Becoming your own boss is as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. The possibilities stretch out ahead of you, leading you to envision a future of financial independence and career satisfaction, but you can’t overlook the pitfalls: what if you go all-in on a venture and it doesn’t pan out?
You can’t rely on unlimited shots at success — just the one attempt (if sufficiently disastrous) could leave you in a financial struggle for a long time.
Of course, you don’t need to make a full commitment right from the start. The sensible alternative is to test the real-world viability of your business idea first, then make a decision about how to proceed. If things are looking good, you can take the plunge — and if the results aren’t there, well, at least you won’t have wasted all your resources.
Starting your own business as a side hustle — something you pursue alongside your regular workload — lets you get to grips with the daily demands and scale the operation when you deem it warranted.
At that point, you can simply give up your day job. Here’s how to do it:
1) Invest time and effort in networking
To begin with, at least, you’ll be working alone. This will give you a lot of creative freedom, but also hamper your efforts — there’s only so much you can get done in a day, particularly when you have other things to focus on. It will prove a particularly-thorny problem when it comes to promoting your business (you can’t win clients or customers if no one knows you exist).
However you feel about business networking, it’s an unavoidable part of becoming your own boss, and it’s vital that you start as early as possible.
Find industry meetups to attend (you can use a service like Meetup for this, or just monitor social media feeds), reach out to experts for advice, and introduce your business to your social circle (ask for feedback and consideration).
This is a process of planting seeds. When the time comes that you’re ready to scale, you’ll need to hire people (something that’s a lot easier when you have industry contacts), and you’ll want smart people in your corner to help you navigate the transition.
You’ll also benefit hugely from having influential people convinced of the quality of your business (social proof is immensely powerful).
Trying to operate entirely by yourself will inevitably cause issues when scaling, and likely result in some major mistakes.
2) Choose a niche where you can compete
Proving that your core business model is viable is absolutely essential. Failing to get any results but forging ahead on the basis that you would get results if you were full-time… that’s far from the most sensible move. Even with limited time and resources, you need to stand a realistic chance of making some progress with your side hustle — and that means picking a good niche.
Competing in a niche requires one of two things: a sufficient lack of competitors (allowing you to claim available ground), or an idea, product or service capable of outpacing everyone else. Go with a field that isn’t absolutely saturated, and in which you can plausibly stand out.
See how your product or service stacks up against those already on offer, and imagine trying to persuade someone already happy with one of your competitors to try something new — if it doesn’t seem likely to happen, then you need to rethink your entire strategy.
Additionally, ensure that there’s a significant market waiting for you. If you get too narrow with your focus, you can tap the entire market early, leaving you nowhere to go and no way to grow. It’s all about nailing the balance: like choosing the perfect soil and climate for growing plants. (On that note, the eco-friendly business niche is currently an excellent option, driven by ever-growing concerns about the world, as well as the rise of ethical business.)
3) Build a flexible multi-channel foundation
More than anything else, scaling is practically challenging. Meeting limited demand in your free time isn’t too punishing, and even if something goes wrong, you can stay relaxed — but when you start to scale up, the pressure on your operation will hugely increase, and the consequences of slipping up will get ever more dire.
Consider traffic, for instance: basic web hosting will handle modest visitor numbers without an issue, but can completely collapse when traffic starts flooding in. The last thing you need is for your business website to go down just when your business is picking up steam.
Downtime can be devastating: not only can it lose you business from people who would have visited and converted during that time, but it can also tear into your reputation through leading people to believe that your business isn’t reliable.
Due to this, you must invest in a hosting solution that can easily meet varying traffic demands, smoothly scaling up whenever needed. It’s also a good idea to establish a good working relationship with your web host — in the event that something goes wrong, feeling comfortable reaching out to them directly (or even visiting them if you choose a host located near you) will make the process of getting back on track significantly simpler.
In addition to hosting, think about how your platform can meet the fresh challenges of full-time business. Multi-channel selling is a common concern today: a merchant can get away with selling through just one channel when they’re just starting out, but when they go full-time, they need to be selling everywhere they can.
A platform with adjustable tiers will do the trick — most online store builders include a basic plan that you upgrade to an enterprise tier that supports more channels, so it’s ready to expand whenever your business is.
While you’ll certainly need to personally adapt to the growth (getting better at handling the workload of a business owner), the focus will largely be on your platform and your processes.
The essential mechanisms of your business will be under incredible stress, and they need to be capable of enduring it, so make your initial choices as sensible as possible.
4) Make room in your regular schedule
If you can’t commit time to your side hustle on a regular basis, you’ll have a hard time ever scaling it — it may only be a side project for the time being, but you should treat it very seriously. Consider the consequences of taking it lightly: what if you make a half-hearted effort and it doesn’t work out? You’ll be left wondering what might have been had you only worked harder.
This does mean that you’ll need to make sacrifices, naturally. You may need to give up one or more hobbies, sleep less, and cut down on time spent with your friends, family, or partner.
Again, you need to find the right balance: spend too much time on your side hustle and you’ll likely burn out very early, consigning the project to failure. Spend too little time on it and it will never grow to the level you’re hoping to reach.
Remember: you can start slowly with just a few hours each week, but whenever you make progress, you need to increase that amount. You can’t go backwards at any point, or your side hustle will get stuck as it is — a secondary concern that will never achieve its potential.
Running a side business is a great middle-ground solution for moving into the entrepreneurial world. If you attempt it, though, be sure to take it seriously, and put in the work early on to give yourself the best possible chance of successfully scaling later.