Out of necessity or a desire to go off on your own many of us have our “side hustle.” And sadly, for many, that regular job might disappear and the side hustle might become your income. It’s a sure way to become your own boss. That’s the good news. Making the move on your own can be tough. It’s how I got started working for myself. We were living in NYC. I had a full time job at an ad agency, and worked 20 hours a week for a very hot web dev company managing their projects and advising them. We decided to move someplace less expensive and more spacious and warm where our little family could stretch out a bit. To keep it brief, we committed in every way possible to the move and that job with the web dev company disappeared, and boom I was my own boss.
I had worked for a lot of different companies. Many startups that fizzled and died. Then some places that hired me as a full time employee, since it’s cheaper than paying someone as a contractor, and when the project they needed me for was done they’d let me go. When your work is building stuff and things get built you’re not needed anymore. Agencies operate job by job. If you’re not needed, you go. Companies usually don’t need massive sites built on an ongoing basis. Stories about your future maintaining and expanding those projects are fiction if you’re generous or lies if you’re not.
My wife likes to say working for yourself you have 5 clients or so, and if you lose one, you get another. Working for someone else you have 1 client, and if you lose them you’ve lost all your income. There’s some logic in this. To clarify a bit more, the work I do is service. It’s not a funded startup with a product someone might buy out. I’m in the same ranks as plumbers, carpenters, roofers, etc. I’m bootstrapping my life. I’m not just a startup, you’re a small business. Backbone of America and all that.
There are a lot of things you’d do well to learn before working on your own, but I’m going to focus on one. There’s a good chance you’re getting in work from your network, friends, former coworkers and former employers. “I don’t need to do any sales, the work just comes in!” maybe you say. I’ve heard it many times, and it’s wonderful when it works. I hope that’s the case for you, but don’t bet your future on it. If something happens with your pipeline of projects, something beyond your control, you’re in trouble. What I mean is, let’s say all your business comes from one business that gets leads you can use and they have no use for and they pass them all along. Then one day someone changes something, or people leave jobs and other people come in. Suddenly, that pipeline is gone. If you didn’t prepare something in the mean time you are suddenly in big trouble.
I had an ancestor who was a lacemaker in New York City. At that time a certain large retailer you’d recognize had a reputation for doing lots of business with small lacemakers, then they’d change the volume of business and the lacemakers who have to sell out to them. It’s tempting to take that huge contract and then just focus on it. The problem is if something happens to that huge contract and suddenly you can’t even pay your bills.
To avoid starvation, to insure that your business persists, you need to know what the life blood of your company is. I don’t mean ‘the why’, as Simon Sinek speaks of. That might be thought of as the soul. The blood is sales. If you’re not getting clients who are paying for your work your business will dry up. Now the question is, who are you targeting? Who do you serve?
I used to answer the question of who is my target audience as “People who need quality assurance testing, or who need highly interactive sites built.” No. No. If you make wooden fences, your target audience isn’t people who need fences. Do you care about people 3000 miles away without fences? People with no money that need fences? People who want barbed wire fences for cattle? No, you don’t. Your target is people with dogs. People with little kids. People with pools. People who just moved to the area and don’t want that ugly old fence they got, who have a lot of money left over from selling their old house in a more expensive area. You’re not trying to reach bargain conscious people who might build their own, or buy a fence in pieces from Home Depot. You need to really figure out who your audience is as specifically as you can. When you have a niche in your sales you can speak to that niche in a way that they’ll hear you.
If you are a graphic designer your target isn’t people who need graphic design help. Maybe you’ll help anyone who needs it and can pay. But if you want a continuous flow of business coming in you need to have one or more niches that you market to. So maybe you design graphics for industrial machinery. Sure you’ve done lots of other design work, some maybe you’re prouder of, that you’d rather do. But you have experience and could own that niche. Remember, a steady stream of incoming work, even work you could turn down if you wanted, will make the difference between success and failure when your other streams fail to produce new leads.
Consider work you have done, particularly in fields that value experience. Market yourself hard. Set up landing pages, a blog, run ads. If you had a job before and a side hustle, and you wanted to get your side hustle going to the point that you could leave your job, consider this your new job you want to leave. You are competing with yourself. Do this and the odds of you being able to continue working for yourself are a lot higher. The odds of you going broke, stressed, feeling like you’re being choked ever morning when you wake up are a lot lower. Trust me, I’d rather have more work than I know what to do with, a fair amount of it work I don’t particularly love, than not have enough. Pretty sure you’ll feel the same way.