How do you connect with customers and grow your business?
This post will explore dozens of concrete ways to do just that, focusing on some of the most highly-trafficked websites. After all, the #1 challenge of marketing is to get your message in front of your target customers.
Why not do that in their natural habitat?
But before we dive in, let’s go back to basics for a second.
The 4 Ps of Marketing
In Marketing 101, you learn the 4 Ps of Marketing:
If you’re still looking for the right product or service idea, check out this monster list for some inspiration. This is the foundation on which your business stands.
In the past, my “products” have included:
- Reselling Skittles at summer camp
- A babysitting service
- A house painting service
- A website review service
- Reselling clearance products on Amazon
- A book editing service
- A virtual assistant recruiting service
- A comparison shopping engine
- A private mastermind
- Self-published books
- A Udemy course
- Sponsorship spots on The Side Hustle Show
- T-shirts on Amazon
How do you make money? That’s your product.
It will take some time to arrive at optimal pricing for your business, and it’s something I’m always curious about so it comes up in almost every episode of The Side Hustle Show.
For lack of confidence or fear of losing work, I often priced low when bidding for house painting jobs in college.
In some fields, low pricing is the key to building a portfolio, and this was the strategy my wife and her partner followed in building their photography business.
Kendell Rizzo had a similar approach to her building her $100k freelancing business on Fiverr. “Every time I was swamped, I’d double my rates,” she explained.
I’ve done the same thing on Clarity.fm, starting out at the bare minimum $60/hour and inching that rate up over time.
Others have taken the opposite approach, including Nagina Abdullah who confidently set her initial weight loss coaching package at $5000, even though she’d never done any paid coaching before.
In any case, if people aren’t buying, price is only ONE factor. Don’t be in a rush to slash prices just because you aren’t making any sales. Consider what other objections might be going through a prospect’s head first.
Promotion is how you spread the word about your business.
Big brands can afford to spend big money on TV and Radio ads, billboards, and newspaper ads, but the good news is you don’t have to have a million dollar ad budget (or any budget at all) to make money on the side.
You can promote your product, service, or blog on dozens of free channels if you tackle them right. In fact, that’s the main focus of this post: showing you exactly where you can tactfully and profitably promote your business.
4. Place (Distribution)
Where will customers do business with you?
If you’re like most side hustlers, your primary place of business is your website — though you can totally get started without one.
In fact, if you’re providing services or selling products locally or via Amazon or eBay, you might not need a website at all.
The 3 Big Levers
No matter what business you’re in, there are really only 3 levers to pull to make a meaningful impact on your bottom line:
- Prospects (how many people are exposed to your product or service)
- Conversion Rate (how many of those can you convince to buy from you)
- Price (how much you charge)
If you can significantly increase any one of those factors, you will make more money.
Perry Marshall calls this The Tactical Triangle of Traffic, Conversion, and Economics:
In this post, I’ll showcase the different ways you can get more prospects, visitors, and leads.
In marketing lingo, this is called the Top of the Funnel. How can you fill your pipeline with as many qualified prospects as possible?
The “Buy Buttons” Theory
The best way to address this challenge is to simply find out where your target customers already are, and go there.
I call this the “Buy Buttons” strategy–I wrote a whole book about it–and it’s all about the platforms and marketplaces on which you can set up shop and take advantage of a pre-existing audience of buyers.
(If you prefer audio, you can get the audiobook free here!)
The Buy Buttons theory, or the concept of going where the cash is already flowing, is one to keep in mind for the rest of this post.
If you can reach your customer in their natural habitat, they’ll be far more receptive to your message.
Connecting with Customers on the 10 Most Popular Websites
If you want to reach more customers, go where they already are. There is always some fluctuation in the rankings over time, but these are the most popular websites in the country according to Alexa:
Let’s see what you can do to connect with customers on these platforms.
1. Connect with Customers on Google
As the #1 website in the world, it’s tough to ignore Google if you’re looking to get more visitors to your site. Google traffic comes in two main flavors:
- Paid advertising
- Organic (free)
Advertising on Google
For years, my comparison shopping site relied on Google keyword ads for most of its traffic, and Anton Kraly advocated their Product Listing Ads for driving traffic to his drop shipping stores.
