7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Side Hustle
I’ve been at this side hustle thing for over 3 years.
And I've learned that a side hustle doesn’t have to be big to be powerful. But I’ve also learned that you have to keep moving forward, adapting, and testing until you find something that works for you. Consistency and focus is key. And success most definitely isn’t going to come overnight.
In fact, many success stories are several years in the making.
My first gig was coding WordPress websites. But my frustration with the lack of design capabilities, without the use of extensive coding, led to my discovery and love of Squarespace.
After that I added another love of mine, InDesign, and began creating resources to help others up level their businesses. I’ve been hired to create InDesign workbooks and PDF’s for others. I’ve been hired and selected to teach courses inside of other’s online programs. I’ve been hired to design brand identities, logos, social media graphics, presentation slides, PDF email opt-ins... The list goes on.
While working with design clients, I realized they were missing the foundational elements needed to operate and run a business. This eventually lead me to brand clarity coaching. I enjoyed doing this, but when our sessions were finished I found myself wanting to help with the steps that came after branding. They wanted help with those too, so brand clarity sessions evolved into coaching others on how to actually start and build a serious side hustle.
So three + years later, here are 7 things I wish I knew when I first started my side hustle.
1. Don’t pick a niche just to be profitable.
Everyone says niche down, and while I completely agree that it's better to be specific than vague, I think there’s such a thing of niching down too far. When you’re first starting you’re still trying to figure out what works best for you. You’re discovering what can hold your interest AND the interest of your audience.
When I first started out I was OBSESSED with finding the perfect niche. I tried to approach it very logically by combining what I was good at (designing) with what was in high demand (websites). I quickly realized this was not a passion of mine. I loved designing my site, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy designing sites for others. Explaining and teaching how to design? Totally up my alley. But it took me FOREVER to realize that, because I continued on the path down the same path, only to be burnt out my the topic months later.
So instead, try asking what it is you ultimately be known for. I want ultimately want to be known as a creative educator and innovator. So now I’m working my way up to that goal.
MY ADVICE FOR YOU TODAY:
Start by asking yourself these key questions:
What do you want to be known for eventually?
What do you want to be known for in a year?
What to you want to be known for today?
Think on that and plot a course to get you there. I talk about this much more in my book, The DIY Side Hustle Starter Guide. If you need more help with this, check it out here.
2. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you’re side hustle won’t be either.
I cannot hammer in this point enough. When I first started I just wanted to make money right away. After all, that is the point of having a side hustle, isn’t it?
But that is a naive thought.
Strong words I know, but the truth is it takes time to create something worthwhile. And it can take weeks to intentionally build a foundation for something that’s both valuable to you and your potential audience.
Sure you can start blogging about affiliate products you only have one month of experience in (#shade), but after a while those posts may be seen as attempts to make a quick buck. Think about what you’re really trying to build. Is it the same thing everyone else has?
I didn’t think so.
We both know you’re better than that ( I say that with the sweetest, most genuine intentions:).
So use the strategies that work for others, but put your own twist on them. Be focused, be consistent and be patient, and you’ll find your way.
MY ADVICE FOR YOU TODAY:
Like everything else in life, a great online side hustle begins with strong foundation. That means a focused niche, a relatable brand and systems and funnels that work together to solve a real problem that people have.
3. The most important part of visual branding are the colors.
After designing brand identities for years, I've realized that colors set the mood.
We’ve seen it over and over again in human psychology and even with animals. Colors say a lot about how we expect someone to feel about our business. They also are the first visual impression we get when we come across a new brand.
For example, red is a a bold attention grabber. Your probably wouldn't see it with a calming yoga based business. Pink is a decidedly feminine color, so you most likely won’t see it sprawled across a big manly site.
And even if you feel you can’t design your own logo (which you mos def can), struggle with creating memorable social media graphics, or don’t know where to begin when designing your website, the most important thing to start off with are the colors.
Colors can be a brand in and of itself. Just think of mine for instance. Even if this is your first visit to my site, check out my homepage and tell me what’s an essential part of my brand.
Though choosing a single color is a great place start, developing color palettes can be a tricky thing to get right. So I devote several pages in my book, complete with visual graphics, to help illustrate my point (yes, the word illustrate was intentional :).
MY ADVICE FOR YOU TODAY:
If you’re still trying to find the ideal colors for your brand, start by downloading my free cheatsheet and choose one main color as your jumping off point.
See Related: The Branding Color Meanings Cheatsheet
4. Creating consistent content is essential to online business
This perhaps is the biggest lesson I’ve learned and something I’m just starting to really pick up on.
I’ve heard over and over again how blogging is essential, but it didn’t seem necessary to me because I had a steady stream of clients that I continuously got from word of mouth.
Don’t get me wrong, I always wanted to maintain an active blog, but I was caught up doing everything else that needed to get done, so I never made time for it.
But now that I’m switching up my business model and focusing on developing instructive digital products, I’ve realized what a mistake I made through not blogging consistently!
Selling digital products requires a constant stream of visitors to your site. Over the past few months I’ve focused heavily on Pinterest to achieve this pretty much passively. But here’s the thing, the bread and butter of Pinterest are links to blog posts!
And that’s only half the battle, once you get someone to your site your content better be great, otherwise no one will be interested in what you have to say, let alone what you have to sell that could potentially help them.
Once someone lands on your site, you want them to see you know what you’re talking about. So having an extensive, useful, and informative blog is the best way to do that. And if they can see you’re still active, they know they can count on you to help them with where they are at now. It shows them you’re serious about what you to and aren’t a wishy washy online side dabbler.
