At some point, everyone has been told don’t quit your day job, meaning that they’re never going to earn a living based on something they love or enjoy. Some of you, however, may want to quit your day job to pursue whatever your dream is. So you work on it tirelessly in your free time. You pour blood, sweat, and tears into your side-hustle to create something out of nothing. All in hopes that you will one day build an empire out of it and be able to, yes, quit your day job.
It’s kind of the dream. Doing what you love, making a living (or more than that), and growing in skill and fame and fortune. It takes a lot of work to do, but it is absolutely possible to build an empire out of your side hustle. You need to be dedicated, but if you’re looking to go from hobby to hustle to how you make your living, we can give you some tried-and-true advice.
Treat It Like the Job You Want It to Be
The number one most important thing that you can do to start building your empire is to take your side-hustle seriously. If you treat it like a hobby, it will remain a hobby. And that is 100% okay. Everyone needs hobbies, and not everything has to be a productive money-maker. So if you enjoy what you do on the side and want to keep it low-key and on-the-side, great! You should feel zero shame in that.
But if you want to one day have that side-hustle be your main hustle, then you need to start treating it as such right now.
If you don’t, you will keep putting it off. Treating your side-hustle like the job you want it to means that you will see more of what it takes to keep it afloat than if you were doing it only in your spare time. By treating it more professionally, you will be adjusting your schedule and making it a priority. If there’s a due date on a hobby project, it’s pretty easy to be okay with missing the deadline.
Missing a deadline is a lot more important when your livelihood is on the line. And you will not know if you can (or want to) do that kind of thing with your side-hustle if you don’t treat it with the respect it deserves.
On top of that, you might not actually like what your side-hustle turns into a real gig. As we said, it’s okay for a hobby to remain a hobby. But if you want to take that next step and start to build an empire, then treating it like a job before it’s a job is absolutely imperative.
But what does that actually mean? Well, let’s look a little deeper and see what specifically you can do to start to build your empire.
In Other Words…
This is not a fantasy anymore. If you’re going to build an empire out of this side project, then it needs to be a hard reality in your life. No more dreaming, no more what-if scenarios in your mind. You sit down, put the work in, and take it as seriously as you do anything else in your professional life.
1. Figure Out Your Why
Before you set out, you should determine why you want to do it in the first place. Are you bringing people together in a community? Trying to get rich? Or are you working on serving people and doing good?
If you’re not going into taking this side-hustle to the next step with a clear vision of where you want to take it, you’re going to spend a lot of time flailing around. Since this isn’t your main gig, you can’t really afford to do that if you’re doing it for more than fun. The old saying is that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Rome was also not built without a plan. (Okay, so technically it was built without a plan, but the sentence was just too good to pass up.)
Having even a vague idea of what you want to accomplish and what your side-hustle empire will stand for is paramount to avoid wasting what little time you may have to work on it in the first place.
Actionable Advice: Write down what you want this side-hustle to be and keep it close so you can refer back to it.
Blood, sweat, and tears are probably not the only sacrifices that you’re going to make as you work toward success. In fact, other hobbies and interests might have to be put aside for a while as you hone in on making the most out of your existing time. Note that we don’t say free time. Because if you want to build an empire out of your side-hustle, free time isn’t in the cards.
You’re laying the foundation, brick by brick, whenever you have a couple of minutes to focus on doing so.
What that means is that if you’re a gamer, it may be better to spend that hour or two at night before bed networking or working on your product than getting in another match of Fortnite. You may not be reading for pleasure much, but instead reading about how to better manage your up-and-coming business instead of the latest whodunnit.
We aren’t saying that you get no room for fun or family in your life — of course you do. But when given the choice between further building up your side-hustle or spending time on something that is essentially wasted time, you may need to sacrifice some enjoyment and relaxation now so that you have a better future.
Actionable Advice: Try taking one hour, every single day, to move your project forward. Before work, after, even your lunch break. But spend that time focused entirely on building your project.
3. Prep for Failure
No matter what your side-hustle is, you’re going to have setbacks and failures. It might be as simple as a podcast idea not taking off and finding an audience, so you have to rebrand and start a new show. You might invest thousands of dollars in a product that doesn’t sell, and you are stuck with a garage full of unopened and unwanted doodads or thingamajigs. Maybe you decide to rebrand with what you think is a great idea and new direction, but your customer base tells you nope, no way, not gonna happen. (Remember when Netflix wanted to rebrand its streaming to Quikster? We do, but look at where they are now despite having lost 50% of their stock value at the time.)
This kind of thing will happen.
What you can do when this occurs — and it will — is to take stock of what went wrong, work out an action plan of how to rectify those mistakes, and get to enacting that plan. It doesn’t mean your empire is going to be any less stable or successful. It means you’re right on track, and you can make sure not to make those same kinds of mistakes in the future.
Maybe don’t think Quikster is a good idea, or send thousands of dollars to a manufacturer without receiving a prototype or proof. Fail and learn. Fail and learn.
Just don’t beat yourself up too bad. Wallow for a bit, then pick yourself up and keep on going with the fervor you had beforehand.