It’s a beautiful model: if you’re willing to pay, you can get your product or service visible to people typing in exactly what you have to offer!
Several other Side Hustle Show guests have mentioned using Google Ads to get their first customers, including Rene Delgado for his drop shipping store, and Timika Downes for her brick-and-mortar lice clinic.
SEO – Search Engine Optimization
Lately though, my focus has shifted more toward SEO, the art and science of getting free traffic from Google through their organic search results. I haven’t worried too much about link-building — though it is an important part of the ranking algorithm — instead I’ve focused on creating and promoting killer content.
Still, Google accounts for over half my traffic so I’m always trying to keep my pulse on what’s working and what’s not. I’ve gone through a couple rounds of my content audit process, during which I deleted tons of outdated, irrelevant, or low-quality content to improve this site’s position in Google.
I also dove into the Google Search Console, a free resource provided by Google, to see if I could make some small tweaks to get more traffic to pages that were already getting impressions. The experiment was a success!
Homework: What keywords might potential customers be typing in to find you? Do you have killer content targeting those keywords?
2. Finding Your Audience on YouTube
YouTube is famously the world’s 2nd largest search engine (behind Google), but is far less competitive.
Some side hustlers have built entire businesses on YouTube, like Gabby Wallace did with Go Natural English, but others have simply used it has a smart marketing channel.
Both Jacques Hopkins and Colin Jones credited YouTube with driving a significant share of their traffic and customers. (They have online businesses teaching people to play piano and to count cards, respectively.)
Even though I have no desire to be a “YouTuber”, I include YouTube in my marketing plans in a few different ways, such as:
- Creating one-off tutorial videos when I learn a new skill or to answer a specific question.
- Syndicating podcast episodes to YouTube, where the top shows have tens of thousands of incremental listens. I’ll take it!
- Creating a free mini-course on how to start a blog.
Homework: Do you have a video for your primary keywords? If you don’t, you’re missing out. How can you use YouTube to educate or entertain your target customers?
3. Marketing Your Side Hustle on Facebook
Underneath the Facebook umbrella are actually 3 pretty distinct areas:
- Your personal account
- Facebook groups
- Facebook Ads
Each comes with their own unique nuances and strategies.
Your Personal Facebook Profile
For your personal account, this is actually a great place to let the world first know about your new business. It all starts with your network, right?
This can be as simple as a post saying you’ve started a new blog, a new podcast, a new photography business, whatever your side hustle may be.
Especially on the service side, this is where you’ll often find your first clients. Even if those in your immediate circle of Facebook friends might not need your service, simply letting them know you offer it opens you up to the 2nd degree of referrals. When someone they know needs help in your area of expertise, you’re top of mind.
I call this tapping into your network’s network.
With Facebook groups, you can’t really come in guns a’ blazing and spam up the place posting your own links all the time. You have to contribute to the community and offer to help wherever you can.
Gabe Arnold of CopywriterToday.net shared on the podcast how he would join Facebook groups filled with his target clients and literally use the search bar to search for words like “help”. He was looking for threads where people were asking for help, suggestions, advice, and recommendations.
If it was a fit for his expertise, he’d chime in and offer his support. Over time, he became a trusted member of the group and these helpful comments sparked several conversations that ultimately led to sales and referrals.
To drive traffic from Facebook groups, I’ve shared interviews I’ve done with prominent group members. With enough lead time you can even start a thread letting the group know you’re interviewing so-and-so and ask for input on what questions to ask.
Later, when the post or interview is live, you can post the link at the bottom of the thread and it will bump it back to the top of the group — and everyone who commented will get a notification.
Teresa Greenway built her business to several thousand dollars a month teaching sourdough baking online. Yes, really! Her secret sauce is an engaged tribe in one of the largest baking groups on Facebook.
Related: I’d love to have you join the official Side Hustle Nation group.
Homework: Join at least one Facebook group comprised of your target customers.
And finally, Facebook Ads can be a powerful driver of new traffic, leads, and sales. As Kamila Gornia explained on the podcast, you need to have a strategy in place before you start advertising, but once you do, it can be off to the races.
For ecommerce stores, you can drive Facebook ads directly to your product.
