Top 5 Tips for Starting up your Side Hustle
So you've got a great idea, but will people buy it?
Let's start here shall we, it's the hardest pill to swallow. You have to be honest with yourself about your product, I know you love it but is there a market for it? There are two quick checks; firstly ask people, ask your most honest friends what they think, they should tell you straight. Even if its not the answer you’re looking for, it will save you a lot of wasted time. Ask them about the product or service you want to sell, what they are willing to spend and how frequently.
Secondly look at your competition; where do they sell? how do they do it? what do they charge? how much time do you think they put in? Is your idea is original, if not then your competition are even more important. How do you to make your idea different, why will customers chose your product over your competitors? Asking the right questions now will give your business the right foundations for growth, which leads me on to my next point..
Do something you love, no wait.. do something scalable.
It's all very well doing something you love, but just check its going to make you some money and you can grow it. Unless you’re starting this up as a hobby, but then I suppose you wouldn’t be reading this blog.. duh. Doing a quick business model isn’t difficult and it just sense checks that your idea works. What's your product and how much does it cost you to produce? How are you going to sell it? Via what channels and at what price? For example, If I want to make £2,000 profit per month then I know how much volume I need to sell, break that down by week, is it achievable? Now break this down by your channels, for me; direct to customers, wholesale, candle workshops, corporate swag.
Once you've got this you can also plot out your cash flow, what do you need to spend each month to get those sales? Cash flow is whole new subject that although necessary, bores the best of us. Once this is done its refocuses your attention, do I need to work harder on my website for direct customer sales, or do I need to spend more time emailing potential companies that I want take my workshops to.
Im not saying do something just so it makes the cash, i'm just checking that your passion project has legs and over the months and years you can build it up to be viable. It would be great if your business made profit from the get go, however this is not always the case and thats ok but you need a plan of how you are going to break-even. We’re jumping the gun a bit, but hear me out... when an investor looks at a potential business to buy they’re not always looking at your bottom line, they need to know that you have a product that people want because this is the hard part. They want to know that you can drive and grow revenue. To make a business profitable is almost the easy part.
Learn to do it yourself
So if you read the 'How I starred Litwicks' blog, you’ll know it set up with just £200. People don’t believe me so I'll itemise that for you; domain 99p, website £7.99 per month, wax, oils and other raw materials £100, Packaging and leaflets £60 and one piece of equipment £35 secondhand from eBay. Everything else I did myself. I used Big Cartel for my first website and they made it so simple; choose a design, upload a product photo, write a description, set up a Paypal and boom.. fully transactional website is complete.
Likewise with product photography, my great friend Lucy at @wernchat will tell you, you need high quality product shots cut out on a white background if you are approaching media for PR. You can get this done for a little as £10 per image, but when you have a range of 40 candles its just not feasible. A large glass of white wine later i'm watching YouTube tutorials on how to use Photoshop. It might have taken me 5 hours longer than anyone else, but I learnt something new and I didn’t spend any money (Adobe licence borrowed from friend!).
Don’t be a perfectionist
Firstly understand you are your biggest critic, no-one has you under a microscope and will pick-up on all your small mistakes. My business was born on a rainy weekend, I speak endlessly to people who have been thinking about starting up for months, or they're still working hard in the back ground 'getting it ready'. Seriously..if you're 80% there, then just do it. I made mistakes, you will make mistakes but that's part of the beauty, learn as you go, listen to people and make improvements.
My packaging from day one was terrible, my website pictures were taken in my old flat with bad lighting, my postage boxes were basic, I didn’t have any marketing material. Its still not fantastic and there's always bits to improve but thats OK. If you’re holding back until everything is perfect then you’ll be waiting a long time.
Selling a product isn’t one dimensional
This is a lesson I’m actually recently learning. I’ve worked in retail now for nearly 20 years, I’ve been a Buyer, a Merchandiser, a Trade Marketing Manager, a Commercial Director and a Head of Operations. Bottom line is; develop/source a product that the customer wants and sell it for more money. There is of course so much more to it like, knowing your customer, analysing the data, building the range, innovating, sourcing, improving efficiency blah blah blah. However starting up your own business opened my eyes into a new world of building a brand, It's not just a range of products. It's about networking, hyping yourself (another reference to @wernchat) finding all the possible means to sell products.
For me specifically; candle workshops, blogs, panel talks, pushing for PR, not just product but profile pieces about me. If you haven’t seen me in the business pages of The Sun, then you're missing out on a truly hideous video of me pouring candles in my ‘workshop’ which was actually my living room!
For the first year of Litwicks I solely sold products on my website and drove all my energy into that… MISTAKE! Wholesale enquiries came in, of which I scoffed at, there was no way on earth I was giving away part of my margin to someone else. Then I realised my product would be reaching more people, my brand is being seen, and by increasing my volume I'm making cost savings. Workshops; I love them they don’t take long, you meet loads of people and it’s enjoyable. Markets; I did a series of them at Spitalfields with Urban Makers and loved them, don’t get me wrong they're hard work but in the run up to Christmas a lot of fun and you have a captive audience. I know i'm specifically talking about a business that sells tangible products, but the same applies for services. Basically don’t limit your sales channels, be creative with how you can sell your product.