7 Tips On Starting Your Side Hustle, From Women Who've Been There
44 million Americans reportedly have a side hustle, and the stats are super high among millennials. But how do you stop simply talking about starting one, and start actually hustling?
In 2014, I became a side-hustler, and I haven't looked back since. During the day, I worked diligently at a non-profit doing political and advocacy work, but in the evenings, I was writing and working on my digital savvy.
And whaddya know, that extra work paid off in the long run. Now I run a creative agency called Born In June Creative with my fiance as my main hustle. And naturally, I picked up a new side hustle to replace it: Hosting a podcast and weekly newsletter called The Currently.
To be sure, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies, but I've learned some incredibly valuable lessons along the way that have enabled me to make that coveted leap from side hustle to everyday hustle.
Here are some real-world, practical tips tested by me, some fellow side-hustlers and entrepreneurs, that will have you planning, pursuing, and making that extra cash money in no time.
Check your employee handbook
Before you begin to promote your hustle and reach out to potential clients, make sure that your full-time employer doesn’t have any language (like a non-compete clause) that prevents you from working in other areas. Be especially careful if your side hustle involves work similar to the one you do in your day job. Be tactful and consult with HR if needed.
Set yourself up for success
Now that you are ready to get started, make sure you have all your digital and in-person ducks in a row. Start aligning your social media channels, LinkedIn, and your personal website to show what you do, using consistent and cohesive language. Don’t ignore your logo, and branding. Treat this like a serious enterprise and not just a hobby.
Develop a great in-person pitch; when you talk about your new hustle, be bold. If you don’t have a lot of experience in what you are doing, think about how you build that work portfolio and expertise. In my case, I was able to create content for others based on my own writing clips.
Now, I regularly write copy for clients, and I was even hired to do things outside of my original scope of work, like ghostwrite a book, produce a podcast, and co-produce a large event.
You truly have to open up yourself to the possibilities of where all this can take you, and it starts with promoting yourself unapologetically.
Flex that network, or build one
Jennifer Lopez (no relation to J.Lo) founded her public relations firm Camila Creative after nine years in the field, but still found herself needing to attend many events and start making new connections to get her business off the ground.
"I started introducing myself to people, going to events, seeking people out on social media and sending cold emails," she says. "Lots went unanswered, but some led to projects, which led to clients, which have led to where I am now.”
Building community is the only way you will move ahead in your side hustle. You can build that community IRL or virtually, but either way, you will need to get yourself in with people who are already doing what you want to be doing. If you’re an introvert, Twitter, email and Instagram DM’s are your best friends. You can try places like Levo League, your university Alumni chapters, or of course attend networking events and conferences.
When I saw that all of my pitches to get work published were being rejected, I joined a community of writers and the board of an organization called Bindercon, which helps women and gender variant writers land work.
I was able to give back, improve my own writing skills in the process, make some great contacts, and eventually landed pieces in some of my dream publications, like Marie Claire and Vox. This also landed me my first official writing job as a paid, regular contributor.
Plant seeds and have patience
Believe it or not, my first client came from an Instagram message—that led to an email, which resulted in a client, which became the foundation that allowed me to leave my full-time job. But the client relationship started months after we first met.
If you are doing the work, updating your social media profiles, and building up a resume, people will notice your work ethic, commitment and dedication.
Spend time doing informational meetings or partaking in gatherings with other people in your field. Maybe someone needs help with their own project, or has a lead that they can pass on.
Planting seeds also means doing things for others and passing along information about opportunities. Being a part of a community means giving, not just receiving.
Establish your rates
This is one of the toughest things to tackle, as it can be hard to know how much to charge, especially if you are just starting out. But if you want it to be profitable in the long run, you need to be competitive and strategic from the beginning.
Christina Topacio, founder and CEO of JIG+SAW, a global creative community for female entrepreneurs and creatives, says doing your research is a must:
“Use sites like Glassdoor, Paysa or Payscale to find out what the market rate for your actual position would be," she says. "Divide the salary until you reach your hourly, and that's your market rate. Then add 30 percent. This factors in your taxes, any services you use within your business and any contractors you hire out to support. This gives you profit margins. You want enough of a buffer to negotiate, and you want them to respect your worth.”
As a new side hustler, it's crucial not to forget to add some money in there for Uncle Sam come tax day. Which leads me to my next point...
Set up a way to get paid
You can use Quickbooks for Self-Employed, Freshbooks or a similar site to invoice clients with ease. For tax purposes, it would be helpful to set up a separate bank account so that you can receive all your side income there. This will also help you keep track of potential deductions when tax time comes.
Finally, if your income is substantial, you can assess when it’s time to start a full company with a financial structure, such as an LLC, which you can start through sites like Legal Zoom.
If you created a product or use a particular name for your side hustle, you can trademark the name, or get a sellers permit if you are creating products. Every state and city has different laws regarding this, so make sure to check with the appropriate entities to make sure you are following all the rules.
Don’t let setbacks deter you
Side-hustles can be fun and a great way to supplement your income or flex your creative muscle. But they are also hard work, and without question, they'll force you to grow in new ways.
Susana Sanchez-Young is an award-winning visual artist and designer. Her side hustle came from a desire to find cute baby decor for her first child’s nursery. Four years later, she has developed a busy side business called, The Designing Chica. She remembers attending her first event, however, and being disappointed by her dismal sales.
But that prompted her to take a closer look at the type of venues she should be focusing on: “I literally spend four hours every day researching ideas, looking for new events, and messaging folks on IG about their creations,” she says. Having a passion for what you do is ultimately, a non-negotiable part of the “side-hustle” game.
As Topacio puts it, “You have to be willing to commit to the rollercoaster, whatever the ride looks like for you.”
Words: Betsy Aimee
Photo: Daria Kobayashi Ritch