Actionable Advice: When you have a failure, keep a journal of what specifically happened, and then backtrace it to see what you could have done to avoid it. Then avoid it next time around.
4. Learn to Sit in Discomfort
When we said wallow above, maybe we should have put it mindfully sit in the discomfort of your failure. Because wallowing isn’t productive (though inevitable, really). What is productive, however, is sitting in the discomfort of that failure and realizing why you’re specifically uncomfortable. What about that situation has made you feel that way. The more you get used to actively being uncomfortable and being able to look at its reasons objectively, the sooner you’ll be able to move forward with your project.
But if you don’t take those risks, learn those skills, make those pushes forward, and wear those dozens of hats, you will not grow. Your project will stagnate. And any chance of a business empire you had will peter out.
Because it’s impossible to truly succeed without putting yourself out there. Really putting yourself out there.
Actionable Advice: Make a list of things about this project that you are uncomfortable doing, then once a week, pick one and do it. Whether it’s cold-calling a potential client, designing a (probably bad) logo, or going to a networking Meetup. Make yourself uncomfortable until you aren’t anymore.
5. Ask for Help
Every emperor in history has been surrounded by people who work on different jobs the Big Boss can’t handle. You know why? Because the head honcho is probably just not good at everything. They aren’t expected to be. So don’t think that you have to be perfect. You don’t have to be your empire’s IT person, graphic designer, customer support, content creator, social media manager, marketing department, brand advisor, dev team, and QA.
In fact, you can’t be all of those things. The fact of the matter is that as you’re getting this project off the ground, you may very well be wearing all of those hats. Most likely you will be.
But at some point, one of two things will happen:
- You will find something you’re just not good at, and your project will grind to a halt
- You will find that you can’t keep up with everything you’re trying to keep up with, and your project will grind to a halt
Either way, you can’t do it all on your own. So ask for help. Hire someone. Get an intern. Ask a friend to help out for some pizza and beer on the weekend. Whatever you have to do, find someone with the expertise to solve your problems and invite them in.
This is how an empire is built. No empire is one person. It can’t be by definition. If you want to succeed and make this be the greatest it can be, you’re going to have to find people you can work with who compliment the skills you have and make up for the ones you don’t. You might be the emperor, but without someone to taste your food, you can still get poisoned.
6. Find a Role Model or Mentor
With asking for help in mind, you might not need a subordinate. You might just need someone to look up to. You could find a person you know in real life who can mentor you and work through problems, or perhaps you just need a role model like Beyonce or Mark Cuban whose own journey toward their empires you can scrutinize and emulate. No matter what it is, having an established marker of some kind can really help avoid pitfalls that could detour the whole endeavor.
Think about Netflix and Quikster above. If you were thinking of that kind of rebrand and were pushing through the process without consulting a mentor, there’s a huge chance you’ll fail and set yourself back. However, if you do have a mentor, they might know about the Quikster debacle and warn you against making such a rash move.
Or maybe you just look up to Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph (Netflix founders) and have followed their success, modeling your own side-hustle trajectory to match theirs. You’d know the perils of that kind of misstep already and not take a hit like they did.
There are a lot of benefits to being a pioneer in a space. However, most areas have already been pioneered. If you are going into an established space and want to stand out from the crowd, learn as many lessons as you can from the people who made mistakes to establish themselves already. If that’s over coffee or Skype, great. Firsthand advice and help and problem-solving can be priceless. But even if you can simply look at what others have done and sidestep the potholes they fell into, you can pretty easily avoid becoming the next Quikster.
Actionable Advice: Create a vision board of where you want your side-hustle to end up, using specific examples of an existing empire on which you can model yours. Pinterest private boards are excellent for this kind of thing.
The last thing you have to do is profit, right? You do all the hard work, you get people to compliment your skills, and you find role models and mentors to help you move through the process, so it’s time for the fame and fortune to start rolling in, right? You wanted to build an empire, and this is when you get the bask in the glow of unprecedented success, right?
Kind of. But not quite. Empires crumble without constant upkeep. Every milestone you make is a stepping stone to the next one. While you will totally profit and succeed and grow your tribe and build an empire, you will need to continually iterate on what you’re doing with it long after it stops being a side-hustle. Otherwise, your empire will be overshadowed by the up-and-comers who look to you like you did Beyonce or Cuban.
Actionable Advice: At every successful milestone, bask in the glory of your success. But not for too long. Feel good about yourself. Pat yourself on the back. Hug the people around you. Congratulate them. Thank them. Then sit down and have a brainstorming session about where you can go next.
Is All This Worth It?
Don’t let us make you think that getting this far is a not worth it. It absolutely is worth it, and it’s fantastic. But the hard truth is that if you’re going to build an empire out of your side-hustle, you’re going to have a lot of work to do, and it won’t all be fun. But when you get to the stage where your hustle is sustainable and successful, and you are surrounded by partners, fans, customers, and patrons in your glass-walled loft in San Francisco, you won’t even think about that garage full of shoddy first-gen mistakes you still have.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as you have moved from side-hustler to emperor?
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