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This article was published on April 7, 2016

How to start a side business without quitting your current job

How to start a side business without quitting your current job Image by: Aysezgicmeli / Shutterstock
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Not all entrepreneurs started out their businesses fresh from college – or quit halfway through.

Most entrepreneurs already had careers before they decided to go it alone. But making the jump can be terrifying, especially if you have overheads to pay. That’s why a growing number of people are choosing to build side businesses while maintaining their current jobs.  

There is an increasing amount of researching showing that keeping your current position is the best way to start building your venture, whether you want to nurture it to fruition or keep it passive.

Still wondering if this is the right move for you? Keep on reading and you’ll find your answer soon enough.

1. Find your (strong) reasons

This is the most overlooked step when people start thinking of building their business. You need to be able to justify why explicitly you want to set up a business.

There are plenty of powerful reasons why you would want to.

These can be just as simple as making more money, having a flexible schedule or diversifying your income for more financial security or range up to a bigger vision such as working on things that matter to you, filling a void in your community and creating a legacy for your loved ones.

Credit: Aulia Khaera / Tumblr


2. Decide on your side business idea

Have no specific idea in mind? You are not alone.

The easiest starting point to determine what business you should do is to choose the one that you are most knowledgeable about.

A strong background knowledge is crucial if you don’t want to run the risk of messing up big time in the future.The other popular catchphrase “do what you love” can also be your starting point.

Even if you are not knowledgeable enough on the things you love, usually that passion will create a “placebo” effect of learning something more easily than if you have to learn things that you are not passionate about.

There are hundreds of side business ideas out there you can adopt if you struggle with coming up with your own unique concept.

From services such as Web design, launching online courses, and blogging to a product oriented businesses like private labeling and selling products on Amazon and eBay, there are lots of opportunities that you will be a perfect fit for.

A word of advice: Never enter a business area just because your friends or “experts” tell you that it’s a sure thing. Some people just want to make some quick easy cash they get trapped in a “hot” zone – a zone where an unfamiliar field of business that “couldn’t miss” really missed for them.

If you are set on a business that you are not familiar with, do everything in your power to learn about it before even thinking of putting money into it.

3. Identify your target customers and primary market

Thoroughly understanding your target market determines what customers will need from your products/services, how their buying process is, and which approach works best to market your products to them.

The first step is to examine the problems that your products or services want to address. William Miller in his book Proactive Selling argued that most consumers are pain avoidance oriented rather than pleasure seeking.

Communicating what your products or services do to solve the problems may be more important than pointing out how great they are.

For instance, when you start an online selling business that sells lifehack products such as a self-draining dish tray, puzzle cutting board or a goggles umbrella, you can communicate how these products prevent wet kitchen counter, solve limited board area, and prevent windy rain from hitting their faces.

Self-draining dishrack
Credit: Laughgift
Self-draining dish rack

When you are serving multiple groups of people with similar needs, it is crucial to determine your primary market, that is the people who get the most benefits, have the biggest need for them and the money to buy on a regular basis.

It is also worth considering whether you want to target a broad or a niche market since it will affect your decision on customer acquisition versus customer retention.

For a side business, it is better if you target a broad audience since a niche market is more dependent on customer retention – because it is a small market – and requires full support and commitment of both management and employees.

4. Give your products or services a distinctive identity – branding

Having a product without a brand is like having a baby without a name. Customers won’t be able to identify who you are and how your products should be perceived.

One common and understandable mistake for a side business is that it becomes too focused on the products/services it offers and not on how the brand looks and feels to potential customers.

Unless you are selling unique products/services that easily stand out without a name, branding for a small side business is as important as branding in big corporations.

If we were to change the word “branding” to “reputation”, would it be more relevant to you if you had a small side business? While the two words are not synonymous, they are highly related.

Branding conveys the message of what your business values, what your Unique Selling Points (USPs) are and how you want to position your business in the customer’s’ mind.

Your company name, the way you communicate your products/services, how you reply to customer’s emails or answer their calls, and the first association they have when they hear your brand name are just a few things affected by your brand.

All of this relays the experience of how your business partners and customers do business with you.

Bryony Thomas of Watertight Marketing argues managing your brand is optional. However, you have to decide whether controlling how your customers see you and your company is important or not. We’d say it was.

