By: Chris Guillebeau
36 MINUTE AUDIO / 5,550 WORDS (22 PAGES)
Everyone should have a side hustle; even if you love your current job, more income means more options.
Perhaps you want to make some extra cash on the side, while working on a project that you really enjoy and boosting your self-confidence. Perhaps you need some additional financial security in today’s uncertain world. More and more people are developing side hustles, projects launched with minimal time and effort that turn into steady money-earners.
This book gives you a detailed roadmap to create your own side hustle in just 27 days—how to brainstorm and select the best idea, gather the tools you will need, launch and sell your offering, and evaluate its progress.
A side hustle can be a stepping stone toward a new, full-time career as an entrepreneur; a temporary solution to a near-term financial problem; or, a steady money earner that supplements your day job. A side hustle is not a hobby, it’s a way to make some extra cash; but, it is also much more than that. Building something for yourself can really change your life, giving you more confidence along with more financial security.
Whatever the reason, anyone can create a side hustle that increases their income and brings a new level of financial freedom. Best of all, anyone can learn to do this without having to commit a lot of time, money, or effort.
You can learn to build a side hustle in just five weeks. In the first week you learn how to build an arsenal of ideas. In the second week you compare ideas, study what others are doing, create an image of your ideal customer, and transform your idea into an offer with a compelling origins story. Week three is for preparing for the launch, assembling the tools you will need, figuring out pricing and how to get paid, and creating workflows. In week four you launch your idea, learn how to sell and test your offering, and how to ask for help. In the final week, you learn how to track your progress, grow what works, systematize your processes—and, finally, decide what comes next.
A side hustle is a small project, launched on a weekend, that ends up making you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. It’s something you start on the side, usually while still working a day job, as a way to get additional income without taking the plunge into working fulltime for yourself. Even if you love your job, you should still have a side hustle; more income means more options.
Launching a side hustle is not hard—you don’t need a lot of money or time, and you certainly don’t need a business degree or a special education. You work on a side hustle on your own schedule. All you need is the right frame of mind and the willingness to act.
The first week will be spent generating ideas for your hustle.
Day one: where will you go
A side hustle is not a hobby, it’s a way to make some extra cash; but, it is also much more than that. Building something for yourself can really change your life, giving you more confidence along with more financial security.
So, the first step in building your side hustle is to ask yourself: what will my life look like, 27 days from now? Imagine where your hustle will take you. Will you have the money to make a big purchase, pay off a loan, or go on the trip of a lifetime? Will you have a sustainable source of income that will really make a difference to your daily life? Or, will you be able to replace, even exceed, the income from your daily job? Decide what your goal is.
Day two: generate ideas
The next step is discovering what makes for a good side hustle: a great idea. The three essential qualities for a great idea are that it be feasible; that it be profitable; and, that it be persuasive.
A feasible idea is one that you feel excited about, that can make you money, and that you can set up in a short period of time. You should be able to turn your idea into reality using the skills and resources that you already have—no major investments, no extra classes, no months of planning. You must also be able to envisage how this idea will make you money; if you can’t, think of something else. To be persuasive, your idea must be something that people will find hard to refuse.
Stay away from a grand vision that’s hard to explain in simple terms; something requiring skills you don’t have; or something that takes a lot of time. Look for something high potential, that is: that you can easily turn into reality; that you already know how to do (or, can figure out very easily); that is low maintenance to set up and run; and that will bring in recurring income. Your idea should also be something that solves a problem or makes a person’s life easier in some way.
Day three: brainstorm
Day three is for brainstorming. Imagine driving down the street; pay attention to everyone you see and what they are doing. Think about what they might need. Do the same thought experiment wherever you go. Are there opportunities here that someone can profit from?
There are three general types of side hustle: selling a product, which can be an object like gourmet coffee or something intangible like traffic information; providing a service, like coaching people or filling out tax returns; or, being a middleman, improving an existing process without actually creating a product or directly serving customers, like being a reseller.
There are starter ideas, which are perfectly fine if you’re just starting out, or you just need to make some near-term cash. But, these will quickly run into limitations. Eventually you may want a next-level idea, something with long-term potential. A starter idea is being a driver for Lyft or Uber; a next-level idea is coaching other Lyft drivers and being an expert commentator on the rideshare industry. You could sell your arts or crafts on etsy.com; offer online tutoring or create a course in your field of expertise; or start a podcast and sell sponsorship. You could resell things you find in yard sales; publish a blog; or become a home- or life-organizer.
Brainstorm a list of ideas that sound promising and narrow your list to three high-potential ideas that are feasible, profitable, and persuasive.
