How to Start a Side Hustle: 7 Key Steps

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How do you start a side hustle?

Well we can talk about side hustle ideas and marketing tactics until we’re blue in the face, but in studying my catalog of past interviews, a few common traits popped up over and over again.

I’ve compiled those into this 7-step guide to starting a side hustle.

Whether you’re an established business owner, or you’re just starting out, I think you’ll find this a helpful framework for your projects. It’ll also help you identify where you have the biggest opportunities for improvement this year.

how to start a side hustle

1. Find Motivation

Why is this Important to You?

This is your driving WHY behind starting down this path.

What is your side hustle going to afford you?

Why do you do it?

Making any sort of change isn’t easy, so what’s pulling you to do that?

You gotta want it, like Rob Dionne said.

I got a note from an email subscriber the other day, and it said, “Nick, this all sounds great, but the truth is I’m just too lazy.”

I can’t help lazy. It’s got to come from inside.

If something isn’t working, change it. But that motivation has to come from within. If you don’t want it, you’re not going to work for it.

Bake it into Your Identity

Derek Doepker called on entrepreneurs to work on their identity habit. This is where you convince yourself of the type of person you are, or the type of person you will become.

Get Accountability

In our day jobs, we’re used to the structure, management hierarchy, and working in teams. In other words, there’s a lot of built-in accountability.

In a solo side hustle, especially in the early days, you don’t have that — so you have to create it.

Maybe that’s a:

  • weekly check-in call with a friend on a similar path
  • mastermind group
  • supporting spouse

Some sort of accountability structure is really common and really helpful.

Naturally, you need to know WHY you want to go somewhere, before you get going. But that brings us to step #2:

2. Pick Your Destination

Where do you want to go? What will success look like?

If you don’t set the GPS, how will you know when you get there?

Creating Your Vision

Brian Scudamore from 1-800-GOT-JUNK and episode 332 of The Side Hustle Show described his process for creating a “Painted Picture Vision.” In this exercise, he wrote down a vision of where his business would be in 3-5 years, and then got to work making that a reality.

There’s been a lot written and said about creating smart goals and maybe you’re even in the midst of some new year’s resolutions. It’s been a few years since I created any year-long goals, but did go through this painted picture exercise along with my wife, which was helpful to kind of draw out what and project into the future what our ideal days looked like.

For short-term goals, what I tend to do these days is work in 1-3 month project sprints, and most often in 4-week chunks.

Are Your Goals Fake?

An interesting counterpoint to this came from Paul Jarvis on episode 329. Paul explained that in a lot of businesses, goals are just glorified guesses, or worse–they’re fake.

He argued that we need to set goals that are based on real needs and grounded in reality.

These are destinations you can feel good about reaching, and celebrate those moments, but once you get there, you’ll still have to answer the question: what’s next?

But most of the successful side hustlers and entrepreneurs I’ve talked to share that trait of having a destination in mind, whether they call it a goal or a vision or a roadmap — they have an idea of where they want to go.

Now how to get there? That’s what the next steps are for.

3. Build Your Foundation

You can’t build a long-lasting, sturdy building with a strong foundation.

And in this case, I’m talking about your physical and mental foundation.

There’s a quote that’s stuck with me related to health: “If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?”

(A similar quote is attributed to Jim Rohn.)

You rely on your body and mind for work, so it only makes sense to take good care of them.

On the physical side, that means nutrition, sleep, and exercise. There’s been a bit of “hustle” backlash in the last few years, over the idea that if you’re not working 16 hour days, you’re somehow slacking.

That’s never what the term has meant for me — instead it’s been about controlling the one thing you can control: your own effort.

Get Your Mind Right

On the mental side, Dane Maxwell from TheFoundation.com gave us an interesting test to check if your mindset is in the right place. He asked, “Do you have, or are you getting, the results your want?”

If you’re not there, there’s some room for mindset growth. And perhaps the most important mindset win of all, is knowing that yes, you can improve your mindset. Your brain is amazingly elastic, even if it seems cluttered up with random trivia and Simpsons quotes!

You’ve probably heard the stories of entrepreneurs who sacrificed their health for the sake of their business, but that’s not what I’ve heard from the hundreds of Side Hustle Show guests. They make health — both physical and mental — a priority.

The foundation piece is your starting point. And even if it feels like you’re starting from nothing today, no one ever really starts from scratch. You’ve got your lifetime of experiences and skills and networks to lean on — and that stuff makes for a great foundation.

