Discover your side hustle with our step-by-step plan.

By Kathleen Murray Harris
Updated August 23, 2017
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Making jewelry
Credit: LanaSweet/Getty Images

Here’s a secret: You don’t have to quit your day job to bring in extra cash. Whether you already have an idea brewing, want to sample a new career before taking the leap, or aren’t working and want to get back into the game, starting a side hustle is easier than you think. Plus, it brings the benefits of added job security and personal satisfaction. “Just start where you are and take action,” says Chris Guillebeau, author of Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days. Here’s how.

Making jewelry
Credit: LanaSweet/Getty Images

Come Up With a Few Ideas.

Think about skills or assets you already have. An unused basement could be turned into a Pilates studio; a veteran teacher can sell lesson plans. If you know a lot about fish tanks, you could write a product review blog and earn affiliate revenue (basically, the small percentage of sales you get when people buy via your link). Or look around and see what piques your interest. “Curiosity is an underappreciated business skill,” says Guillebeau. When Marc Gaskins noticed candles being sold for $85 in an upscale men’s store, inspiration (and motivation) struck. Gaskins, who owns a restaurant equipment rental company in Charleston, South Carolina, began researching the candle-making business by watching DIY YouTube videos and talking with candle suppliers. His candle company, Meeting and Market, launched soon after.

Decide on the Best Concept.

Focus on the idea that’s the most feasible to pull off quickly and without a ton of investment. Also consider which idea you’re most excited about—this will be happening in your personal time, after all. ”Don’t overthink it,” says Guillebeau. “You’re not making a lifelong decision.” Then answer these questions to evaluate whether it’s a viable option: What’s the actual product or service you’re selling? Is there a clear group of people who are potentially interested in buying this? If yes, keep going.

Measure Profit Potential.

The biggest question: Can you make money off this? You’ll need to approximate here—if you’re selling a product, how much would it cost you to make it? How much of your time will be required? What do you need to invest in, whether people or equipment and supplies? Then, how much would you need to charge to make a profit? Will a customer pay that? Keep it broad and don’t let your idea get stuck in the numbers. ”Paralysis by analysis will get you nowhere,” says Julie Wilder, who uses her graphic design talent to create Spiral Spectrum astrology calendars, sold on Etsy and Amazon. “You can always change the price. If no one’s buying it, lower it. If you’re sold out, raise your price.”

Launch Before You Think You’re Ready.

Get to action, says Guillebeau: “The biggest mistake people make is waiting for perfection before going to market.” Create a sample product and host informal focus groups for input. Gaskins started making candles and giving them to family and friends; once that feedback was positive, he began to sell them at local farmers markets. Once those sold out, he knew he was onto something. If you’re nervous, try out your idea on starter platforms, existing websites where you can sell or advertise your service. Try Etsy for product sellers, Fiverr for freelance services, or Skillshare for online educators.

Invest Wisely.

To attract new customers, it can be tempting to buy a trade show booth or launch a massive marketing campaign. And while these can be important for growing a big business, try to think of your side hustle as a “strategically slow start-up,” says Wilder. To keep your risk low and your profit margin high, spend only on items that are crucial for running your business, like a website or product supplies. Julia Baldwin and her husband, Richard Kotulski, had an idea for a late-night cookie delivery service in Portland, Oregon, but didn’t want to sink a lot of money into it. Once they found a great (and affordable) kitchen space, they decided to do a soft launch of After Dark Cookies. “We wanted to test the idea without requiring a lot of up-front capital,” says Kotulski. What they did invest in: ingredients and customer service. “It’s all about making the customer happy,” he adds.

Tap Into Your Social Network.

Talk to everyone in your circle about your new business idea. “You never know who can help you,” says Baldwin. “We got our commercial mixer and refrigerator on loan from a friend who had them collecting dust in his garage.” Social media can also be your best free marketing tool. Wilder joined astrology-based Facebook groups, listened to her potential customers, and, after becoming an active member of a group, shared links to her calendars. Those members then shared the links with others. For After Dark Cookies, an Instagram post from the first customer led to three more orders on the very same weekend.

Check All the Legal Boxes.

You may need a license, depending on the nature of your side hustle. Someone entering the food or music industry may have to do more paperwork than, say, a chef who’s walking dogs on the side. Google “business license” for your state. Many cost $100 or less, says Guillebeau. If you’re spending a large chunk of your time figuring out how to handle incoming money and if you’re making enough that it could put you in a new tax bracket, it’s probably time to hire an accountant.

Keep at It and Embrace Change.

You’re going to make mistakes, but don’t get discouraged. “My approach to this is very much like a gardener’s,” says Wilder. “If a flower isn’t growing, maybe it needs more sun or it’s in the wrong spot. Tinker with it until you figure out how to make it bloom.” Baldwin’s trick is to remind herself not to take it too seriously. “I never considered how much satisfaction and joy I would get out of something that is purely ours,” she says. “Even the simple idea of cookie delivery.”