7 tips for starting a successful side hustle
Regardless of your motivations, you’re about to start a business. And the moment you expect people to start paying you money in exchange for the value that you provide, you can no longer treat it as a passive endeavor. But when you have a full-time job—in addition to a life that you’d really like to enjoy—that’s easier said than done.
There’s a reason it’s called a side hustle: you need to work hard to make it a success. Here are some tips to get you started.
Tell your employer
Every employer will have different rules about and attitudes toward side hustles. Take a look at your employee handbook to understand what is and isn’t permitted. Here are some things you might find:
The point of these clauses is to protect the employer’s proprietary information, including things like client and vendor relationships, as well as any confidential information you may be privy to during your employment. Engaging in a side hustle that’s in direct competition with your employer or where you poach clients from your employer or use proprietary information to get ahead could put you on the firing line—or even subject you to lawsuits. Not to mention it’s just a nasty thing to do.
With all that said, most companies won’t have a problem with you having a side hustle, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your work. My advice: tell your employer what you’re up to. Even if your contract allows for you to have a side hustle and makes no mention of the above clauses, it’s better to be proactive and disclose your side hustle in good faith. This creates transparency and trust, and it’s much better than waiting for your employer to find out from other sources and having to be reactive about the situation.
Reassure your employer that you won’t use any company resources (including your work computer) or company time to work on your side hustle. It has to be a completely separate thing, and making that clear from the outset will show your employer that you understand the importance of it.
I have a friend who’s a medical research specialist. When she negotiated her contract with her employer, one of the non-salary items she requested was a four-day workweek. She uses the one day off a week (in addition to weekends) to focus on her event planning and gifting business. This was possible because she had disclosed her intentions beforehand to her employer, and she remained disciplined and focused in her primary job.
And that brings me to one last thing: It’s not enough to tell your employer—you need to also show them that you can still perform.
Your full-time job is going to be the main source of funding for your side hustle (and the rest of your life), at least for now. You may start seeing traction in your side hustle, but you can’t use that as an excuse to disregard your responsibilities in your primary job. You’ll still need your primary source of income to pay the bills until you can focus on your side hustle full time—if that’s your end goal. Until then, don’t give your employer a reason to fault you for poor performance.
Establish a routine and set goals
Having a routine will help keep you on track. If you start working on your side hustle every evening after dinner, you’ll train your mind that after dinner, it’s time for work—not time to scroll yourself down another rabbit hole. When your side hustle is part of your routine, it will feel less like a drain on your resources.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about habit stacking, where you can use the connectedness of behavior to your advantage. The formula for habit stacking is “After [current habit], I will [new habit].” So, for example, “after washing the dishes in the evenings, I will sketch designs for my swimwear line.” Washing the dishes becomes the cue that triggers the next behavior (in this case, something to do with your side hustle).
Of course, you’ll need to be sure your routine is based on solid goals. Sketching designs after dinner could go on forever—what’s the goal? When time is a limited resource, you need to be specific and realistic about your goals (try using SMART goals to get started). Remember: you are now your own employer, and no one else is holding you accountable.
A side hustle doesn’t mean working during all your free time. But if you’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into that trap.
Set boundaries to ensure that you don’t end up taking time from other priorities in your life, like family time and engaging in relationships that enrich you. There are plenty of ways to set boundaries for yourself:
Set up processes and automate
It can be tempting to do everything yourself: We sometimes make the mistake of valuing money over time. But time is also a limited commodity. And a side hustle in particular means limited time. Your focus should be on the activities that fulfill you and generate revenue.
Take stock of all your processes to figure out what you might be able to automate. If you’re not sure when to automate, start here, and then take a look at these five things you should automate today. Once you’ve automated your tedious tasks, you’ll have a better understanding of your actual capacity. You’ll be able to more clearly set expectations for clients—and for yourself.
Ask for feedback
A side hustle is a great opportunity for you to do something you love. But, as with any skill, it will take time before you’ve mastered your craft.
From the start, make sure to get feedback from your customers and clients to find out where you can improve. Whether it’s the quality of your offering, the efficiency of your processes, or the ease with which your customers can find you and do business with you, everything should be reviewed for potential improvements.
Learn as much as you can from others who are doing what you want to do—and ask questions. Remember: you’re testing an idea and working your way to product-market fit on your terms. Your biggest advantage with a side hustle is that you have time to test your business model and validate your ideas over time without the stress of wondering how you’re going to pay the bills. Use that time to make sure your business is the best it can be.
Side hustles don’t turn into income-generating businesses overnight.
With this in mind, you need to play the long game. Ask yourself if your current habits and routine can be sustained for several years—or more. As with any business, your actions have to be guided by a long-term strategy that should motivate you to keep going even when faced with adversity.
If you do decide to pursue your side hustle full time, your confidence after having experimented and learned everything on your own terms will be more than someone diving into full-time entrepreneurship with no prior experience. Even if you don’t decide to go full time into your side hustle, the skills you develop from running one can help you excel at your full-time job and life in general. Your side hustle doesn’t have to overrun your life. What’s important is that you lay the right foundations in order to draw the most value from your experience.
Yes, telling you to sleep seems obvious, but you’d be surprised. Hustle culture tells us that sleep is for the lazy, and it’s easy to believe it—less sleep means more hours to work, right?
But taking time to rest will not delay your progress: it may actually accelerate it. You’ll be more efficient with the time you do have, you’ll make sounder decisions, and you’ll be happier. It’s just science.