Day four: evaluate
The next step is to evaluate your three high-potential ideas and decide which one has the fewest barriers to getting started and the most potential for making money. Ask yourself what would be uniquely good, and uniquely challenging, about each idea (you should be able to figure this out using your own intuition and just a small amount of research). What will you need to get started, what are the potential obstacles, and how hard will it be to make your first sale? Has anyone else done something like this before? What are the best- and worst-case scenarios if you do this?
For example: helping wedding photographers to process their photos requires expertise and manual effort but is a recurring market. Coordinating a network of neighborhood dog sitters is constrained by the number of dogs in the area but you don’t actually have to do any of the walking.
Day five: find the profits
Round out your first week by investigating the profit potential in each of your three high-potential ideas. This is a key step: your side hustle must have a clear plan for making money. The formula for this is very simple:
expected income – expected expenses = expected profit
However, to fill in the formula for your three ideas you’ll have to make some estimates. Use your best guess for monthly expenses and what people are likely to pay for what you are offering. If there’s a lot you don’t know—for example, how many people will really be willing to sign up for your class on bird-watching—then make an optimistic projection, say a full class of 20, and a conservative one. Jot down what the return would be for five students, each paying just $20, versus five students paying $50; and 20 students at each rate. Think about the minimum number of students and the minimum fee that will make it worthwhile to offer the class.
Compare the profit potential for each idea to decide which is the most feasible one.
In the second week you will learn how to identify your best side hustle, figure out who is your ideal customer, and create your origins story.
Day six: rank your ideas
The next step is to rank and compare your three high-potential ideas. Rank each one on the three qualities of feasibility, persuasion, and profit potential, along with two additional qualities: efficiency (how fast can this idea be executed) and motivation (how excited are you about it). The easiest way to do this is to give each quality a score of high, medium, or low, then compare the scores for your three ideas.
If you want to get more detailed, weigh the qualities based on what is most important to you right now—say, making money or getting started quickly. You could also add more categories of scoring, perhaps a scale of 1-5 or even 1-10.
The important thing at this point is to remember that you’re not making a life-time choice, you’re just looking for the best idea right now. Just make sure you can explain it in simple language; it is feasible, profitable, and persuasive; it is clear how it will make you money; and, the idea makes you excited. You can always come back to the other ideas at a later date.
Day seven: evaluate the competition
On day seven you’re going to play detective by doing some reconnaissance of the landscape to figure out the competition. This stage is like studying a neighborhood before opening a coffee shop there—you don’t want to be the fourth coffee shop on the block, but you also may not want to be the first one if there are no customers in the area. On day seven, learn who else is offering the same thing (or something similar) and figure out how your idea will be better. Your idea doesn’t have to be better in every way, just in a few ways that the competition doesn’t offer.
Check out the competition’s websites and social media postings; check any customer reviews. Try to find out how much it cost the competition to get launched and how much money they are making. Figure out how you can take their strategy and make it better.
If your side hustle is something that’s entirely new, this is the time to make sure you can explain it in a way that is crystal clear and compelling.
Day eight: the ideal customer
Now it’s time to create a profile of your target customer. The better you understand your customers, the better you’ll be able to serve them. Make notes on the one person you imagine really, desperately needs what you have to offer. Write this person a letter, making it clear you understand their pain and proposing a clear solution.
Your product or service may be intended for people from a variety of backgrounds; still, having an imaginary conversation with this one, ideal customer will help you to hone the idea for your side hustle.
Day nine: create the offer
The next step is to transform your idea into an offer—something that has a promise, a pitch, and a price.
The promise focuses on the benefit someone will get from whatever you are selling. Make it clear how your idea will change someone’s life, in one short, snappy sentence. The pitch is all the basics someone needs to know; the information on why they should purchase now. The price is just that; what it costs and also exactly how to get it.
Write your offer to your ideal customer from day eight. Use words like “now” and “today” to create a sense of urgency. Keep the whole thing fun and lively. Where possible, use numbers—they grab attention faster than words. Finally, keep it pithy—every word should serve a purpose.
Day ten: tell the story
Now it’s time to create your origin story. As in the world of comic books, having a good origins story shows the moment of transformation when the character evolves in an essential way. Think about how you got into this, what inspired you. Use some personal anecdote to forge an emotional connection with your customer:
“I’ve always been interested in ... so I decided to try ...”
“I was frustrated by ... and knew there had to be a better way. So, I made ...”
Inspire your potential customers to root for you and your mission; it will turn them into paying customers.
In week three, you’ll pull together everything you need to get your offer up and running.