MY ADVICE FOR YOU TODAY:
Once you figure out the primary niche you’d like to focus on, develop a content strategy plan right away and implement it immediately.
Creating consistent content is the machine that keeps your hustle hustlin’, and the key to creating a side hustle that can run itself.
5. Find tools that can grow with you AND your budget.
Oh my. I’ve tried a multitude of online software programs on my hunt to find the best and most affordable business tools around.
I invested in tools at the wrong time that didn't’ fit with my budget just because some online guru told me I needed them to create a serious business (#bitter). A lot of that wasn’t their fault. I was trying to build the businesses that they had without having all my ducks in a row first. Yes I had a brand, but I didn’t have consistent content, focused sales funnels, or a niches I felt comfortable keeping for long.
There are a LOT of amazing tools that are available to you online. And the list gets longer everyday. When I first started I wish I was responsible with my choices. I changed tools as often as my business strategies and focus changed, and wasted a lot of money along the way.
See Related: The Only 4 Tools You Need to Run Your Side Hustle
I’m now on a mission to keep my tools and minimal, essential, and affordable as possible. My tools will grow as my business grow, but there are a few tried and true I don’t see myself letting go of any time soon.
So here are my personal top picks, and yes some of them are affiliate links, but these are tools that I’ve vetted, trust and apply to those top three standards:
Product Delivery: I’ve used both DPD, and SendOwl*. I liked DPD, but switched to SendOwl because of the ability to easily add an affiliate program that’s easy for others to join. SendOwl also offers video streaming which is something I may try out in the future.
Scheduling & Client Services: Acuity Scheduling* is what I’ve used for years to schedule calls with clients and even business besties. I also used and recommend Dubsado*, but only if you’re serious about focusing on extensively on client work.
Design Tools: Canva is a great option for anyone just getting started, but I personally recommend InDesign, because you can create just about everything you need to run a digital empire.
See Related: 41 Reasons InDesign is the Best Design Tool
MY ADVICE FOR YOU TODAY:
Feel free to do your research because the point is to find tools that will grow with you and your business. But if you’re anything like me, then price and ease of use is essential too. To get started, check out my free Online Tools Comparison Chart.
See Related: Online Tools Comparison Chart
And here are some links to posts where I’ve wrote about tools I’ve tried:
6. Email opt-ins work amazingly well for building a mailing list, but only with the right strategy.
For months I created email opt-in freebies because everyone said content upgrades were the way to build your mailing list. Once I began creating them, I did build an email list, but VERY SLOWLY. I’m talking maybe 1-2 people a week, if I was lucky.
And then I discovered the power of Pinterest for passive marketing.
This is how, with relatively low traffic, I gain email subscribers EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I use Pinterest to “market” my email opt-in freebies. I post pinnable graphics that relate to specific blog posts on my site. I create 3-4 images for every blog post that I have. I also create images for my email opt-in freebies as well. Once created, I pin them to relevant group boards and the process becomes practically passive.
See Related: My Top Email Opt-In Freebies
Why I think it’s working:
Pinterest gives me the exposure that I previously lacked. Once I set up the system, it mostly runs itself.
My PDF’s are unique. They are detailed, well thought out, and are actually useful. They are also on topics my niche has questions about.
Once on my email list, the value doesn’t stop there. I created an email welcome series that helps my new subscribers know what I’m about and what I have to offer them. Usually, it’s exactly what they were looking for so they stick around.
MY ADVICE FOR YOU TODAY:
Join relevant group boards on Pinterest.
Create an amazingly valuable PDF that you give to your audience in exchange for an email address to build your mailing list.
Create 3-4 graphics that will link back to a blog post which is inline with the opt-in you created.
Continually post those graphics to your Pinterest group boards. Be sure to follow the rules of the group and don’t spam!
7. There is no one size fits all model to online business, but there is an outlined path you can follow.
I realized early on that not everyone starts a side hustle for the same reasons, and that your reason for starting a side hustle has a profound impact on how you approach building it.
And while I found this to be true I also discovered, rather late in the game, that there is a roadmap you can follow and adapt to make it your own.
There are known things that work for earning income with an online side hustle:
Offering your own services
Developing your own products
Sharing affiliate programs you actually support and believe in
Creating sponsored posts or videos
While these are the top four for generating income, how do they get people to actually purchase?
That’s the key that held me back for years. I had my services in place and started making digital products. But I didn’t have a real online presence because I didn’t have a clear focus, an interest to income funnel, or solid systems that supported my business on autopilot. Yet, I thought I could forge my own path.
But once I studied my online hero’s, I realized they all took a similar route to get where they were today. Their journeys only appeared different because their personal stories, products, services, and content were unique to them.
But the roadmap they followed was the same.
Which brings me to...
If I were starting my business today, these are the steps I would follow.
If you’re looking for a detailed plan to follow, then check out my Side Hustle Quickstart Roadmap. It’s a free guide I developed that outlines the steps I would take today if I was starting my business from scratch today.
And if you’re looking for a more comprehensive resource, complete with day to day tasks and assignments, make sure to check out my DIY Side Hustle Starter Guide. It’s a visual guide that walks you through each of the 4 stages of starting a side hustle of your own.
In the end, a successful side hustle doesn’t have to be three years in the making, though it still will take some time build. All I can hope is that this post will help you jumpstart your own journey.