For bloggers and freelancers, you can drive Facebook ads to a lead magnet. Kamila said the more “instant gratification” the lead magnet provides, the better. It varies by industry, but paying $1-5 per lead seems to be a common range.
My primary use of Facebook ads so far has been to drive extra traffic to “money posts” — those blog posts heavily monetized with affiliate links, like this one.
If you’re just starting out, you can even use Facebook ads to quickly validate your idea.
To validate their Loan Signing System business, Mark Wills and Roman Rosario spent $20 on Facebook and got around 30 people to sign-up solely to be notified when (and if) they ultimately launched their product.
Related: How to Make Money on Facebook
4. Connect with Customers on Amazon
I recently realized how in any given month, I have half a dozen income streams tied directly to Amazon:
- Amazon FBA for physical products
- Merch by Amazon for print-on-demand t-shirts
- The Amazon Associates program for affiliate links from this site
- Kindle book sales
- Physical book sales (print-on-demand, though Amazon’s KDP Print program)
- Audiobook sales (through Audible, owned by Amazon)
The e-commerce giant has built an enormous ecosystem that’s perfect for side hustlers to take advantage of both for physical and digital products.
For Physical Products
Amazon is the ultimate “Buy Button” marketplace. Since more than half of all online shoppers now start their search on Amazon, there’s nowhere better to be.
Savvy entrepreneurs are using Amazon’s impressive logistics network to build their own private label ecommerce brands, where others are taking the wholesale approach and helping other brands make more sales.
For Digital Products, Service, and Audience Businesses
For digital products, self-publishing on Amazon was one of my first (and most rewarding) side hustles.
I’m even giving a book away completely for free for the purpose of building trust and increasing exposure.
As far as marketing goes, Amazon is another search engine to plan for. If someone types in your target keyword, will they find you or your product? (You can get to the top of the charts organically or with their paid advertising options.)
Homework: What product could you list on Amazon?
5. Marketing on Reddit
Reddit is “the front page of the Internet,” but is still somewhat of an intimidating place for me.
I’ve never spent the time to learn how it all works and embed myself in the community, but others, like Brian Swichkow, have made an entire career of it.
This isn’t the place to come in guns ablazin’ promoting yourself, but more about gently inserting yourself and your business into the conversation.
Getting your business listed on Wikipedia isn’t easy, but can be one way to take up more real estate in the search results.
Perhaps a more viable strategy though is to have your website cited as a source on Wikipedia.
A few of my posts been cited, including this one on the Wikipedia page about raw feeding:
I wouldn’t expect to get a ton of traffic or business from it, but it’s probably a decent authority-building link in the eyes of Google. (Although it is “nofollow”.)
7. Marketing on Yahoo
If you’ve got your Google SEO locked down, you’ll also be in good shape for Yahoo (and Bing) search.
Through the Bing ads platform, you can run marketing campaigns to the audience of both sites.
8. Connect with Customers on Twitter
Although Twitter accounts for less than 1% of my site traffic, I still like it as a place to make connections and share content.
I think it’s a great place to start conversations and not-so-great of a broadcast medium, even if I don’t always treat it like that.
My friend Mike Kawula wrote an entire book on Twitter Marketing that’s definitely worth checking out if your target audience is on Twitter. (And 300 million people use Twitter every month.)
9. Mining LinkedIn for Leads and Clients
My LinkedIn strategies are far less sophisticated than some, but I still view the “professional” social network as an important weapon in my marketing arsenal.
I re-publish some of my articles there to reach a potentially broader audience (this is my best-performing one so far) and share links to other content as well.
On the podcast, Joshua Jordison gave me an in-depth breakdown on how to make your LinkedIn profile shine, and how to build genuine connections (and your email list).
And ultimately that’s what the platform is best for: making one-on-one connections.
In fact, one of my guests booked $32,000 worth of social media management work just by pounding the virtual pavement on LinkedIn.
10. Growing Your Business on Instagram
With more than 1 billion monthly active users, Instagram is certainly a social media force to be reckoned with.
Even though I don’t post very often and don’t really use it for business (yet?), Instagram is usually the first app I check when I’m “making my rounds.”
The Instagram user base skews a little younger than Facebook, so if you’re targeting a younger crowd, this is the place to be.
