Bob works at an insurance company, but on the side, he tinkers away on motorcycles, wishing that he could spend all of his time vroom, vrooming.
Now, Bob has realized that he actually can tinker full time, as long as he has a steady stream of clients. He needs to learn how to keep the customers he's got... and get more.
There's good news-- The Bobs of the world (we're looking at you!) can totally make their side gigs into full time businesses, as long as they're willing to get marketing.
With effective marketing and networking, you (and Bob) may feel more secure in your former “side gig” than you ever did as an employee. We'll tell you how.
Start With Word-of-Mouth Marketing
We all know “lucky” people like Ritika Puri of Elate, a boutique content marketing consultancy.
“Believe it or not,” says Ritika, “I built my entire business through word of mouth referrals.” Not only did Ritika handle marketing solely through word of mouth advertising, but she doesn’t even have a traditional freelancing website.
Not everyone is so lucky. Or is it really “luck” at all? Ritika credits her success to her passionate approach to work. “I genuinely love getting to know my clients and love to make them 200% happy…I am very passionate about (and completely believe in) the work that my clients are doing. This passion guides me towards amazing projects and people.”
If you take a similar approach to your work in a field that is friendly to word-of-mouth marketing (pretty much all fields) then you’ll likely see the same success as Ritika Puri. But that’s no reason to ignore conventional marketing, either.
Our advice? Experiment, and adjust your marketing strategies according to the results you’re getting. If you’re as busy as Ritika, perhaps you can rely on word-of-mouth marketing for now.
Keep approaching each client with passion and a dedication to making them “200% happy.” You’ll be sure to attract new customers naturally.
If not, keep reading.
When—and How—to Start Spreading The Word About Your Business
In taking your side gig to a full-time job, there are two very important variables to consider.
- The first is when to begin. Many entrepreneurs who have just taken the leap to full-time self-employment think that spending an inordinate amount of money on advertising is essential. Many entrepreneurs recommend having a core strategy in place first, as well as a definable, unique brand that will attract customers more readily.
“Successful start-ups build a product for a specific user that’s unlike anything out there,” says Andrea Cutright of Foodily. “Focus on what makes your company different from the beginning…”
- The other variable is how to begin. If you’re like Ritika Puri of Elate, you’re already marketing simply by the nature of how you run your business.
For other entrepreneurs, the question isn’t so easy. Many recommend against traditional advertising—television spots, radio ads—as they can be costly, particularly if your startup depends on online traffic. If this is the case, there are plenty of cost-effective marketing strategies that might better suit your new gig:
- SEO (search engine optimization) and sponsored search
- Placing bids on websites like Elance or oDesk (for service-based businesses)
- Social media
- Content creation (creating valuable resources for your customers, writing guest blog posts to promote your company, running your own blog to attract visitors, etc.)
- Press releases
- Local sponsorships
For more information on marketing, read The Startup’s (Budget) Guide to Traditional Marketing and 15 Ways to Let the World Know About Your Awesome Business.
Tips to Accelerate Your Networking
Contrary to popular belief, not every entrepreneur is an extroverted networking machine. Networking isn’t intuitive to all of us.
But if Bob is going to get his motorcycle shop off the ground, he absolutely has to network. He has to partner with a local bike dealership, other bike enthusiasts, and motorcycle events. It's simply the best way to get the word out.
Here are a few networking tips:
- Don’t burn your bridges. This is one of the most important lessons in taking a side gig to your full-time job. Tessa Magnuson says that when she made the jump, she still had “great rapport” with the people at her previous job. The result is that she’s had consistent contracts with previous employers.
- Focus on giving instead of getting. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s how word-of-mouth spreads. If you only approach other entrepreneurs or potential customers as a means to an end, they’ll sense it. Ritika succeeds with word-of-mouth marketing because she focuses on giving outstanding quality to each of her clients.
- Make it a habit. If you’ve attended one conference, approached two people, and concluded that “networking doesn’t work,” then you’re not really networking. You’re just dabbling. Instead, make networking a habit. Send out one email a day to someone you don’t know. Make one additional phone call per week. Over time, the results will add up.
- Get some networking apps. Planely takes your flight information and shares who you’ll be traveling with, allowing you to meet new people even before you arrive at the conference—or wherever you may be flying. WhosHere is typically used for seeking out dates or friends, but it also promotes itself as helping you find connections.
Where to network
- Industry conferences
- Chambers of commerce
- SCORE chapters
- Business seminars
- Public speaking events
- At a computer!
Take Advantage of Every Opportunity
There are about a million things that can be written about startup marketing, especially in the context of changing your side-gig into a real-world full-time business.
Our advice is to take advantage of every opportunity you have, make the most of each opportunity, and put out an air of expecting success. Here are a few tips for doing just that:
- Cast a wide net. Kathryn Minshew, founder of the Daily Muse, says that a business should not succeed thanks to “one silver bullet.” “I keep a lot of irons in the fire so if one partnership doesn’t go through, or one deal turns out to have much less impact than I’d hoped, I still have plenty of other things in the works.”
- Give more than you get. Whether working on a project for a client, handling customer service, or networking, you’ll go much farther in life if you give more than you expect to get in return. Rather than “using” people, you’ll be a source of happiness and productivity for them—and that’s when they’ll be more likely to work with you.
- Know who you are. Who are you selling to? What does your product or service do that no one else can do? Establishing a unique brand is a key moment in your business, and it’s going to be necessary if you want your marketing efforts to work.
Your Turn: Did you make your side project into your only project? If so, how did you market it?