5. If you decide on having a product-oriented business, find the right suppliers

So you decided on a great product idea, did your homework on profiling customers, wrote down a branding strategy and as the momentum begins to build, you hit a brick wall because you don’t know where to source your products.

There are at least three options you can go for when it comes to sourcing products: a manufacturer, a supplier or a dropshipper.

A manufacturer will produce your own product idea, a supplier such as wholesaler or distributor provides you with existing brands and products, and a dropshipper, who doesn’t keep their own inventory, will transfer your orders to a manufacturer or a supplier so that they can deliver it right to you.

Now how do you find them? Various channels are available to you both online and offline and they will help kickstart your suppliers hunt.

The online channel is arguably your easiest way to find the right suppliers. One of the best and free online channels to find suppliers is via supplier directories.

These directories already did the hard work for you in compiling the list of profiles of hundreds or thousands of manufacturers and suppliers.

If you are located in the US, your best bet is ThomasNet, Makers Row, MFG (not an abbreviation) and the U.S. Department of Commerce while for international directories, the popular Alibaba and its subsidiary AliExpress, and IndiaMart are good options.

With offline channels, Roger Green, the co-founder of Cullinane & Green said, “Trade shows and trade magazines are two of the best.”

For instance, New York Now (NY Now), is an international fair for home, lifestyle and gift products. The trade show has thousands of exhibitors that present you with the opportunities to show yourself as a serious business – not a consumer – and establish a network of potential suppliers.

Trade magazines of related industries are also a good option for you to comb through. You may find the products you need advertised in these magazines and you can then search for the company’s contact details online or find out when and where they are going to be present at local trade shows.

If you don’t know which trade magazines to follow, ask your local public library or check the list of free trade publications on Tradepub.

6. Grow your sales with diverse marketing tactics

This part will require your attention the most.

With time not on your side since you should be keeping your current full time job, Lolly Daskal, a leadership coach of Lead From Within said that you have to become a two-man person at once: “One who is currently successful, working at a great job with great people, and another who follows a very strict plan with deadlines and goals every day.”

There are dozens of tactics you can implement to drive your revenue and grow your business.

Regardless of your business orientation (products or services), a website for your business is a must have. Invest a good amount of money on hiring a skilled Web designer or teach yourself how to build one.

Your website should have the look and feel of how you want your business to be perceived by your audience (remember branding?). Treat your website like your own store or office since that will be the your first point of sale in driving revenue.

Additionally, don’t forget to put a Call to Action on your website such as subscribing to your product updates to build your email list. According to a report by Pamela Grow, a fundraising consultant, for every dollar your company invest on email marketing, you will get $40 back.

Learn how to implement Search Engine Optimization (SEO) once your website is online. SEO is widely considered by some “as the holy grail of internet marketing.” You can take advantage of the ranking on a search engine to drive visitors and convert them into buying customers on your site.

Next is social media. With so many social media platforms currently available, you may want to start out small and focus on one or two platforms.

You can optimize your Facebook profile and business page to get the word out there. Keep the active engagement with your (potential) customers via Twitter, or let the visual aid of videos on YouTube show your audience who you are and how you can help solve their problems.

Credit: Giphy

When you have more free time during the weekends, you can also write some guest posts on websites related to your industry or publish it on your own blog. A controversial blog post is also a good way to get your brand to stand out in the competitive online world.

In the real world, you can tell your family and friends, who will not only be your easiest customers but may also help you spread the word.

Get out from behind your desk and go to trade shows to network with like-minded people. Or if you have some extra cash, sponsor an event and advertise outdoors.

People often overlook  the offline option, but it can be more effective than online advertising, especially if your product or service is location specific.

This guide may not be comprehensive enough to cover all the questions you have, but at least it provides you with the basics  on how to start your own side business.

For a more thorough guide such as how to finance your business, do market research or what legal aspects to think of, you can check this guide.

Interested in running a side business online?

With Pay What You Want: Start a side business bundle from TNW Deals, you can spend as little as $1 to have two courses on how to make $2,000 a month drop-shipping products and import from China.

Or pay the average price and get all courses worth over $1,800 from private labelling to working together with Alibaba and Amazon to start your online business.

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