The IG can be an interesting place to connect with potential customers who might not be proactively searching for your product or service. This was the case for April Whitney, who used the app to build her tribe and side hustle in the fitness space.
Other Ways to Connect with Customers and Grow Your Business
Of course, the Top 10 sites are a great place to start, but they’re not the only way to generate more traffic, leads, and customers.
I’d never given Pinterest a second thought until Rosemarie Groner told me I was missing the boat — big time. And she was right!
She explained how Pinterest is a search engine for content and how it can be a consistent source of traffic. (Today I get a couple hundred visitors a day from Pinterest.)
My go-to resource for the latest on Pinterest marketing is Kate Ahl of SimplePinMedia.com. I sat down with her to learn what’s working and driving results on the platform.
We cover how to set your profiles and boards up for success, and how to develop a winning pinning strategy.
Don’t Discount Craigslist
For selling products and services locally, Craigslist is tough to beat.
In fact, one of my all-time favorite Side Hustle Show episodes was with a gentleman who earned a full-time living buying and selling items (mostly appliances) on Craigslist.
Among the nuggets of wisdom from that conversation:
- “Find $100 of profit a day.” For Ryan and his family, that was enough to cover their expenses and gave him a concrete goal to shoot for.
- “The best opportunities aren’t visible until you’re already in motion.” I’ve found this to be true time and time again. The starting is the hardest part, but once you’re moving the ideas and conversations come much easier.
And for service businesses, you might be surprised at the traffic that Craigslist gets with people looking for help in all sorts of areas. At the time of this writing, it’s the 18th most popular site in the entire US.
Cassandre Poblah got over her entrepreneurial inertia and made a couple thousand dollars in two months selling a cleaning service, and it was actually an ad on Craigslist that launched my wife’s photography side hustle.
Build a Relationship Through Audio: iTunes / Podcasting
I consider iTunes the search engine for audio, and it’s another channel with a big built-in audience to take advantage of for growth and discoverability. And it’s a smaller sea to swim in than Google.
For my first year of Side Hustle Nation, the podcast grew 3x faster than the blog.
It’s admittedly a lot of work to start (and continually produce) a show, but it’s been life-changing for me. The show has given me an excuse to start conversations with awesome entrepreneurs, connect with listeners all around the world, and I think most surprisingly, build a growing “Nation” around the show.
And all that’s on top of selfishly applying my guests’ advice wherever I can!
There are some famous podcasting success stories, like John Lee Dumas, but one of my favorites comes from my friend Steve Young, who hosts a show called App Masters. It started as a part-time side hustle but he’s grown it into a full-time business with multiple income streams.
If you don’t have the time or desire to host a podcast of your own, guest podcasting is the next best thing.
With this strategy, all you have to do is show up as the expert guest, dispense your wisdom for half an hour, and then go on with your day.
It’s the easiest relationship building and link-building you’ll ever do.
On top of that, you’re getting intimate access to someone else’s audience. Impress them, and they’ll naturally seek you out to learn more about your business and how you can help them.
In my annual member survey, a significant segment of respondents said they first discovered Side Hustle Nation by hearing me on another podcast.
And as a host, I’m constantly hearing from my guests that listeners have reached out to them after their appearance on the show.
Homework: Identify 5-10 podcasts that serve your target audience. Start listening to them. When you’re confident you have the right hook listeners are going to love, send the host your pitch.
Answer Questions on Quora
Do you Quora?
The popular question-and-answer site gives you a forum to directly answer questions related to your niche.
The more people who upvote your answer, the more visibility it gets on the platform, and questions tend to rank well in Google too, giving you even more exposure.
You can include blog-like formatting and images in your answers to make them stand out, and you can even re-use content you’ve already written if it’s a match for the question at hand.
It’s a quick and easy way to get in front of at least one person who’s publicly asking for help, and potentially many thousands more.
Webinars for Audience-Building and Sales
Webinars, or free online training sessions, can be a fast-track way to grow your email list and make sales.
How Webinars Make Sales
Here’s how webinars work as a sales tool. As the presenter, you deliver some information to showcase your expertise and help the audience solve a specific problem. At the end, you make them a special offer — to sign up for one-on-one coaching, to join your course, or to buy your product.
