It seems like these days, everybody’s got a side hustle. Your neighbor drives for a ridesharing service on the weekends. Your sister walks dogs whenever she gets a chance. You like to knit beanies and other items, which you sell online for a decent profit.
Side hustles are great because they don’t interfere with your full-time job or career focus — yet they can earn you an extra stream of income that can help you make ends meet, provide you with retirement savings, or just give you something to splurge with (depending on your goals). On top of that, they often allow you to do something fun, or at least less tedious than your main job, and they serve as a stepping stone for bigger goals you’d like to achieve.
The trouble is that because side hustles are seen as secondary — and more “fun” than “work,” in many cases — people don’t take them seriously. If you have a side gig you’re passionate about and making decent money from it, there’s no reason you shouldn’t try to step up your game.
Create a Business Plan
You probably get how business works, but you’re still not going to get far without a formal business plan. A business plan forces you to write sections about who your target audience is, who your top competitors are, and how you’re going to scale. It’s a good opportunity to do some research and determine what kind of niche you can carve out for yourself. It will also help you decide whether it’s feasible for your business to scale.
Create a Formal Business Structure
Assuming that goes well, you can work on creating a better structure for your business. If you’re like most people with a side hustle, you’ve treated yourself as a sole proprietor, generating revenue and claiming it as miscellaneous income. However, at higher echelons of operations, you’ll have to have more tax flexibility — and more liability protection.
The best course for most new entrepreneurs is to create a limited liability company (LLC), which is simpler than a corporation but more protective than a sole proprietorship. It’s treated as a separate legal entity, shielding you from certain debts and liabilities. It also looks more professional to prospective clients.
If you’ve just been running your side hustle under your name, it’s time to get serious about your branding. There’s nothing wrong with basing a business off your personal brand, but if you do, put some effort into it. What’s the nature of your brand? What are your key identifying characteristics? Do you have a logo or font that people will recognize? How is this reflected on your website and in your social media profiles?
Plan to Scale
Most side hustles fail when it comes to planning to scale. If you want to lean on this gig full-time, you’ll need to generate more clients, more sales, and more work for yourself. But how?
Different side gigs warrant different answers. For some, it means automating some processes so you can churn out more work; it can signify hiring employees who can do the work on your behalf. For others, it means finding bigger, more stable clients who are willing to pay consistently. The burden is on you to figure out the best path to scale.
Invest in Marketing and Advertising
No matter what, you’ll need to garner attention for your brand and side hustle — and that means investing in marketing and advertising. There are many paths forward here, each with some merit. Your options include content marketing, social media marketing, and paid advertising. You’ll need to figure out which is best for your industry, budget, and long-term goals — this is where your research comes in handy.
Create a Transition Plan
If things are going well and you start making a decent amount of money from your side hustle, you might think about making it your full-time gig. It would be foolhardy to quit your full-time job the second you get a taste of sidelined work, but with the right plan in place, this can be a rewarding transition.
Study your current revenue, both from the side gig and from your main gig. If your side gig income is growing, estimate how it might grow in the near future. Could this be a sustainable job? If so, consider creating a multi-month plan for how to wrap up your current career without burning any bridges (after all, you might want a backup plan) while generating enough income to sustain yourself. It’s also a good idea to create a hearty emergency fund, just in case your side gig doesn’t grow the way you expect.
Not everyone can turn her side gig into a full-time gig, and not everyone wants to. However, if you have fun with your side gig and it’s reasonably profitable, there’s no reason not to consider it. It’s intimidating to start your own business and take it seriously enough to consider quitting your full-time job. In the end, if you’ve done your homework, it’s often worth the risk.