4. Get the Education You Need

The education stage where you’re evaluating different business ideas, selecting the ones that are most appealing to you, and testing the waters.

It’s also the stage where, if you have an existing business, you’re constantly learning and improving and investing in your own education as a business owner.

A couple things I found common among past guests:

  • They practice just-in-time learning
  • They seek out mentorship

Just in Time Learning

Just in time learning means learning what you need, when you need it. For example, you don’t need to study brain surgery if you’re the school nurse. You don’t need to learn about advanced marketing funnels if you’re just starting a blog.

There are tons of amazing resources for the education you need today:

  • There are free resources like blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels.
  • Inexpensive online course options like Udemy or or sponsor Skillshare.
  • Premium online courses, perhaps with more community or instructor involvement.

No matter what you need to know, someone probably already knows it, and they may be willing to teach you.

Mentorship

Smart side hustlers and entrepreneurs know they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but can instead seek mentorship. These can be either formal or informal relationships with someone who’s already walked the path.

5. Execute on Your Plan

This is the fun part, where you actually do the thing that gets you paid!

If you’re still looking for a side hustle idea to execute on, check out the full podcast archive or monster list of ideas here.

Find Your Focus

One common trait of successful side hustlers and entrepeneurs is they’ve been able to put the blinders on to everything that wasn’t a priority for them. I’m getting better at this myself, but I’ll admit it can still be a struggle.

Remember the focusing question from The ONE Thing:

What’s the ONE Thing I can do right now such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Rosemarie Groner from BusyBudgeter.com put it this way: “I eliminated anything that wasn’t important for my growth.”

Win Tomorrow Today

One habit that’s been really helpful for me is a super simple one: just writing town my top 3 priorities for tomorrow. Both Noah Kagan and John Lee Dumas recommended a similar habit on air.

That way, when I start work, I know exactly what to work on–and in what order.

(This is one of the keystone habits I baked into my Progress Journal as well.)

Systemize and Optimize

Inside this execution step is a whole world of strategy and optimization. Here are a couple recommended reads:

  • The E-Myth by Michael Gerber – how to avoid building yourself a job
  • 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall – how to maximize your profitability. (You can actually get the book for just a penny plus shipping if you get it through his site.)

6. Reflect on What’s Working (or Not Working)

The 6th step is Reflection.

This is the step where you hit pause and ask yourself what you got done.

  • What’s working right now?
  • What’s going well?
  • What’s not going so well?

Evaluation and Analysis

It’s in this Reflection step where you can often uncover new opportunities for improvement.

Maybe a certain ad campaign was a hit. Or maybe you found a new source of clients or reliable team members. Or maybe you found yourself doing a lot of work that really wasn’t very enjoyable or effective.

If you don’t take the time to reflect and analyze, you won’t be able to adjust course. I try and practice this through my Progress Journal on a nightly, weekly, and monthly basis, and on the blog in my Quarterly Progress Reports.

It’s the time to say, here’s what I worked on — did those things drive results? And if not, why not?

I like doing this regularly because it gives me a way to measure the impact my work is having. I know I’m working, but is that work effective? Is it moving me closer to my goals or vision?

Practice Gratitude

The other element of the Reflection step is a Gratitude practice.

This is just a super simple habit of making a quick note of the things you’re grateful for on a daily basis. Big things, small things, it doesn’t matter — what made you happy today? What made you smile?

This little habit is one that’s scientifically proven to improve your mood and happiness.

7. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Always Repeat

This Repetition step is what I call the Hustle Habit. You may have heard it described as The Slight Edge, or The Compound Effect, or The 20 Mile March, but the idea here is simply consistency.

Of all the entrepreneurs I’ve talked to, most share a remarkable persistence and consistency. They keep showing up, keep learning, keep evolving, and keep doing the work. Day after day, month after month, year after year.

Even when they don’t feel like it, and even when things aren’t going well.

And over time, that wins.

Bjork Ostrom from Food Blogger Pro called this the 1% infinity habit.

How can you get 1% better today?

How can you do 1% better?

How can you be 1% better?

These tiny incremental gains really start to compound, and I think that’s evident in the results of almost all my guests.

Remember, every all-star was once a rookie. Every expert was once a beginner.

They got 1% better every day. They committed to this 7th step, the Repetition step. They got in their reps and you can do the same in your business.

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1 thought on “How to Start a Side Hustle: 7 Key Steps”

  1. I think you’d like the book Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg…for the 1% better everyday equation. I like your approach a lot. Thank you.

    Reply

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