Done right, they can convert really well, and it’s a process you can rinse and repeat with new audiences over and over again.
But what if you don’t have an audience of your own yet? And how do you keep finding new audiences to present to?
The most common way is through affiliate partnerships. If you have a great webinar and a great product, you might be able to convince someone else who already has an audience of your customers to share it or co-host it with you — for a percentage of the sales.
While I have yet to host my own webinar, I have used this joint venture strategy to grow my business by sharing other people’s webinars with my audience. If the training, information, and product are good, that’s a win-win for everyone.
Webinars for List Building
If you’re purely in list-building mode, you can host a pitch-free webinar using the same “other people’s audience” strategy.
Bryan Harris did that for Side Hustle Nation with a free online training on (the admittedly meta topic of) how to build your email list.
He added several hundred subscribers to his list for an hour and a half worth of work.
“Offline Webinars” Work Too!
Joshua Lisec took this webinar strategy offline and used it grow his freelance writing business. His play was to find other businesses locally that served his target customers (small business owners).
He found that local accountants tended to have the client role he was looking for, so he put together a lunch hour workshop on copywriting and marketing best practices, and asked the accounting firms if he could present it in their conference room — provided they invited their clients.
The accounting firms were happy too; it made them look like they were going above and beyond to help their clients by bringing in outside experts.
Joshua didn’t even have a sales pitch at the end. He just showcased his expertise and by the end of the presentation had attendees coming up to him and asking to set up a meeting. In just a handful of these workshops, he booked an extra $9000 worth of work!
Guest Blogging is Still a Thing
Despite my personal beef with guest blogging (tl;dr: it’s too time-consuming), it can still be an effective way to get your name and message in front of a wider audience.
The basic premise of this strategy is to find another site that reaches your target customers and be of value to them through a guest article.
Where I’ve seen this most effective is actually in writing for larger “magazine-style” sites. For example, Nagina Abdullah accelerated her weight loss coaching business when a post she wrote for Mind Body Green went viral.
Kimanzi Constable is a prolific writer on Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and more. He’s leveraged that exposure into corporate consulting gigs all around the world.
For me, my best guest post was a book launch case study published on the blog of a prominent author with a big audience of other authors. That post (and the reaction to it) actually gave me the idea and the confidence to build out a whole course on the subject.
Traditional Media and Press
One of the best ways to build credibility and get exposure for your business at the same time is to get mentioned in the press.
Of course there’s an entire PR industry built around this tactic but really it just comes down to finding a way to insert your expertise into the existing narrative.
For instance, my shoe business and I got mentioned in the New York Times when they ran a piece on the impacts of a proposed “affiliate tax” in California. I was connected to the reporter through my involvement in an affiliate marketing trade group.
Recently, I did an interview on NPR about millennials and side hustles. The producer reached out to me after finding this site.
In other cases, I’ve earned mentions by responding to queries on Help a Reporter, a free email service that aims to connect journalists with sources (you!).
Contests and Giveaways
To sell a product online, it helps to have an email list of customers or prospects. Author Derek Murphy knew this was the case, and so he set out to strategically build that list as fast as possible for his books.
What he did was put together a giveaway package of 10 popular titles in his genre, and asked the authors of each to share the contest with their audiences.
This little hack generated 8000 new email sign-ups in less than a month, and put Derek on the path to a growing self-publishing empire (earning $5k a month when we spoke).
My attempt at running a similar viral contest didn’t yield the same results, but I think it’s a strategy that might be worth a shot again.
Tap into the Kickstarter Community
In addition to being a fast way to raise money for your business, Kickstarter is an interesting marketing channel as well.
Done right, your campaign can tap into Kickstarter’s existing audience of 2 million users to amplify your reach. During a recent book launch, Nathan Chan and his team at Foundr Magazine saw a third of their fundraising total from people they had no previous relationship with.
He called the whole experiment a branding and marketing project, with the money raised almost as a side benefit.
Blogging on Medium
Medium.com is a magazine-style site that focuses on thoughtful writing and gets 60-80 million visits a month. But just publishing your work there is unlikely to draw any attention; you have to catch the eye of one of the editors of Medium’s Publications.
