Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many people have witnessed its impact on jobs, businesses and the economy as a whole, but what about the new opportunities it has created? Social distancing and working from home have strengthened family bonds and illuminated the value of work-life balance. In turn, the pandemic has caused many workers to reconsider their careers and pursue their passion as a new way to produce income.
In 2020 alone, there were roughly half a million business applications in the United States. In states like Louisiana and Georgia, business applications jumped approximately 55% between 2019 and 2020. Looking at these numbers, you might think that starting a business is simple, but it’s a big financial and personal commitment.
If you want to turn your passion into an income-producing side gig, you’ll need to put in serious effort. Creating a side gig starts with finding your niche in what may be a saturated market and pinpointing what makes you unique to attract clients who identify with your brand.
The Reality of Starting Your Own Business
While the idea of owning your own business or having a side gig can seem very appealing, actually putting it into practice is not as glamorous as it sounds. I learned this lesson in 2018 when I finally decided to turn my passion for photography into a professional Limited Liability Corporation (LLC).
Aside from knowing that I wanted to photograph people and make some extra money, I knew next to nothing about business when I first launched Anna Lee Photography, LLC. Between figuring out what to do with my finances, managing client relationships and discovering my niche in a saturated market, the journey was all but an easy one. I’m still learning and making mistakes every day!
My experience over the last three years has taught me a few things about starting and maintaining a business. Here are four steps to turn your passion into a successful side gig once you’ve decided exactly what it is you want to sell.
Step 1: Develop a Website
Even if you just plan on selling online through a third party like Etsy, eBay, or Amazon, it’s still important to have a home for all your written content and photos. Publishing a website will help you establish your business brand and let you own the intellectual copyrights to whatever you decide to feature on your website.
If you plan on collecting your own payments and handling your own invoices, consider using a point-of-sale (POS) system with a low fee for credit card swipes. Systems like Square, PayPal and Zelle are all great options.
In general, a website should be treated as the online home for your business. Don’t overwhelm your customers with too much content. Your website should be easy to navigate and should include pertinent information, such as:
- What services and products you offer
- An “About” page that includes your bio and mission
- Contact information
- Your location
- Turnaround times for shipping, delivery and customer support
- A portfolio or visual representation of what you offer
Step 2: Market Yourself Through Word of Mouth and Social Media
If you want to rev up your marketing charm and build your business brand, be present on social media and make it easy for people to find you. Word of mouth is still the best referral method; it will have a domino effect and help to keep your side gig alive. Try to capture some of these referrals in writing to build a trustworthy online reputation, and feature them on your website, Google listings or Etsy shop.
Marketing yourself locally rather than casting a wide net may also help you stand out from the crowd. You’re more likely to catch attention as a big fish in a small pond.
A great way to market yourself is via social media. Having at least one active social media profile will boost your chances of finding more customers. Social media can quickly become overwhelming, so try using a content scheduling tool – like Planoly, the Preview App, or Hootsuite –to plan your posts and streamline your social media process.
There is no magic formula for building your fan base or making a viral post. Here are a few tried-and-true steps to incorporate in your social media plan:
- Post consistently, at least once or twice a week.
- Put your own spin on any trend and be yourself.
- Show, don’t tell. Using the word “authentic” does not make you authentic. Show your audience how you stand out from your competition.
- Respond to questions and engage with your audience.
- Post dynamic content with a mix of videos and photos.
- Understand why people are following your brand, and post content that is tailored to that audience.
Step 3: Learn to Manage Your Finances
Whether you plan on keeping your side gig as a part-time activity or you want to develop it into something bigger, you should treat your side gig like a new business. You’ll need to understand the basics of creating a positive net profit – or at least breaking even.
Most people enter the side gig world to make some extra money, but it can be easy to spend more than you’re bringing in, especially if you work a nine-to-five job to fund your business. To make sure you’re not spending too much money on fancy craft supplies or a brand-new website, keep your side gig finances and main income separate. Employ these financial management techniques:
- Give your side gig its own bank account.
- Set monetary goals and a budget for how much money you want to invest upfront.
- Keep a spreadsheet of all your one-time and recurring expenses.
- Set a realistic profit goal.
In the beginning stages, most businesses have steep upfront costs; many new business owners find themselves in the red for three to five years. While your side gig may not be a full-blown business, it could still take a while for steady extra cash to flow in. Keeping this fact in mind can prevent discouragement and help foster patience as you start out.
Step 4: Set Boundaries and Take Advantage of Online Tools
If your side gig takes off, you may find yourself handling inquiries at two in the morning and shipping out those last-minute items a week late. This method of running your side gig isn’t good for your well-being and it also creates a poor customer experience. To avoid problems, set boundaries for handling points of contact, be transparent with your clients, and block off certain days or times to handle specific tasks.
Decide how much time you want to commit to your side gig, and set concrete boundaries for yourself and your clients. This strategy will help you avoid burnout, and more importantly, will prevent your passion for your side gig from fizzling out.
You may find that the time you spend on your side gig is not nearly enough to reach your ideal profit. Take advantage of online business tools to delegate specific tasks, so you have more time to focus on the aspects of the business that you love. I highly recommend Dubsado, a customer relationship management system, and Asana, a project management system.
My favorite tool for managing and scheduling emails is the free plugin Streak for Gmail. This tool tells me if my emails have been open or read by the recipient, which lets me determine whether or not I need to follow up with them.
Streak also lets me schedule emails in advance. With this feature, I can answer emails late at night and schedule them to send in the morning, making better use of my time.
Helpful Resources to Get Your Side Gig Started
If you have even the tiniest bit of entrepreneurial spirit, I highly recommend reading the books “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It” by Michael E. Gerber and “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” by Timothy Ferriss to brainstorm ways to streamline your workflow. Both books emphasize working on the business, not in the business, which is important when your business begins to grow and menial tasks need to be delegated. These books also explain how to work efficiently by debunking the “hustle” mentality and providing tips on being productive in a short amount of time.
If you plan on launching a side gig in the ecommerce world or becoming a travel influencer, I also recommend the book “The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business” by Erin Meyer. Meyer offers great insight into how different cultures around the world perceive business etiquette, provide feedback and prioritize their work life. This knowledge can help you set expectations and foster successful business relationships when working with other businesses and customers across the globe.
While there is a lot to consider as you get your side gig up and running, finding your niche and streamlining your workflow can do wonders for your business and mental health. No matter how you pursue your extra income goals, give yourself some grace and allow time for trial and error when you’re figuring out what works best for you.