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A little more than a decade ago, I was a recent immigrant and a woman who knew little English and even less about entrepreneurship.
And, if you had asked me, “Can you start a side hustle and end up as the CEO of a corporation in ten years?” I would have said, “Yes, I can! Just watch me!”
Kitchen table entrepreneur
The circumstances of starting my business could happen to anyone. I was pregnant and experiencing some side effects that put me on several long weeks of bed rest. I have never been good at sitting around doing nothing, so I spent my time learning online and discovering everything about entrepreneurship.
I had $500 seed money and a lot of time to fill. At my kitchen table, I began researching how to make it happen. I watched Shark Tank earnestly. I took online classes on jewelry making and marketing. I read everything I could find about entrepreneurial ventures. I bought a supply of the most beautiful earrings I could see that fit my criteria and sold them on LivingSocial and Groupon. Some payments came in. I made a profit. I could buy more to sell. Then it hit me: I was in business.
How to begin
Here are my recommendations for anyone who feels the drive to take your business idea above and beyond a simple side hustle.
- Burn the ships. Well, don’t literally set anything on fire. This adage comes from the story about the captain who sent his crew ashore to fight and burned the ships behind them, so victory was their only option. Don’t entertain the idea of failure. You can make mistakes, start over, adjust, and evolve…but failure is not in the cards. Prepare for how you will succeed.
- Drill down on what you do. You want to fill a need in your own unique way. Starting, it is easy to become distracted. There are many opportunities to jump at, only to realize, “Wait – this isn’t what I do.” I went through those growing pains, unsuccessfully trying to sell items I thought would make money for my business without considering whether they fit with my brand or passion. Be sure that adaptation and improvements align with your passion.
- Double-down on what is working. If there is something you are doing exceptionally well, get the message out there. Invest in this skill or service, develop, market, and streamline it.
- Have the persistence of a superhero. Sometimes moving your side hustle into the realm of real money means surviving a lot of rejection. Keep knocking on doors. Talk to every prospect like they are going to say “yes.” Someone will. Remember, every “no” is just leading you closer to the perfect relationship.
How to level up
- Invest in marketing, PR, and branding from the start. Knowing your brand (which is the spirit or the “why” of your whole passion) from the beginning will keep you aligned with your goals. In the e-commerce world, customers need to see your company’s identity. They want to put a “face” to your goods or services, and you build a relationship with them through your brand, earning their trust. Pleasing everyone is impossible; target the perfect consumer for your brand. Marketing finds that niche for you; PR lets you talk to them; branding lets them get to know you. In the beginning, you may be doing your own marketing. Luckily, online accessibility allows you to connect with large outlets without it costing you. Ensure your message is interesting and genuine, and you will gain their attention.
- Keep reading and learning. We are so lucky to live in an age where information is readily available. Take advantage of everything at your fingertips. As I built my business, I studied like a graduate student. Now, we know learning is essential in the beginning. Once success begins, however, do not stop! Keep reaching out to learn what is new and valuable. You never know when a “Eureka” moment will strike, and your passion will align with amazing new tech or opportunities.
- Seek support. You need smart, experienced input to take your side hustle into the realm of wealth-building. Connect with a support system of peers and professionals where you can trade advice, mentoring and sponsorship. I joined a professional association that provided me with invaluable support and feedback. These people have answers when problems occur and can share your victories because they understand exactly how hard you had to work for them.
How to survive
- Diversify. This means having a backup plan, a second option and another avenue to take when one road closes. When I first began my company online, I relied on a single third-party website to do the selling. Everything was great — until it wasn’t. They went bankrupt, leaving me high-and-dry (and deep in the red), and it would have sunk my business venture if I had not been doing the next thing, which is to:
- Save and invest a portion of your profits. Resist buying yourself a Rolex and put some savings aside as soon as possible. Invest the money to gain value for you — put it into real estate, the stock market or other business ventures. When that third-party website vanished along with a good deal of my inventory, I had luckily put aside enough to stay afloat. It was challenging, but they didn’t manage to put me out of business. As you continue to experience success, keep savings and investment a priority.
Over a decade ago, I embarked on my side hustle with just $500 in seed money, a drive to succeed and some unexpected spare time on my hands. Ten years later, my business, Hollywood Sensation Jewelry, is nationally recognized and featured across various media outlets.
Making that happen required sincere effort, many sleepless nights, hundreds of tough decisions, saving, planning, pivoting and learning from mistakes. But I did it and value every step of the journey. Whether you want to maintain your side hustle and enjoy the view or take it to eleven and get rich, it can be done, and I wish you the best of luck!