The side gig is gaining in popularity, especially as prominent side hustle success stories become the stuff of legend. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all started as side projects, as did billion-dollar companies Slack and WeWork. It's enough to get anyone's hopes up about the career possibilities.
Despite the fact that the gig economy is often branded as the new American dream -- allowing for schedule flexibility, self-management, and the opportunity to choose your own clients -- the reality is that many people are side hustling because they need an extra source of income. According to Bankrate's Side Hustle Survey, 43 percent of full-time American employees work a side hustle, and three in 10 of those gig workers are doing it to supplement their income and cover regular living costs.
Sure, some gigs really are passion projects, or at least that's how they start. A love of photography or a predilection for using a second language can lead a gainfully employed person to pursue a part-time gig. However, jobs like customer service representative, medical coder, and transcriber also appear on FlexJobs' list of common side hustles, so certainly not every gig is just a monetized hobby.
To make sure your side hustle helps you reach your financial goals, it's important to consider the scope and objective of that extra work. That could be paying off student loans, saving for a down payment, or earning extra cash for a shopping spree. As you set out on this new journey, follow these three steps to ensure your side hustle will serve its intended purpose for as long as you want it to.
1. Be intentional, not accidental.
When starting a side hustle, you generally get to decide whether you'll shoot for immediate income in the short term or build a scalable business over the long haul. If you're just looking to pay down some debt, the former might be a better option. If you want to create more income down the road, you should consider a scalable option. Starting a side hustle as a tutor is an example of generating immediate income, whereas teaching educators to start their own side hustles as tutors would be scalable long-term.
According to Jim Wang, founder of WalletHacks.com, entrepreneurs shouldn't be afraid to make a choice based on their current financial needs: "Don't feel like you're short-changing yourself by starting a good side hustle today because you need the cash, well, today." He points out that being intentional about your immediate needs will help you meet them quickly. If you need fast cash for an upcoming vacation or have a lot of debt to pay down, you may not be in the position to found a startup just yet.
2. Wield connections wisely.
When you're looking for your first customers, rely on customer relationship management technology to organize your connections. A little bit of professional efficiency will go a long way when you're asking your mom, your co-worker, or your neighbor for help finding buyers of your product or service. "Even before you have customers, a CRM can help you leverage your personal and professional networks to verify your ideas, find mentors and cheerleaders, and generate your first few leads and referrals," advises Alex Haimann, partner and head of business development at Less Annoying CRM.
Starting a successful side hustle requires you to perform a sales role that you may or may not be familiar with. A CRM can help you keep track of communications with a large number of leads, reminding you when to follow up and when to reestablish a connection. It's a valuable tool for staying on track, whether you're at day one or decade one of a side hustle. If your side gig is more temporary, a CRM will be useful for notifying your clients of business changes or catching up with them if you return to the project in the future.
3. Know when your side gig needs your full attention.
Many people starting a side hustle struggle to get it off the ground. A shortage of customers or an inability to market effectively makes it hard to find regular work, and a small runway disappears before the liftoff. If, on the other hand, your challenge becomes more about keeping up with a massive demand, it might be time to transition your side hustle into your full-time job. According to a SunTrust survey, 81 percent of side hustlers want to take their gigs full-time.
If you do move your hustle from side to center court, don't go it alone. You can't possibly get everything done on your own, and a surge in demand can actually extinguish your progress if you can't keep up and satisfy your customers. Hire an employee (or two) and learn to delegate. Having the right team will eventually allow you to work on your business and not in it; maybe you'll even have the chance to start on a second side project if you're so inclined.
Side hustles often start out of necessity. When you're working full-time but you believe in something enough to invest your precious free time in it, it's crucial to figure out how to make it work for you. Follow the above steps to see success with your side hustle, whether you're a writer with a passion project or a consultant with an empire to build.