Before Covid-19, many of us dreamed of escaping the rat race, of breaking free from shackles of the daily 9-5 grind and starting our own business. But these days those dreams are starting to feel like a necessity.
Of course, it’s easier said than done.
The reality is that to get a new venture off the ground takes time and effort and usually involves vast sums of money and more risk than most can stomach – especially now in the time of a global pandemic.
But what if instead of taking the leap and quitting your job you started your own small business on the side? A nice little money spinner that ticks over with just a little bit of extra effort in the evenings or over weekends and pays out enough each month to help you cover school fees or save for that much-longer-for family holiday.
Rather than sticking your neck out and risking everything it’s better to start small and test the waters – see if there’s a market for what you want to sell. And who knows? Maybe your side hustle will end up being so successful that it becomes your full-time job.
But how do you get started? In this extract from his new book, How To Start a Side Hustle, local entrepreneur Nic Haralambous gives practical tips on how to come up with good ideas for a small venture and then get it up and running within weeks.
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Finding the right idea
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to think outside of the box – to come up with something new and innovative. If you want to start your side hustle, it’s actually much easier to look at existing industries rather than trying to conjure up something entirely new out of thin air.
Even today’s most innovative businesses didn’t start out as unique. Google wasn’t the first search engine in the world. Facebook wasn’t the first social network.
My fashion company, Nic Harry, also wasn’t an original idea. I was on my way back to South Africa after a snowboarding trip with some friends in Italy. While we were at Milan’s Malpensa Airport, I noticed a tiny shop that was filled with colourful items. I walked in and realised that the store was dedicated to men’s undergarments. Colourful socks and underwear everywhere.
The store hit me like a slap across the face. I immediately took to the idea and believed that I should do the same thing in South Africa where men’s fashion is historically a few years behind Europe.
I spent the entire plane trip home thinking about this idea, and I couldn’t let it go. I set myself a side hustle challenge: I wanted to build the business in six weeks, spend no more than R5 000 in total, and try to turn a profit in 30 days.
That’s as small as you need to start. I didn’t set out to create a seven-figure business but that’s what ended up happening. We shipped products to 20 countries around the world and after seven years had five physical stores in three different provinces.
Where to look for inspiration
You don’t find ideas in your head or by sitting behind a desk, tapping a keyboard and trawling the Internet. You find them out in the real world.
You cannot sit in an empty room with no doors, no windows and no inspiration and expect to find the next big thing. Often this is what happens when you’re desperate for income or badly needing a change in your life. You sit and agonise over what to do next instead of finding the joy in life and running into things that inspire you to build.
Good ideas come from living, not thinking. Think about your strengths, consider what you’re good at – this is probably where your passion and interest lies and will likely be a fertile ground.
Finding a good idea is usually as simple as solving a problem for yourself or building something that you want or need that doesn’t exist or that you can do better. Choose an area of interest and check out what others in the market are doing. Could you offer something cheaper? Better? Faster service delivery? Could you provide a new feature or more value? Could you market to a different audience that your competitors don’t know about?
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Google is not your friend
I’m willing to bet that you’ve typed some variation of the following words into Google: best side hustle ideas. If you have, you’re not alone – and that’s actually a bad thing.
The top results of any Google search are literally filled with the websites that the highest number of people are clicking on and reading.
That means any idea you find there has also been found by millions of other people.
Product vs service
It’s easiest to separate side hustles into two categories: product or service.
If you have a knack for spotting trends and you understand the simple concept of buying low and selling high, you’re on the way to starting a product side hustle.
However, finding a product that sells well enough to build a sustainable side hustle can be tricky and it may take you a few tries to hit on a niche that has enough scale and enough demand to create a meaningful side hustle.
If you have a specific skill set, rather than selling a product you could sell your time, sell a service, sell intellectual property – you can sell just about anything if you think creatively enough.
Validate your idea
Validation is an important part of creating your side hustle. If you can’t validate the idea, you should probably quit and try something different. Validation can come in many forms.
You can prepare a survey and ask hundreds of people to answer it. If the answers come back positive, you can take this as validation and move to actually spending real time and money on building the side hustle.
Set up a simple website landing page or Facebook page and ask people to sign up to be notified of the launch. If they sign up, great. And if they’re sharing and growing your audience, even better.
But if they’re not signing up at all, you might just have validated the idea as a non-starter.
It's good to talk
Chat to people and get their feedback about your idea.
Make a sale
This validation method is probably the scariest if you’ve never actually sold anything on your own before, but go out and try to make a sale. Just one sale – that’s all you should be aiming for.
Making a sale is one of the most positive and inspiring ways to validate an idea. If you can find one person to buy from you, the chances are you can find a few more – and a few more after that. And that means you’re in business.
This is an edited extract from How To Start a Side Hustle by Nic Haralambous, Tafelberg. R192 recommended retail price. Price correct at the time of going to print.