Day eleven: the toolkit
Assemble your toolkit—all the details you’ll need to figure out to launch your idea. These may feel like obstacles, but really, they’re just the details you need to solve. Consider how you’ll deal with some or all of the following:
Bank account and credit card
Have separate ones that are just for the side hustle, one to hold the money you make, the other to cover any expenses you have. (Just be sure to pay for everything you can up front; that way, you won’t be tempted to “invest” too much in the hustle.)
Set aside at least 25% of your hustle income for paying taxes.
Have a system that is fast and easy.
Agreement/contract for service work
This doesn’t have to be long and complicated but where possible have some form of written document or customizable email. You can send an email after you get off the phone that states: this is what we agreed I will do, this is how much we agreed you will pay me, and this is when we agreed payments will be made.
Operating as a sole proprietor is the easiest way to go for most side hustles. If you decide you need to incorporate, do it yourself online (it’s much cheaper than using an attorney).
This is another key system that doesn’t have to be complicated, just some way to track income and expenses.
Set up a space in your home, even a small one, and create a routine for working on the hustle (“one hour first thing every morning I will sit at this desk and do xx”).
Transfer profits from the hustle account to your personal account on a regular basis.
Day twelve: the price
Now, how to price your offer? If you know (from your day seven detective work) what others charge for a similar product, then pricing your own offering is easy. But, if you’re offering something new, how do you know what it’s worth? You have to price low enough that you don’t lose potential customers, but high enough that you make money. Profit must be built into this hustle right from the start—if you break even you’re really losing money!
If you’re selling a product, start with cost-plus pricing—the cost of making the product plus a dollar or percentage markup as your profit. Think about the time it takes you to create the product. If it’s a high-volume product, the markup can be slightly above the cost; for a low-volume product, the markup needs to be higher.
If you’re selling a service, price in terms of your time, including any ‘prep’ time that doesn’t go on an invoice. One rule of thumb is to set a minimum hourly income that is slightly higher than what you make in your day job.
Try to design your hustle so that it generates recurring income. Consider offering price tiers, where people pay more to get more. And, don’t stray too far from the market price.
Day thirteen: the shopping list
The next step is to create a side hustle shopping list, the things you either need to source, acquire, or prepare to launch your offer. Remember, the aim is to go from idea to implementation as quickly as possible. Think of this step as gathering the ingredients for a baking project and think about your customers—what will they experience after buying your offer and what needs to happen for you to get that experience to them?
The specifics will depend on your particular hustle, but your ingredients will likely include a website. Don’t pay too much; you can get a good basic site for $5 a month. You will probably need social media profiles, too—pick one or two networks to focus on and register your name (even if you won’t be using it right away).
A scheduling tool is important for consultants, coaches, and anyone making time-based commitments.
Day fourteen: getting paid
Make sure you have a way to get paid. If you’re selling a product, a simple payment system like PayPal, Shopify, or Stripe will likely meet your needs.
For a service hustle, you’ll also need a way to invoice customers. Keep it simple and do whatever is common in your industry. You can ask for payment in full before beginning work; half up front and half on completion; or, payment in full on completion. Decide on the payment options you will accept—credit card, check, transfer, etc. Decide on how you will prepare and submit invoices, and the time frame and process for clients to pay.
Day fifteen: workflow
Write out your workflow steps in an orderly way. A workflow is the list of steps that must happen for a process to be completed. For your side hustle, this means noting down everything that needs to happen for customers to make a purchase and receive what they paid for. You can write it from the customer’s perspective, to help you pinpoint where things might go wrong. Create a master list of tasks, actions, and next steps.
For example, let’s say you have a website where you post particular types of recipes, and you want to sell an ebook of the most popular ones. You start by creating an email list of customers. The email signup workflow would look like this: decide on an email list service and set up an account; add the code provided by the list service to at least one page on the website; write an interesting call-to-action to get readers to join the list; and, write a welcome message that goes out to people who join, letting them know what they can expect in future mailings.
Day sixteen: focus
As you wrap up week three and get ready to launch, remember to keep your focus on two important things: providing more value and making more money. This means under-promise and over-deliver to your customers, respond to unspoken needs, and highlight positive results. For you, it means commit to a regular schedule of price increases, pursue incremental revenue, and spend some time every day thinking of ways to grow your hustle.
It’s time to launch! Week four is about learning how to market and test, and how to show up for the battle.
Day seventeen: launch!
The time to launch is now, even if you don’t feel ready. There are plenty of ways to procrastinate—it’s not quite perfect, what if it doesn’t work, maybe I should ease into this—but the only way to know how your customers will respond is by actually making your offering. It’s your proof of concept. And, if you wait for perfection, your hustle will never launch.
