It’s a delicate art of balance, and here’s what you need to consider in the way of product, tech, your brand’s visual identity, self-care and, ahem, HR.
The term side-hustle has become ubiquitous in 2019—in fact, it’s basically cliché. But if you’re looking to expand (grow, or build) yours—and it happens to be in the e-commerce realm—chances are juggling your 9 to 5 with your 7 to midnight will unfold in extremely ordinary, unglamorous circumstances.
Such was the case when I launched my e-commerce business, Bed Threads, just about a decade into my career as a journalist.
In 2014, I moved into a new apartment and wanted to sleep in 100% pure linen bedding that came complete with all of the trimmings.
It had to be high quality, simple to wash, easy on the environment, affordable and beautiful. Reasonable enough, right? I scanned far and wide and researched online and in stores, but everything came up short of ticking all my proverbial boxes. I was forced to go overbudget, upsold into a bunch of extras I didn’t need and underwhelmed with the quality of what was on offer.
Here, it dawned on me that I might be part of a larger demographic in demand for a product that was undersupplied. A bed set that came uncompromised on style and price was missing from the market—specifically one that came complete with two pillowcases, a duvet cover and a fitted sheet.
With my bed calling out to me from its state of undress, I made the decision to juggle (or try, at least) a journalism career with a business in bedding on the side. I mobilised every fundamental, maximised nights off and weekends, and underpinned all of my energies with an unspoken understanding that calling it quits on my day job would only happen once my new dream materialised into a profitable operation.
Irrevocably ingrained in my mind, this understanding forced me to deploy a series of critical takeaways I think are applicable to any side-hustle—proverbial Post-It notes on the new whiteboard that is your fledgling business.
Question yourself first, quit second
Forget hastily leaving any post with reckless abandon. The time is now to question yourself and your business model from the inside out. Before diving head first into a new venture, task yourself with a shopping list of hard-to-find answers that may take you down unknown aisles.
At the outset of my Bed Threads journey, I asked myself the following questions: can this replace my current salary? Is this a sustainable idea? Would working on Bed Threads full-time vastly improve its customer experience?
Notwithstanding the potential of your idea, it’s beneficial to overestimate the monetary needs of any new business and maintain a stable income for as long as is feasible. By sticking out your current job a little longer—which may mean running on empty or working 16-hour days—your returns will be at least threefold. You will alleviate pressure from your new business to monetise immediately; facilitate an easier transition into your new business full-time; and give your new business scope to thrive or fail with the security of existent income and the safety net of your current job.
Commit to the job juggle, but remember your contract
To seize the opportunity for a side-hustle, HR expert Lorissa Garcia advises that you keep the “2 C’s—contract and conflict” in mind. Garcia explains, “most employment contracts will have wording about other work or secondary employment” of a competitive nature that may be in breach of your contract.
Heed Garcia’s advice and “be ready to have the conversation if it arises” with your boss. Delineate between work hours and side-hustle and “be wary of your own unconscious bias around decision-making that may advantage your time and workload.”
Building a business is a process of answering yes
Curb your enthusiasm at the door and address these key questions: is my idea viable? Does my product and/or service address a genuine need? Is there a gap in the market or has this need been addressed before? Can it be addressed better? Crunch your numbers—do they add up?
If they don’t—that’s okay. Work on your idea until all signs point to yes. This will accordingly make your idea easy to action, your finances more nimble and open doors in the way of consumers and investors alike.
Even when you’re off, you’ll be on—but remember to take care
The glitz and glamour of a side-hustle will only be revealed once the hard work and long hours have been clocked. Weekends, early mornings and evenings off should be devoted to the business.
In its preliminary stages, the business will be understaffed and underpaid, meaning you will have to be across every facet of your project to maximise its potential to thrive. Avoid cutting corners by prioritising financial management, heeding constructive criticism and testing product yourself.
Simultaneously, MindMovers psychologist Jaimie Bloch emphasises the importance of implementing “balance builders into your schedule: these are activities that build your energy and rejuvenate you”. Remember that you can only run on empty for so long, so timetable your week strategically and allow for adequate rest and exercise.
Invest in technology
In an age where Instagram and ecommerce reign supreme, remember that your business is a technology business first. Prioritise tech proficiency and ensure you are across all areas: user interface; streamlined ecommerce; ease of navigation; site speed; reliable and frequent customer service and social media.
Adam Sharon-Zipser, director at technical agency Elephant Room, reiterates the centrality of “strong, integrated and elastic systems [that notwithstanding]… larger upfront costs” are instrumental to optimise the chances of your business to succeed. Sharon-Zipser emphasises “investing in your ecommerce platform early and your accounting software are keys to making sure the customers have the best experience as you grow and your business metrics are always available”.
Endeavour to consolidate a strong visual identity but do not compromise efficiency for aesthetic. Rather, Sharon-Zipser illuminates, “make sure all of your conversion tracking and retargeting pixels are set up from Day 0… this will pay a big dividend down the line when you need to plan for the next quarter by looking at historical performance.” Recognise that you want to drive sales and ensure that customers can reach their carts as efficiently and seamlessly as possible, so eliminate barriers that may obstruct this path.
