Guest post by Ryan Robinson.
Today, a whopping 62% of Americans report wanting to eventually strike out on their own into the world of entrepreneurship, leaving their day jobs behind and becoming their own bosses.
Somewhat startling however, is the finding in that same survey, that only 16% of respondents felt confident they’d be able to make that leap this year. Of all the Americans that want to start their own business, only about a quarter of them feel ready to do it anytime soon. Why is that? What’s holding them back?
Well, I know firsthand that to those who’ve never done it before, the idea of even beginning to figure out how to launch a business or grow a website into an income-generating enterprise can be an incredibly overwhelming prospect.
Where exactly do I get started? How do I build a website? How do I get traffic to my blog?
However, it’s at this exact moment when these thoughts and questions are allowed to take control, that many would-be entrepreneurs simply abandon or press the proverbial pause button on their ideas—justifying that there has to be be a better time and place to pursue their idea in the future. That one day soon, they’ll have enough experience, money, time or connections they need to feel confident quitting their jobs in order to truly execute on their idea the right way.
Enter the side business. Instead of going through the (terrifying) process of axing your full-time income in order to pursue a promising business concept or idea, choose to start small today. Begin building the foundation during your nights and weekends for what will eventually grow into a full on business, while you’ve still got your day job to pay the bills.
Today, I’m sharing the biggest insights, best advice and most impactful lessons learned from some of the 60+ top entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed for my podcast, The Side Hustle Project. Let’s dive in.
1. Create a prototype and find your first buyers today. — Michele Romanow, Clearbanc
Michele Romanow, a serial entrepreneur that sold one of her first companies to Groupon, knows a thing or two juggling side projects and getting early traction. When asked to share her best piece of advice to first-time entrepreneurs, here’s what she has to say:
“Just get started right now with the skills, tools and resources at your disposal. Create a simple prototype of your idea, start marketing it and focus on finding your first paying customers.”
Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is. But, there’s still a lot that can go wrong along the way. This methodology for rapidly building a simple, scaled back version of what you hope to go to market with eventually, is known as idea validation—and it revolves around how quickly you can race to build a Minimum Viable Product, then begin pre-selling to a group of early adopters that are willing to support your future vision.
In order to be successful with your validation efforts, Romanow also recommends, “sticking to who and what you know,” advising that you’ll get the quickest results if you’re building a side business in a field you already understand, for a group of people you’re already very familiar (and connected) with.
2. Find a way to be unique and just add value to people. — Lewis Howes, School of Greatness
From sitting on the couch with Ellen DeGeneres in front of millions of Americans, to gracing the covers of top business publications, Lewis Howes is well-known for teaching people around the world how to build a business that supports their lifestyle goals.
When I sat down with Howes for my podcast, we talked about everything from building a social following to scoring your first freelance clients on the side of your day job. In that conversation, one piece of advice in particular stuck out to me.
“When you differentiate yourself, your brand will be powerful and standalone in a crowded space. If you can find a way to be unique on a platform you love and just begin adding value to people, the rest will start falling into place,” Howes shares.
Whether you’re looking to build your Instagram following, grow your email list or otherwise, one key tenant of laying the foundation for an eventually profitable business is providing value before asking for anything in return.
3. Get user validation early and often. — Caroline Ghosn, Levo
When I connected with Caroline Ghosn last year, she was coming right off of raising her company’s first round of venture funding, signaling the next major phase of growth for the professional network—which now boasts nearly 9 Million active members looking for advice, help and mentorship in the workplace.
When asked to share her best piece of advice to aspiring side hustlers, Ghosn offers up, “Run focus groups. Bring together eight to ten friends, strangers, it doesn’t matter. Give them wine, feed them and do whatever you need to do in order to get them in one room to share feedback on your product. Ask them whether they’d pay for your product and then how much they’d pay—it’s really important to get user validation early and often.”
This echoes the sentiment of many seasoned entrepreneurs I’ve gotten to speak with, and for good reason. It’s your job as the founder of your business to make sure you’re truly solving a meaningful problem for your audience, and that the solution is one they’ll be willing to pay enough for.
4. Understand your own strengths and double down on using them to bring your idea to life. — Vanessa Van Edwards, Science of People
As a behavioral investigator, Vanessa Van Edwards has dedicated her life to both studying people and understanding how to create impactful behavior changes. She’s worked with thousands of entrepreneurs who want to break through barriers in their business. Here’s her advice to first-time side hustlers:
“Think about how you can alter the process of getting your idea off the ground by matching your own natural tendencies. Once you figure out what works best for you, then double down on that.”