One way to push yourself to launch is to take ten minutes to create a Facebook page for your hustle. It’s easy to do and you’ll quickly be able to see how people respond. You can also say you’re launching “in beta mode” if it makes you feel more comfortable. Gmail was in beta mode for five years after it launched!
Day eighteen: sales strategy
Hone your sales strategy. Lead with the benefits of your product; how does it help people and make their lives better? Make your sales pitch clear and specific:
“At the end of this course, users will ...”
“By buying this thing, customers will...”
The best benefits have some form of emotional angle, something that makes the user feel better.
After listing the benefits, show the specific features of the product:
“In just four easy lessons, you will learn ...”
“The tool does these three things ...”
Establish the value to the customer before you mention the price and use stories to show how wonderful the product is. Don’t be pushy, but don’t be afraid to make the ask.
Day nineteen: get help
Enlist ten people to help get the word out. Ideally, these should be a mix of people who can help in different ways—supporters, mentors, influencers, and ideal customers. Don’t ask too many people for help; rather, come up with a short list of who can really spread the word.
Ask each person for one specific thing; explain why you are doing this hustle and how it will help people; and follow up only once, and gently. Not everyone will say yes—be gracious in your response.
Day twenty: test
You probably don’t know yet which approach will be the most effective for your side hustle—so, try out different things and keep a record of the results. The simplest test is an A/B test, where you try two different versions of your product and see which one people tend to select. For example, if you’re offering a class in bird-watching, set up two separate registration pages, one with the class priced at $49 and the other at $79, and send half of your visitors to one or the other. Now you can see how much difference price makes to the conversion rate, that is, how many people actually click to sign up.
Don’t get sidetracked into constantly testing every detail of your offering; stick to the big things like the product being offered, how you present it, and the price. Only run one A/B test at a time, but don’t stop at just one. For example, start by comparing a 10% discount and free shipping; next, test free shipping against a bulk order discount; and so on. The aim is to gather information about what your ideal customer wants and what they are willing to pay.
Day twenty-one: use secret weapons
Deals, special offers, and sales are your secret weapons. Everyone likes to think they are getting a deal, and no-one wants to miss out on something that won’t be offered for long. You don’t have to give the product away (remember, the aim here is to make money), but you do want to create a sense that this deal is something special that won’t be around forever.
Some secret weapons to consider are a discount; a fire sale; buy one, get one free; or a rebate available after purchase. You can offer a refer-a-friend reward, some form of frequent shopper program, or contests with the promise of a big win. Free samples or trial offers—“get it while you can”—can also bring in customers.
Make sure you announce the deal in advance and make it easy for customers to take advantage of it. Make the deal something customers will feel excited about. Be sure to test that the systems you have set up really do reflect the right information about the deal at every stage (order form, shopping cart, invoice, etc.). And, end the deal when you say you will, so that customers will pay attention the next time you offer a sale.
Day twenty-two: celebrate!
Frame your first dollar, go out for a nice meal, buy yourself a little treat. Don’t plough every cent back into the hustle right away; do something to reward yourself for launching your side hustle.
You did it! Your side hustle is out there in the world. Now, it’s time to regroup, refine, and raise your game.
Day twenty-three: metrics
You need to be able to answer the question, “Is it working?” And, the answer should be something other than, “It’s fine.” If you’re succeeding wildly right away, keep doing what you’re doing. If your side hustle has crashed and burned, cut your losses and try something else. Most likely, your idea sort-of works—now is the time to make it even better.
Keep track of your three key metrics: profit, growth (in customers), and time (how many hours a week you are spending on this). If your hustle isn’t making enough profit, now is the time to figure out whether you improve it or whether you should pull the plug. If it’s reached maximum output, consider whether you should add something new or start to build a second side hustle.
Day twenty-four: grow what works
Now that you’ve reviewed your metrics, you need to decide what you will adjust and how you will improve your hustle. If you offer three things for sale, and one of them is doing much better than the others, your instinct might be to try to improve the weakest item—but really, you should focus on further increasing the sales of the bestselling item.
Using the power of iteration, gradually improve your offering. If it works well, do more of it; if it doesn’t work, abandon it and move on. Every month or two, take a step back and ask yourself: what is working; is there anything I could outsource or automate; can I make more money without spending a lot more time; and, can I increase the price of the offer? Even if your side hustle is doing really well, set yourself the goal to do one thing that will further increase the income from the hustle.
