Turn Your Side Hustle into a Booming Startup

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Side hustling is the labor trend that’s turned into a core facet of today’s economy, and it’s unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Despite the fact that the tightest labor market in 50 years has created an employee’s market, 45 percent of Americans say they’ve taken to side gigs to round out their main income. Further, about 40 percent of millennials — the largest employed generation in the nation — with a side hustle say it’s the source of at least half of their monthly earnings.

As more Americans turn to side hustles for income, they realize there may be more potential in their pet project were it to blossom into a profitable business with a wealthy Business savings account. But turning that side hustle into a booming startup is no easy feat, especially when you start as a one-man show. As a result, new entrepreneurs may find themselves asking:

  • How do I gain brand recognition, and quickly, to grow the business?
  • What steps do I take to scale up without compromising the authenticity and value of my product or service?
  • How can I build meaningful contacts in my industry when I don’t have the funds to meet them face-to-face (let’s be honest: not everyone can afford a trip to San Francisco for a tech meetup)?

I asked myself the same questions when launching Linktree. My co-founders and I grew the platform to 3M+ users and 10K sign-ups per day just three years after launch. We learned a lot along the way — here’s what skyrocketed our success from day one. 

Building brand awareness in the right places

Too many entrepreneurs give up their side hustles when they don’t reap immediate rewards. True side hustlers know intimately that building a brand from scratch can take years, yet the power and virality of social media means today’s new small business owners can leverage different platforms to reach their intended audiences almost immediately.

One core piece of advice: Pick your platforms smartly, and don’t overextend your business on social media. Your brand doesn’t have to be everywhere and on every social platform, but it should be most places your audience is.

For example, Facebook has the greatest reach of all social platforms with over two billion users and is excellent for advertising broad messages to targeted groups. In contrast, because of its character limit and short-lived post life cycle, Twitter is best for quick customer support questions and answers. Instagram is a great medium for companies looking to target younger audiences, and LinkedIn is the best tool for business-to-business brand building. 

Side hustlers should create meaningful content that speaks very directly to their audience, using these platforms as a guideline. Do your research and immediately go where they are for small, quick successes as the foundation to growth. 

Scaling your startup

Scaling a brand for many side hustlers means taking an always-on approach. Always answering emails and phone calls, always responding to customer inquiries, always bettering the product, and always looking for new growth opportunities. It also means always acting as every department, including sales, admin, finance, etc. However, being always-on can be expensive and risky (hello, burnout).

While working long hours may play a part in turning a side hustle into a startup, you can only take a business so far on your own. It’s important to recognize when it is the appropriate time to bring in specialized employees, such as content and social teams, to amplify your brand’s message. Bringing people on to run the daily admin tasks like finance and HR frees you up to focus on what you are good at, and the business grows exponentially as a result.

Becoming a better digital entrepreneur 

In the digital era, being an entrepreneur isn’t enough. To be successful, you must remain digitally connected at all times. After all, online is where most side hustlers will captivate their audiences and sell their product or service. 

My best advice is to fully commit to digital entrepreneurship. Figure out the best tech that helps you become most efficient and organized, connect with a national or even global audience using social media, and don’t be afraid to try new technologies if you’ve made an initial investment in one that didn’t work out. For example, if you’re not gelling with Trello, try Asana. If that doesn’t work, perhaps experiment with Airtable. 

Although digital entrepreneurship is anchored by a digital mindset, entrepreneurship still has an innate human element to it. Don’t forget to be active in your immediate community, whether that’s finding your local tech scene, creating meet-ups for startup founders in your area, or joining an online community of like-minded folks in your industry on a site such as LinkedIn or Reddit. This is a great way to build meaningful contacts and cement the human side to your brand.

Tools for startup success

Finding success in a side hustle is exciting, and turning it into a profitable startup is even more so. You’ll hit a few roadblocks when starting out — everyone does! Figuring out where to target your audience and recognizing the appropriate time to hire help are crucial to overcoming them.

Though you may see burnout as an inevitable side effect to side hustling, it doesn’t have to be. Protect your energy and maintain perspective on the overarching goals you want to accomplish. It may require more than a typical nine-to-five, but entrepreneurs who remain digitally active and seek inspiration and support from their industry peers will find a rewarding career.

Alex Zaccaria is co-founder and co-CEO at Linktree.