What I love most about this counter-intuitive piece of advice from Van Edwards, is that it flies in the face of conventions that preach needing to follow a very regimented, step-by-step process for bringing your business to life. Build a product, launch a website, generate leads, make sales, nail customer support. Rather, Van Edwards explains that you need to embrace who you are are as a person, throughout everything you do while building your business—because that’s the only way to create something truly unique.
5. Start talking about your idea with others, watch their reactions and build a minimum viable product. — Jan Schulz-Hofen, Plan.io
Today, Jan Schulz-Hofen is running the business that founded one of the premier project management tools for technical teams who want to implement agile methodologies at the world’s top startups. But this company that’s now bringing in over $110,000 in monthly recurring revenue, actually got its humble beginning as just a side project within one of Schulz-Hofen’s earlier companies.
So, it’s safe to say he’s speaking from a place of deep expertise when he shares his best piece of advice to fellow side hustlers. “Just go out there and start talking about your idea to friends, family, anyone who will listen and seems like a potentially good fit for your product or service. Then, build a minimum viable product, put it in front of them, and watch their reactions.”
The reason why this kind of validation process is so adored in the startup community, is because it’s very revealing—the quickest way to really know how well your idea will be received, is to plop the simplest possible version of it down in front of your (suspected) target customers, then see what they say and do next.
6. Start by building a community and learning what your early readers or users want. — Gaby Dalkin, What’s Gaby Cooking
With the recent launch of her book that bares the same name as her blog, Gaby Dalkin has grown her food blog into a diversified international community, featuring a salsa line with Williams Sonoma, regular in-person meetups, a blog that boasts several hundred thousand monthly readers, and an Instagram following of more than 360,000 people.
When sharing advice to fellow entrepreneurs wanting to build a blog on the side of their day job, Dalkin shares, “Building a community around your blog is the best investment you can make, and it’s that early decision to create real relationships with the people in your community that’ll have the longest-lasting positive impact.”
Back when I was first learning how to start a blog, long before I grew my community to more than 200,000 monthly readers, I made a point to personally interact with every single person that left a comment, signed up for my newsletter, sent me an email, or replied to a tweet—and because of that very personal interest, many of those people are still regular readers of my content today, and they’ve brought their friends along with them.
7. Get started right now, set very small goals and spend just 15 or 20 minutes on your side hustle. — Steli Efti, Close.io
As the founder and CEO of a CRM company in a crowded space, Steli Efti has learned a thing or two about to stand out from the crowd by leaning in to your own unique abilities and core competencies.
Since launching their tool suite designed for inside sales teams, Efti and team have gone on to become one of the most well-known brands in the sales education space, with courses, templates, guides, books, and hundreds of videos & blog posts covering everything from how to close a sale, to the nitty gritty details behind successful B2B sales calls, effective cold email templates and more.
“Just get started with very small goals today. The number one reason why most people don’t actually start their side hustles, is because they think it’s going to take a lot more time and effort to get off the ground—or they set goals that are too demanding. Either way, they set themselves up for failure with this approach. So instead, work on spending just 15 or 20 minutes a day on your side hustle, and in a few months you’ll have made meaningful progress.”
I’ve run into this countless times with readers in my community, because it seems relatively easy to sit back where you are today and paint a bullseye for where you want your side hustle to be in six months from now. However, it’s an entirely different story when you’re forced to actually sit down and plan out the times you’ll actually be working on the tasks you need to do, in order to accomplish that six month goal. Set realistic expectations, and honor those commitments.
8. Make the sacrifices you need in order to get to where you want to go, and learn along the way. — Chris Guillebeau, Side Hustle School
Like it or not, not everything in business will go according to plan. In fact, it’s more realistic to expect that not many of the major campaigns you launch with your side hustle will unfold exactly the way you plan—often for reasons outside of your own control.
Bestselling author and entrepreneur, Chris Guillebeau is no stranger to this simple fact when it comes to building a business. When asked to share his single best piece of advice to aspiring side hustlers, here’s what he had to say:
“When I went on my first book tour, nobody knew who I was and my publisher wouldn’t cover the costs of doing the tour, but I knew how integral it is to the success of the book. So I did my own book tour, collectively organized by my readers and I made some sacrifices to self-fund it. The lessons I learned from meeting with and learning directly from my readers in-person, have led to everything else I’ve done since.”
If any recurring theme can be plucked out of these pieces of advice here today, it’s that the only surefire way to build a business that’ll stand the test of time, is to intimately understand and interact with your prospective customers.
Take whatever sacrifices you need to make in order to accomplish that, with the understanding that it’s an investment in the future growth of your side business—not an inconvenience to be avoided today.
About the Author
Ryan Robinson is a content marketing consultant to the world’s top experts and growing startups. He teaches more than 200,000 monthly readers how to start and grow a profitable side hustle on his blog, ryrob.com, and podcast, The Side Hustle Project.
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Last modified: June 15th, 2018