5 Steps I Took To Turn A Side Hustle Into An Online Business

I’ve had several of my readers reach out to me in the past month asking how to turn their hobby into their own profitable business. Here are some messages in my inbox:

  • “I want to start a blog but I don’t know where to start.”
  • “I want to start life coaching but I’m afraid I don’t have enough experience.”
  • “I write really thoughtful posts but I don’t get any traffic.”
  • “I want to earn money online so I can travel anywhere in the world at any time.”
  • “I know I’ll be really great at consulting but I don’t know what to charge.”
  • “I’m afraid to quit my job, but I really hate it, and I know I will be much happier working for myself. I want to quit tomorrow. Is it a bad idea without anything lined up?”

Congratulations!

I hear the confusion, frustration, and hopelessness in these emails. What I want to say to each of you is, “Congratulations!”

Congratulations on finding something that you really want to do. This is the first step to a viable business. Building your own business requires a lot of time, effort, and dedication. You better make sure this is something you are still passionate about and want to continue working on when shit hits the fan.

I have to warn you, though. Building a business with a steady income flow takes time. So unless you’re sitting on a pile of cash or gold, I don’t recommend quitting your day job just yet. Your side hustle is called a side and should be worked on outside of your normal steady paycheck hours. If you can devote the time to work on this — whether it’s squeezing in 30 minutes each morning, during your lunch hour, or at night and weekends — then you know you’re determined to succeed.

I worked on mine for six months while holding down a 50+ hour work week. These six months were spent trying to figure out my service offerings, marketing, and branding.

So Where Do I Start to Earn Money?

I agree there is an overwhelming amount of information out there about how to start a business or how to start a blog. I can’t say what I have done is the best approach, but it’s the only one I know. So today I’m going to share my process that has allowed me to supplement my 9-5 income.

So, without further ado, let’s introduce the steps to starting a side hustle that will hopefully replace your 9-5 (if that’s your goal)!

1. Conduct Market Research

You may have the best idea out there, but if people aren’t going to pay for it, is it really the best profitable idea? When I decided that I wanted to start career coaching, I Googled different sites to see what my “competition” was up to. If you can’t find any competitors (unless you’re at the forefront of something untapped) you may want to investigate if what you do can be monetized.

It’s important to understand what your competitors are offering, but don’t get caught up in their aesthetics and their branding. Your service or product is going to be uniquely you. So gather the facts, the information, what they are offering, and exit off their site!

2. Figure Out What You Are Worth

It’s important to investigate how much you feel comfortable charging for your services. I know a lot of service-based businesses won’t post their prices online. Instead, they have a “schedule a call to learn more” button. I didn’t want to waste my time nor my clients’ time, so I have opted to have transparent pricing on my website. Keep searching until you compile a list of offerings from at least 10 different companies, along with their prices.

Since I was just starting out, I knew I couldn’t charge the higher end of the range. But I did investigate on LinkedIn and searched the experience level and backgrounds of these coaches. What I found was that several of them have been undervaluing themselves. You definitely don’t want to sell yourself short. Do your research and survey others on what they would pay if you could help solve their problem of _(fill in the blank)_.

3. Provide Your Service or Product in Exchange for Testimonials and Feedback

Now that I had a sense of what my basic offerings were and my potential price points, I asked one friend and three strangers if they would like to have a free session in exchange for providing me with testimonials and constructive criticism.

This step was essential. You don’t want a paying customer to be the guinea pig. Make sure you go through the entire exercise. Build your confidence, anticipate any new challenges, and refine your process for the smoothest and best experience for an actual paying customer.

Find a friend whose opinion you trust. Ideally, this friend would be your ideal client in terms of demographics. If you don’t know this right away, that’s okay (I didn’t figure mine out until 100 clients later!). To find a stranger, it’s easier than it seems. I see many entrepreneurs offering free services on relevant subreddits and Facebook group discussions. Find out where your ideal demographics are hanging out, and join those groups. There’s a gold mine ready to provide you feedback in exchange for a free service or product.

4. Market Yourself: Launch Your Website

Launching a website is actually easier than it seems. Coming up with the name is the difficult part! Check to see if your company name exists. You want something easy to pronounce, easy to remember, and easy to spell. Frankly, I may not have met all of the criteria but I really like the creativity behind the name and am a lover of play on words. Thus, CultiVitae was born.

I remember when I met a 15+ year solopreneur, I asked what she attributed her success to. She said her company name. She didn’t go the creative route; instead, she called it South Bay HR Consulting. Turns out, a lot of local clients search for this in Google, and she’s the first company to populate! So, don’t overthink it. But make sure it is something you will be happy with long-term, because rebranding and changing domains can be a pain.

Once you’ve come up with a name, you’ll want to register your domain name. I used GoDaddy and have not had an issue with them to date. Next, you will need a host. I use HostGator, which I highly recommend. A year later, I have had 0 downtime nor outages. If you’re not super tech savvy with all of this stuff, I have also heard really great things about Squarespace, and they have easy-to-install beautiful templates.

Otherwise, you can host on WordPress and buy a theme for less than $100. WordPress also has a ton of free plugins which allows you to easily set up anything you want on your site including checkout carts, payment options, analytics trackers, etc. For my site, I am using X Theme and it’s also really easy to use! No hiccups yet.

5. Spread the Word on What You Offer!

When I first started, I found larger sites that I could partner with. One big publication was The Muse . They focused on offering career advice to millennials, which is the exact service I aspire to give. Since my partnership with them, I’ve become a trusted coach and have published guest articles. This was very beneficial for both companies, but for me, it was extremely helpful since they are more established and have a wide reach. What larger companies can you partner with to start getting the word of your services out there? Guest posting on other relevant blogs is really key when you’re starting out, since your exposure will be minimal.

Next up, build your social media presence. Being on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+ can get overwhelming real quick. For me, I know I am targeting professionals, so my biggest audience is on LinkedIn. Since I have a blog, I also choose to build out my Pinterest as that drives a lot of blog traffic. Twitter is good to have when you want to reach out to specific companies, but mine stays pretty quiet otherwise. Instagram is just fun! Facebook is great because you can link your articles.

I used to be really overwhelmed with social media until I downloaded Buffer. Now I sit down every Sunday and schedule all of my social media posts for the week across four platforms. That frees up the rest of the week to focus on updating my blog, writing newsletters, developing e-courses, and conducting 1:1 coaching with clients.

It’s Okay If You Don’t Figure Out Everything Right Away

I know a lot of people who don’t pull the trigger because they don’t have everything figured out. Honestly, the only things you must absolutely know are your domain name and where you want to host. All of the other things are going to be a work in progress. It still is for me almost one year later!

Don’t try to build an empire in one day. There are SO many little details that go into a website and business. Make a list of 1-2 things you want to accomplish each day. A lot of it is trial and error. As you start to develop certain aspects, you may realize you don’t like that color or that font or that message you posted before. Just change it when you’re ready to.

I hope this high-level overview was helpful. If there are specific questions you would like to hear of in my next post, please leave a comment. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing about your side hustle!

Emily Liou is the founder of CultiVitae, a career blog where she inspires and guides professionals seeking career transitions through her blogs, e-courses, and career coaching programs. She has interviewed thousands of job seekers and has guided hundreds of job seekers to land their dream jobs. Sign up for her weekly newsletter where she dishes out personal and professional development hacks… plus get access to her free career resource library!

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