Before we begin, I should note that the single BEST way to make your side hustle feel official is to get paid.
As soon as you’ve got your side hustle idea, go sell something.
That first income — no matter how small — is an empowering moment.
But I also understand that many people — myself include — often want some level of “establishment” before they feel comfortable saying they’re open for business.
I opened my first LLC while I was still in college and really had no idea what I needed it for. But it felt good, and if I’m being honest, made me feel smart and important too.
And later I got plenty of use out of it.
And that’s what this post is about. Even though in the early days of your side hustle, you’re better off focusing on getting customers, sometimes you need a little foundation before you’re mentally ready to focus on getting customers.
My only caution is not to use this list as fodder for procrastination, but to use it as a checklist to build positive momentum and keep going.
Again, before you pull my hustle card, know that you don’t need any of these to get started. But you will need to do most of these eventually, and if you’re the person who likes to get everything in order first, let’s get that excuse out of the way.
Ready? Let’s do it.
1. Register a Business Name or DBA
Even if you’re not ready to tell your friends and family about your business, perhaps telling the government about it will make it feel more official in your mind.
“Fictitious” business names aren’t anything shady or underhanded; they’re just a way to separate your name from the business’, usually for marketing purposes.
Think Clark Kent and Superman.
For instance, if I wanted to start an Italian-Mexican food truck, I’d want to make sure the name ¿Que Pasta! was still available and register it.
DBA, or “doing business as” names are registered at the state or county level, not with the federal government. You don’t need to incorporate or create any other legal entity right now, and the filing fees for DBAs are very affordable.
(Which comes in handy if you need to change it later!)
Do You Need to Incorporate?
When you’re just starting out, odds are you don’t need to incorporate your business. By default, you’re a sole proprietor.
As you validate and grow your business, it might make sense to explore a different entity structure. For Side Hustle Nation, a Limited Liability Company is by far the most common.
I have an LLC I’ve elected to have taxed as an S-Corp. Both entities are “pass-through” businesses, meaning that any income earned passes through to your personal taxes. This is great because you don’t want to get “double taxed” on both your business earnings.
Some states, including my lovely California, do tax LLC and S-Corporation income, but these entities pay nothing at the federal level.
Why the S-Corp election? It allows you to save a little bit on self-employment taxes.
But if you have very little revenue, incorporating will not save you taxes. It will just create additional paperwork for you!
The biggest benefit is separating and protecting your personal assets, and depending on your line of work, some clients may require you be incorporated.
When the time comes to register your business, check out IncFile for affordable help in every state.
Do You Need a Business License?
A business license may be required to operate in your city and state. For example, I had to apply for a “home use permit” and register my business with the city of Livermore.
(And annoyingly, pay a fee based on top-line revenue and not bottom-line profit!)
Goverments want to know what businesses are running within their jurisdictions and have certain regulations in place depending on what type of business you have.
And of course, they want your license fee too!
Be sure to research your local laws to find out what’s required.
Do You Need Insurance?
Liability insurance is usually a good idea to protect your personal and business assets, and for some businesses it’s an absolute requirement.
Check out a service like CoverWallet to get a quote.
2. Apply for an EIN
An EIN is an Employer Identification Number, and they’re given out exclusively by the federal government.
You might be thinking — employer? — I just want to be my own boss!
An EIN is important even if you don’t plan on having any employees because it’s usually a requirement in opening a business bank account.
And having a business bank account is important to keep your finances straight come tax time.
The good news? You can do this online for free.
3. Get a Business Bank Account
Why open a business bank account? So you can easily separate your business and personal finances. It gives you a dedicated account to deposit your earnings and from which to pay your expenses.
Even if you’re operating as a sole proprietor, maintaining separate accounts is a smart habit to get into and can make your life a lot simpler come tax time.
I just went into the same branch where I had my personal checking account and asked if I could open a business account. It was a simple process, and the account is free.
Make sure yours is too!
4. Get a Business Credit Card
As you may know, earning free travel with credit card rewards is one of my favorite spending hacks.
I try to put all my business expenses — like hosting, equipment, advertising, and contractors — on various business credit cards to rack up the points.
And while I’ve got a wallet-full of cards, I think it makes the most sense to start with just one. For instance, the Chase Ink Business Cash® card is a great place to start.
I like this one because there’s no annual fee, and you can earn up to 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases in certain common business categories like office supplies and Internet services.
Chase is currently offering $900 as a sign-up bonus when you spend $6,000 in the first 3 months.
It’s free money for stuff you would have bought anyway! When I was really going to town on Google AdWords, I can tell you the rewards added up quick.
