, for free. The free information should help you work out if the paid information will be worthwhile, both for the money and time investment.

Do not succumb to FOMO. You do not need to be in every Facebook group, every paid community, on every forum. They say about getting (and staying) married: Choose your love and love your choice. Do the same with the venues you put yourself. Go all in. Really commit. And if it isn’t working for you then just leave.

What value do you put on insights? More to the point, what can you afford right now, in time and money? In the future, fine, if you want to spend ten weeks and a thousand dollars to come away with one really good piece of advice that is good. But when you are getting your side hustle off the ground that is probably not an option for you. So be focussed.

I buy a book that I spend £16 and four hours on and I get one new idea then I consider that fair game. I am happy with that transaction. I didn’t use to be. A few years ago I would have thought that a wash out and a waste. It’s not just that I am older and wiser but that the learning curve is different now, my perspective is different. I have gone higher and will continue to go higher and higher. The key is that I am happy – I feel like I am getting value.

If you are not happy and do not feel like you are getting value it can send you into a funk or a downward spiral that costs far more time and money than the original.

Avoiding the boggy marshes of doubt and despair is probably a whole other post. But it can put the kibosh on your side hustle just as definitively as not finding anyone who will pay you. So make sure you feel good about what you are doing.

Speaking of what you are doing – do you have time (or energy, or skills) to plan out a content strategy, research the content in your industry, set up on different channels, plan and write really useful and valuable 1500+ word blog posts, edit and format and upload those posts with all the images and bells and whistles they need, publicise them on your accounts, link them all together into some cohesive strategy, create lead magnets and ebooks, write up your case studies, write your email marketing and newsletter… and everything that comes with growing your side hustle powered by content marketing?

Was than an “um, no?” I just heard? That’s what I am here for, so if you need content marketing and copywriting to create conversations, find fans and build your business find out more about working with me.

There’s a reason I went through investing time, then money, then time again. You can make more money. You can’t make more time. Money ebbs and flows. Time is always disappearing. When you are starting off it is tempting to think more about money. If you are doing this on the side then that’s actually an advantage because time is on your mind as well. And ultimately it is the more valuable of the two.

To round it all off, here are some tools and resources that will help you get your side hustle off the ground.

  • Email inbox: Boomerang or MixMax to make your email inbox more powerful, and more bearable.
  • Email marketing: Your money is in your email list. Try AWeber, Mailchimp, ConvertKit and friends.
  • Social media: Tweetdeck gives you the big picture. Buffer and Quuu are a scheduling match made in heaven. There are endless products and services out there to help with social media but beware the shiny distraction.
  • Organisation: Evernote or some note-taking program. Trello is free and fun for projects. Airtable and Fieldbook are spreadsheets crossed with databases.
  • Automation: IFTTT and Zapier are life-saving musts.
  • Communication: Slack. Yes, even if you are a one-person band. You can take your channel public or you can use it to chat with various automating bots.
  • Website: Definitely another post for another time. WordPress is obvious but not always best for starting out small.
  • CRM: Capsule and Insightly are good – and free. Equally, a Google doc or Airtable/Fieldbook in the early stages or depending on your business.

If you are working on getting your side hustle off the ground then you have my congratulations and respect. Let me know how it’s going and how I can help.