Mobilise free tools
Stretching budget across every area of a new business can be extremely challenging if not impossible, so exploit free tools readily. Utilise social media channels to grow following; experiment with branding and tone of voice; and for advertising and marketing.
Sharon-Zipser highlights “there are a few things that can be done on a shoestring and most of these live in the marketing and content world… business owners should be evangelising their own brands and not leaning on contractors to do it for them”.
Maximise online resources, educate yourself on basic SEO and learn the ropes of Google Analytics to stay on top of user engagement in the early phases of your business.
Consolidate a visual identity
The means through which you visually communicate your brand to users should be at the forefront of your growth strategy. Consumers today are digital consumers with strong visual orientations—expend energies and time on the development of considered, attractive and identifiable visual imagery.
Ask yourself how you can differentiate your business from competitors and seize this opportunity to ensure your visual branding is consistent across every channel both on and offline—website, social media, business cards.
Co-founder and creative director of branding and graphics agency Badlands Studio, Talisa Sutton reinforces the pivotal link between visual identity and brand recognition. To communicate cohesive imagery that is synonymous with your business, Sutton advises to “put an initial mood board together which covers imagery, fonts and graphics before attempting the first round of designs, or heading straight into sketching.”
Cohesion, Sutton reflects, “is always number one… it’s important your audience knows what to expect and you can continue delivering the same quality and style of content.”
Monitor audience engagement with your brand to determine the imagery that is strengthening or weakening the business. It is a delicate tightrope to straddle—becoming formulaic or standing idle in convention. Avoid disrupting what works, but know that there is always room to finesse your content strategy.
To aid the creative process, heed Sutton’s recommendation and “plan well ahead so your content flows seamlessly, use calendars and apps to help you stay organised, and look to collaborate with others who have a like-minded aesthetic.”
Pool all of your energies into product
Ultimately, your product is your mouthpiece—it has to speak for itself. Exercise restraint when timing the release of your product or service to avoid bringing it to market prematurely. Simultaneously, holding out until the product or service is perfect to release them may come at the cost of timeliness or trend. Your product and/ or service will always need to be modified and improved, but you will be better situated to gauge any necessary changes once it is put out to consumers.
Juggle some of the hats, outsource the rest
It is unlikely you will be able to fully outfit your team of staff—or know the staff you may require—in the earliest stages of your business and as a result, you will have to engage unfamiliar skills and exercise imagination with the resources at hand.
Before your business gains traction, it is crucial to keep a close eye on the allocation of expenses and cut corners where possible—but cut these corners mindfully. Avoid costly mistakes in money and time by outsourcing professional help where necessary and remaining abreast of the bigger picture.
For example, Sharon-Zipser says that “professional photoshoots carry a long way. They can carry your actual website design, be used in all forms of PR and marketing and are generally the key drivers for building demand.” Simultaneously, recognise professional outsourcing as a networking opportunity to bolster your team, acquaint yourself with the industry and mobilise the experts.
Listen to customer feedback, to an extend
Your closeness to your product and/or service can cloud judgment and prevent rational decision-making, especially in the embryonic stages of any business. Remember that your customer is number one, so be aware of any concerns or suggestions they may have.
Simultaneously, remain zeroed into your long-term vision—the customer may not have the foresight or know-how of your business. Avoid entering into a circuitous pattern with your customer base by ceding to all requests or recommendations to preserve the integrity and identity of your brand and maintain morale.
Remember wellness and strike a balance
Long days and longer nights are par for the course in any new business. For this reason, a blatant disregard of exercise, diet or sleep will only detract from progress and slow you down. Remember that optimal function parlays into better decision-making, improved product, alertness and a greater capacity to lead well and collaborate with your team.
Bloch recommends monitoring our ‘yes’ reflexes—in order to maximise our mental and physical wellbeing, “sometimes saying ‘no’ [to activities] means saying yes” to oneself. Bloch also advises to “notice the activities that deplete your energy and look at what is driving your urge to be busy. Learn to process your emotions and reactions in a way that will help you to stop the urge to fill up your schedule.” Demarcate parameters around work hours to maximise productivity and avoid wasting time or burning out.
When success does come, the job is not yet done
Once your side-hustle takes flight, continue to ask yourself and your team how the business can evolve: can the website be improved? Should the product offering be expanded? How can we maximise customer experience? Can we expand internationally?
The key here is to never become inert. You should evolve in accordance with your business and remain open-minded to opportunities of diversification, expansion and collaboration. Remember too that inasmuch as your side-hustle may outgrow your expectations, your expectations may outgrow your side-hustle, so be receptive to transformation and embrace the changing directions of your dreams.
Genevieve Rosen-Biller is the founder of Bed Threads. Bed Threads’ signature product is a pure 100% French Flax Linen Bedding Set that includes two pillowcases, a duvet cover and a fitted sheet, offered at a price-point you won’t lose sleep over.