Of course, please don’t spend more than you can afford. If you run a balance and start paying interest, any rewards you earn probably won’t offset that extra expense.
If your business is going to have some startup expenses, you might as well recoup some of that cost!
5. Set Up a Website
Or at least secure your domain name!
Building a website doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, but can be an important piece of your marketing arsenal. You’ll want a place to explain what you do, showcase your work, and give people a way to contact you.
And if it still sounds intimidating, I recommend at least registering a domain name for your business. That’s the name people type in to reach your website, like SideHustleNation.com or NickLoper.com — and if you claim it first, it will prevent anyone else from registering it and building their business around your name.
I tend to register all my domains through GoDaddy, but if you’re thinking of starting a website for your side hustle in the not-so-distant future, you can actually get a domain name free for the first year through Bluehost when you sign up for website hosting.
6. Get a Logo
Don’t let not having a logo stand in your way of doing actual work, but you may find getting a logo helps your business feel more “official.”
(It may help potential customers see it that way too.)
For logo design, you have lots of options.
First, if you have some design experience or are on a really tight budget, you can do it yourself with free graphics and fonts.
Next, you might consider a template-driven logo service like BrandCrowd. It’s free to play around with their editor for inspiration, and you only pay to download the files when you get your logo just how you like it.
Related: BrandCrowd shared this cool post of logo idea inspirations for some of the most common side hustles.)
Many people recommend Fiverr for logo design, but because it’s so subjective it can be hard to hire for. Check out the portfolios of the sellers, be clear about what you’re looking for, and perhaps find a gig that offers multiple variations and revisions.
An alternative would be a crowdsourcing service like DesignCrowd, where you can get multiple designers submitting their ideas and competing for your business.
And finally, you can contract a dedicated design service. Since this is usually the most expensive option, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re still “pre-revenue.”
7. Get Business Cards
If you’ll be doing any in-person networking, business cards are still a must have. And even if you don’t plan schmoozing your way to new clients, you’d be surprised how often the topic of “what do you do?” comes up in conversation. Keeping a handful of business cards in your wallet is an easy way to be prepared when the opportunity arises.
Sure, there are other ways to exchange contact information, but handing a physical card to someone is quick and easy.
I’ve done most of my business card ordering over the years through VistaPrint. You can use their templates or even upload your own design. Don’t overthink it and please don’t try and get cute with an odd-sized card.
For example, here’s my old ShoeSniper card and my current Side Hustle Nation one.
Both were designed by my talented wife Bryn in PowerPoint!
8. Create a Facebook Page for Your Business
A Facebook Page is a free piece of online real estate you can claim for your business. It can be especially helpful if you don’t want to post about your side hustle on your personal page.
Creating a Facebook Page has a couple important advantages.
First, Facebook Pages rank well in the Google search results. It might take a while for your own website to gain traction in Google, but Facebook Pages can start to show up right away.
Next, a Facebook Page allows you to run Facebook ads — something you can’t do without one. The cool thing about Facebook ads, aside from being able to reach over a billion potential customers, is it doesn’t matter how many “likes” your page has. You can choose whatever targeting you want.
To create a Page, click the little arrow in the top right and choose Create Page from the dropdown menu.
9. Update Your LinkedIn Profile
Publicizing your side hustle on LinkedIn can be an intimidating step, especially if you have a less-than-open-minded current boss, but here’s why I think it has value.
First, it requires you to think clearly about what you do and who you serve. You can add your business as a place you work and explain your product or service in your summary or headline.
Like Facebook, LinkedIn also ranks well in Google and you want to put your best foot forward. If a potential client lands on your profile today, what are they going to find? Or will they think they found the wrong person if there’s no mention of your business at all?
The second reason I think LinkedIn can help make your side hustle feel more legit is it can be a serious source of leads. Of course it depends on what type of business you’re running, but some side hustlers have used LinkedIn extraordinarily well.
For instance, Rachel Pedersen was a former hairdresser who booked $32,000 worth of social media management work on LinkedIn.
10. Do the Work!
I guarantee nothing will make your business feel more official than actually doing the real work. Create your product or service and go out and sell it!
For most people starting out, almost everything on this list is just a fancy way to make procrastination seem like making progress.
Just because you have a business bank account doesn’t mean you have a business yet. But if crossing these items off your list gives you the confidence to move forward with your side hustle, then let’s get them out of the way and get down to business.
What do you think of this list? Is there anything you’d add to make your side hustle feel more legit?
Anything that you wanted to have in place before spreading the word about your business?
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