Living through change, as we are now on a grand scale, can make us shy away from trying new things.
But some people are using this collective pause to their advantage. The Covid- induced crisis is sparking “entrepreneurial spirit”, according to a global survey from GoDaddy published in August, which found 30 per cent of people said they either had or intended to start a new business or side hustle as a result of losing their job because of the virus — this proportion jumped to 40 per cent among millennials.
There are pockets of money-making opportunities as the pandemic creates demand for new products and services, says millennial money coach Ellie Austin-Williams, founder of This Girl Talks Money: “It’s easy to get drawn into the doom and gloom, but there’s lots of innovation happening at the moment, people have had time to think about what they really want to do and set up new businesses which need support from different skill sets — if you can provide them with something they’re looking for there is definitely money is be made.
“For example, online services are doing very well, there’s been a spike in people setting up online service-based companies, things like virtual assistants and social media assistants. People are at home more and looking for ways to use skills they have.” Whether you’re facing job uncertainty or just need something to keep you busy while WFH again, we asked entrepreneurs for their top tips for building a lucrative business.
Secrets of a side hustle
Think about what people need as well as what you want to do. Tapping into the world’s obsession with loungewear in lockdown, London-based stylist Emma Lane launched her own tie-dye collection, Lanes London, in isolation after her work came to an abrupt stop.
“I have been making tie-dye tracksuits for my friends over the last year so I decided to make some long sleeve tops and put them on my Instagram to see if anyone wanted to buy them. I uploaded a bunch of tops every few days and they sold out within about five minutes!”
Laura Whitmore has bought her tops, which has helped gain traction: “Now, as I’ve started styling again, I upload every two weeks and they sell out within the day.” Her top tip for success in your side hustle? Enjoy what you do. “I loved the creative aspect of tie-dyeing, trying new styles and making new colours. Lanes London really did just start as a way to keep me busy while we were all in lockdown, it got me up in the morning and gave me a routine which made it much easier.”
Alice Pelton, meanwhile, found the time to launch contraceptive review platform, The Lowdown, in 2018 when her partner moved to another city. “I can absolutely see why the pandemic is giving people more time to think and be creative,” she says. “I was at home alone during the week. That gave me the head space to think about it. If you can use it as a reset, then why not?”
When trying to figure out your side hustle, she advises: “Ask yourself, what unique or rare insights do you have that few others do? This will give you an unfair advantage over other people who may have the same idea.” For example, The Lowdown, which is a bit like a Trustpilot for women’s health, was built on less of a personal interest and more her own “terrible experience” with the Pill.
Once you’re happy with your idea, set aside a certain amount of time a week to work on it — say, five hours a week to begin with, she suggests. But don’t invest too much of your own money into an idea until you’ve validated it with customer feedback: “I sent out a SurveyMonkey to about 20 of my friends and had over 500 responses — it was then that I realised contraception was a huge problem that I wasn’t the only person to struggle with.”
Sarah Akwisombe, entrepreneur and author of The Money is Coming, built a lucrative online courses business after being fired in a role as a content editor. “Be commercial and realistic with your decisions,” she says. “Are you solving a problem for anyone? Is there a gap in the market and is there money to be made in what you’re doing? Creatives tend to be really good at spending lots of time on something that looks very beautiful, but what the market wants to pay for it and what they get in profit can sometimes be so small in comparison.”
It’s about striking the right balance, but don’t expect to nail everything perfectly first time. “Business is about tweaking as you go. Get an MVP — minimum viable product — out, a basic version or shoestring service that you haven’t invested mass time or effort in, to test the market and see if people are interested, then remove what’s not working as you go. And don’t compare the branding of your two-week-old business to a brand on Instagram that’s been around for 10 years.”
If you’re ready to dip your toe into the water and start making some extra cash, getting to grips with business know-how is a good place to start. The global learning platform FutureLearn has seen a fourfold increase in traffic to its business and management-related courses since lockdown, compared to last year.
The platform offers a mix of free and paid courses depending on budget. One of the most popular this year is Entrepreneurship: From Business Idea to Action, held in partnership with King’s College London — so far over 18,000 people have completed the free course. Other good resources include General Assembly, Google Digital Garage, Masterclass.com and City Lit. If you don’t have time for a full course then The Dots, the cool LinkedIn alternative, hosts a myriad of free events that can help you to upskill and network. Whether it’s learning how to advertise on YouTube, how to protect a brand name or how to create a winning portfolio, you can dip in and out of the events that suit you.
Virtual coffee meet-ups also offer a good way of mingling with like-minded entrepreneurs at a safe distance. Irene Moore, business coach and founder of SavvyStartupClub.com, a podcast and community platform for female founders, hosts a weekly virtual meet-up on Zoom for women in business to share wins, struggles and exchange ideas.
Know the market
The right platform is key. The gold-standard for hobbyists and side hustlers wanting to sell their wares is Etsy. It’s doing a particularly roaring trade in face masks at the moment — by August the platform had made $346 million (£271 million) in face mask sales — as well as craft kits, home decoration and jewellery. Wakuda, meanwhile, is a brand new marketplace for black-owned businesses which just launched and promises low fees, support and education on growing businesses.
If you can sell and alter clothes, get yourself over to @the_seam_london on Instagram, which pairs up tailors and seamstresses with customers across London. It’s perfect for the sustainable fashion movement, customers can get an item reinvigorated and reduce spending on fast fashion. The account also helps pair up seamstresses with qualifications in fashion and textiles.
You don’t need to be good with your hands to forge a side hustle. Fiverr lets freelancers set gigs in areas such as copywriting, design, illustration and SEO, and people bid for your services. Since the platform launched in 2010, freelancers have earned over $1 billion (£786,000), with all payments processed through the platform so you don’t even have to chase for money.
Lockdown forced a clear out? Don’t throw out, rent it out via Fat Llama. The platform lets you rent items from scooters to camping equipment and cameras, to people in the community. It helps to reduce reliance on buying new items and allows you to make some extra cash. The average lender makes about £200 a month.
Getting serious about your side-hustle potential? Square’s Online Store feature lets you set up a free e-commerce website, take card payments, and track inventory, while the Square Terminal helps you take card payments at in-person events. Tim Rundle-Wood started using Square’s payments tech when he set up his natural candle side hustle, named Twoodle Co. “I can take it anywhere from shop to craft market to exhibition, as long as there’s a WiFi connection I can use it and it gives customers a strong professional impression,” he says.