Day twenty-five: add more
The side hustle mindset is always looking for more opportunity—not just trying to sell more to existing customers but looking for ways to remix the offer to acquire new customers. This might mean adding a premium level or “next version” of what you are already doing. Think of it as turning over a rock to find the money hiding under there.
Day twenty-six: systematize
For a side hustle, “systems” does not mean expensive software, it means all the procedures that allow you to serve your customers. It is important to document those procedures as soon as possible, so that you focus less on repeating the details. One of the best ways to document your repeat processes is to create workflows—something touched on in day fifteen when you learned how to list out every step needed to develop an idea.
Now, create workflows that document two important processes, sales and service. List, in order, everything that has to happen for you to make a sale, and everything that has to happen for the customer to receive what they purchase. You can also create an on-boarding workflow, that lists the steps to welcome and orient new customers, such as the email sequence they receive on signing up. Creating these workflows will help you to pinpoint ways to improve the processes.
There are a number of tools that can help to systematize your side hustle. For contact management, try HubSpot, Salesforce, or Microsoft Dynamics. For project management, take a look at Trello, Asana, or Basecamp. Bookkeeping tools include Wave Accounting, FreshBooks, and QuickBooks. It’s also a good idea to register with a password recorder, such as LastPass, RoboForm, or Dashlane.
Day twenty-seven: what’s next?
Do you want to continue building on this idea, or go all in and pursue it full-time? Maybe your side hustle is just something temporary to get you through a financial rough patch. Maybe it’s something that you keep doing on the side to bring a sense of greater fulfillment to your life. Or, maybe this side hustle will totally transform your life and become the basis of a multi-million-dollar company. The beauty of the side hustle is that it’s entirely up to you—you can decide based on what you want to get out of this.
One thing is for certain—the side hustle economy is here to stay.
Successful side hustles
Homemade Gin Kits
Joe and Jack are Philadelphia-based friends who like to unwind with a good cocktail. They enjoy the “cocktail culture” so much that they collaborated on their own homemade gin recipe. They thought it would be a fun idea to open their own distillery and sell their gin to the world. But, once they looked into all the rules and regulations involved in operating even a small distillery, they realized this would be a huge challenge and take a lot of money and time.
So, the two friends decided instead to create a side hustle selling people the tools they would need to make their own gin in their own kitchens. This took a lot less capital and, because no actual alcohol sales were involved, far fewer regulatory hoops to jump through. They put together 750 Homemade Gin Kits and spread the word to friends and family.
As word got out and sales picked up, they continued working on the project evenings and weekends, improving their website, reaching out to other websites, and steadily increasing their contacts. Within four years they had sold 75,000 kits; their product was being ordered by large kitchen stores; and they got a favorable review in the New York Times. They still have their day jobs, but they also have a side hustle that makes real money and lets them work on something they enjoy.
Julia was a San Diego-based graphic designer who wanted to make some extra cash after graduating college, so she took a part-time summer gig as a caricature artist at a local amusement park. The job only paid minimum wage, but Julia quickly found she loved the work. She also discovered that she could cope with the park rule that artists had to work solely in permanent marker—no preliminary pencil sketches were allowed.
When the summer was over Julia decided to keep drawing portraits but to make more money by selling her service herself. She wrote to every school in the area, asking if they would hire her for their next event. Her pitch worked, and soon she was charging $100 an hour for corporate events. But, Julia had one more step she could add to her hustle: she learned how to draw digital caricatures on a tablet computer, something that could be printed out and emailed to the customer. This gave her a significant competitive edge over other artists in the area, allowing her to focus on large corporate events where she could charge $250 an hour.
Julia used her contract employment at the park as an apprenticeship that allowed her to launch her own side hustle; then, she incorporated a new skill to take her hustle to the next level. Eventually Julia was able to quit her day job and live off her side hustle income.
Steve was a Bay Area web developer and like many of his neighbors he spent a lot of time commuting to and from work. Everyone shared tips and strategies for shortening their commute times, but there was no one comprehensive source of information for area travelers. In 2008 Apple launched its first iPhone and the App Store where users could access additional programs for their devices. One week before the close of the deadline to submit an app for the new Store, Steve was home sick from work. He used the time to hack together an app that pulled in public transit and traffic data in an easy-to-use app that he called Routesy.
To his surprise, Apple accepted his proposal and his app launched with the App Store. At first there were a lot of bugs he had to iron out; but Steve persevered, not because he needed the extra cash but because he really enjoyed creating something that he knew could help a lot of people. The first month that the App Store was live, Steve made $2,700 in sales.
Steve saw a need in his community and used his existing skills to create something that served a large and active market.