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How to Turn Your Side Hustle Into a Full-Time Gig

Two founders weigh in on the highs and lows of making it on your own.

Few people are lucky to love their 9 to 5. Whether lacking creativity, opportunity for growth or simply not feeding the soul, it’s no wonder why so many forge a path separate from their career by way of a side hustle.

A concept that millions of people explored amidst the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, a side hustle offers people the opportunity to hone their skills, interests or hobbies on a deeper level. And no, we’re not just talking about selling your ‘famous’ banana bread recipe.

Aside from a means to make a little extra cash on the side, the upside of a side hustle is that you should already possess the skills or expertise to make your product or service. But the challenge lies in taking these and turning them into a long-term, sustainable and scalable business.

How, you ask?

Well, the first step to turning your passion into a viable business is establishing a solid foundation to work from. 

One person who understands this concept more than most is Nina Camilleri of Hendeer, an Australian-based business who sells woven picnic rugs.

Following three years owning and growing a real estate agency from the ground up, Camilleri’s motto ‘make your vocation your vacation’ continued to ring in her ears, ultimately giving her the push she needed to trade in her 9-5 in pursuit of a more creative business venture.

However her journey to founding Hendeer, Camilleri says, wasn’t quite so simple.

Although Hendeer has only been officially live and selling to the public for one year, there was a whole year prior that involved extensive research, development, self development and learning, and all the foundation and company formation work.

It truly has been an amazing journey to reach this point, a real labour of love. Being able to combine my entrepreneurial spirit with my insatiable appetite for fashion, art and all things beautiful, has been remarkable and something to truly cherish.

Source: @aliceonsgypsea for Hendeer

So what does it mean to create a strong foundation to work from?

Think: what’s in it for me?

Consider your offer or service. Is there a clear point of difference to your competitors? What value are you providing your customers? If you’re simply looking for a fast cash grab, you’ll quickly find yourself at a dead end. Instead, focus on defining your value proposition, that is, why a customer would choose your product or service. Your value proposition should solve a problem or situation and communicate the benefits to your customers in a clear and compelling way.

Once you’ve identified your value proposition, you need to get an understanding of your product-market fit. Arguably the most important stage in setting up your side hustle for scalable success, product-market fit is essentially when your customers become unofficial spokespeople for your brand, and your value proposition, customers and distribution channels align to satisfy your customers in a way that alternative products don’t.

Marc Andreessen, American entrepreneur and co-founder of Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, says in the case of product-market fit, market matters most:

“In a terrible market, you can have the best product in the world and an absolutely killer team, and it doesn’t matter – you’re going to fail. You’ll break your pick for years trying to find customers who don’t exist for your marvelous product, and your wonderful team will eventually get demoralized and quit, and your startup will die.”

A surefire way to tell if you’ve successfully found your product-market fit is if your product sells faster than you can manufacture it or if you organically generate media interest or enough revenue to support hiring sales and customer service staff to service the influx of customers. On the other hand, those who haven’t may find that word of mouth is slow to spread, struggle to convert leads or experience a low returning customer rate (for perishable-based businesses in particular).

To find your product-market fit, you need to identify the target customer who represents the users that will most likely benefit from your product or service, which requires a lot of research and testing to find the perfect fit.

You can then build customer personas which help refine your targeting and adapt your tone accordingly to suit demographic, geographic and behavioural factors, as well as the perceived benefits that go alongside them.

But it’s important to remember that as you grow, so will your understanding of the problem you’re solving, which is why it’s important to maintain some flexibility so you can evolve in tandem with the needs of your customer.

Get up close and personal

Another crucial component of taking your side hustle to the next level is by connecting with your target audience. 

Customers want to see a face or put a name to a brand. Not only does it instill a greater sense of trust between them and your brand, it creates a two-way communication whereby your customer feels heard and in turn, you can understand their pain points on a deeper level.

It’s the difference between addressing pain points and understanding what emotion underlies a purchase decision. 

Founder of Urban Alchemy Candles, Cody Thomas, launched his brand amidst COVID-19 last year. Having spent the best part of Melbourne lockdowns advertising free local delivery across Facebook Groups, Thomas was able to use the platform to generate sales and open up conversations with potential customers – both helping form the basis of his customer avatar and understanding the motivations behind his customer’s purchase decision.

“Aside from systems and processes, focusing on engaging with customers across the brand’s socials and using that data to break down who Urban Alchemy’s target market is was by far the best time I have ever spent on the business and without a doubt the driving force behind its growth,” he said.

Utilising Facebook Groups as well as tools like Instagram Stories and Reels create an open dialogue between a brand and an audience, creating a space for deeper understanding and connection. You can also poll your audience to understand how your product makes them feel, leveraging findings to measure your product-market fit and determine opportunities for growth.

Build that trust

Second to creating a connection with your customers is trust. In a world where people have access to more choice than ever before, the market is highly competitive. Brand trust drives new businesses, creates loyalty and builds customer advocacy. Without trust, your brand could slip the cracks or fail to turn your audience into real customers. 

There are a variety of strategies you can adopt to build brand trust, however your first port of call should be installing a review app for your store (Stamped.io and Judge.me have free plans available). From there, you can then set up a review flow within your email marketing (which you can integrate with your review app) to incentivise your customers to leave a review in exchange for a discount or enticing offer. By building up a bank of reviews, you can leverage your customer’s experience to sell the value of your product or service in your advertising.

Then there’s influencer marketing. When sourcing influencers, micro-influencers can be a great avenue for generating relatable, user generated content (UGC) which you can leverage for your ads, website and organic social media content. Despite having a smaller audience (usually 20-25K or less), micro-influencers generally have a more engaged audience and are open to contra/product-for-post agreements, rather than having to go through an agency and pay fees for more established influencers. 

Online tools such as Influee that offer a network of content creators for brands to use to create custom UGC photos and videos.

Source: Influee

Compel and convert

Which leads us to our fourth and final point, the importance of bold ad creative. Put simply: people are visual, so your ads should be too. Creative stops the scroll and copy converts, so whether image or video content, your creative should capture your audience’s attention, educate them about who you are and what you’re offering (ie your value proposition) and provide a clear action for your audience to take.

With this in mind, some best practices tips for converting creative include using high-quality imagery and videos that are optimised for your desired placements, as well as featuring bright and contrasting colours, short and succinct copy, leveraging social proof (reviews, press mentions and UGC/influencer content) and where possible, shock-factor. The latter could include a comparison creative, speaking to the benefits of your product over existing products in the market (as seen in the example below).

Source: Butcher Crowd

Online tools such as Billo offer an easy, low-cost solution for producing quality, engaging video content. Having worked with the likes of L’Oréal, LEGO and CASETiFY amongst others, their content creators are well equipped to elevate your brand’s suite of creative assets.

If you’re a growth-focused business, we want to hear from you. Get in touch to hear how we can work together to turn your passion project into a prosperous business.