Publications are like category-feeds on Medium, and some of them have hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
Ben Foley used this tactic to take his brand-new blog from zero to 6000 subscribers and $10k in revenue in the first 6 months.
Expand via Franchising
Franchising is a unique way to expand your business beyond your own personal capacity.
It’s what took McDonald’s and Subway to worldwide domination, and if you’ve got a proven system working in your business, might be your next growth move too.
This is what Matt Miller from School Spirit Vending did to grow his local side hustle vending machine business from a $36 experiment into a national player with more than 2000 machines.
Because he’d created the system, he could sell that to people in far-off regions and they wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel, and it would quickly add cash to the bottom line.
Similarly, it’s what took 1-800-Got-Junk from a local player to an internationally-recognized brand.
A virtual summit is an all-online conference, complete with registrations and guest speakers.
How they typically work is it’s free to sign-up and watch the presentations live and for a short period after they happen, and then there’s a paid upsell for lifetime access to the recordings.
These can be an incredibly powerful way to build your email list, your brand/reputation in your field, and even your bottom line.
For instance, my friend Chandler Bolt’s first Self-Publishing Success Summit drew in more than 25,000 new subscribers and did over $100,000 in direct revenue. On the podcast, Navid Moazzez explained the virtual summit strategy in detail.
Another interesting angle in the virtual summit space is to offer “free sponsorship” spots to companies that would be relevant to your audience. In exchange for the exposure, they agree to promote the summit to their audience.
I first heard this phrase in the context of business growth from my friend Ryan Cote, when he was explaining the most effective ways he’d found to take his part-time SEO business to a few thousand dollars a month.
How it worked was he sought out complementary — but not competing — businesses that were already serving his target small business customer. In his case, it was companies that did web design and development.
He set up informal referral arrangements with these firms, sending clients their way when it made sense and asking them to do the same in return. In certain cases, he’d even give his partners a finder’s fee for introducing new clients.
Daniel DiPiazza employed a similar strategy — he called it “the marsupial method” — in growing his tutoring business. He built relationships with school guidance counselors, people his target customers (students studying for the SATs) already knew and trusted.
This allowed him to go from working for $18 an hour at a tutoring company to hosting his own group classes at an effective rate of $1000 an hour.
Affiliate partnerships are perhaps the next evolution of the informal strategic partnerships described above.
In affiliate marketing, other businesses and individuals refer customers to you in exchange for a commission. They can act like a distributed sales force on your behalf, and you only pay based on performance.
This can work in physical products, services, and software.
For example, when I was launching my Udemy course, I enlisted a couple high-profile affiliates to introduce to the course to their audience and they earned a percentage of the sales.
If you serve a local audience, there are a number of ways to get in front of your target customers.
You could advertise in your local paper, pass out flyers at events or farmers markets, or even have your car emblazoned with your business information.
(Though sadly, that won’t make every mile you drive an advertising write-off.)
Matt Fuentes, an ACT tutor, took the flyer route and it helped him build his business to $1000 a week. He thought of where his target customers might already be hanging out, and ended up canvassing local coffeeshops with ads for a free workshop for parents.
For example, here’s one of his flyers:
Cold Calling for Customers
Good old fashioned door-to-door cold calling was how I landed my first customers for my painting business in college. It wasn’t particularly exciting but it was effective.
I was able to meet decision makers face-to-face and sign them up for a free painting estimate.
You can do this over the phone or email as well, and depending on your business, I actually think it makes sense to make some degree of cold outreach a consistent habit in your marketing plans.
When I sat down with sales pro Jim Brown, he echoed that sentiment and proposed a straightforward prospecting habit to reach your income goals.
Not sure who to pitch to? James Johnson shared a smart way to prospect in this post.
A Funny Thing Happened … Forums
Forums might be a little old-school but depending on your niche, could still be a thriving community. Join in the conversations, showcase your expertise, and be as helpful as possible, and I guarantee you’ll have people messaging you for private consulting or you’ll find non-spammy ways to drop links back to your site.
One interesting forum tactic a guest shared with me was Kai Davis seeking out support forums for specific software products he used to offer his advice and connect with potential clients (other users of the software).
What do you think? Which of these will you try first?
Let me know in the comments below and then go forth and hustle!