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How to promote your side hustle like a full-fledged business

Side hustles are here to stay. According to Statistics Canada, the number of Canadian gig workers jumped by 70 percent between 2005 and 2016—that’s an increase of 1 million to 1.7 million people. And that number has likely grown further due to pandemic concerns to supplement incomes during uncertain times.

Side hustles can come in many forms, from home-based online businesses, like writing or weight-loss coaching, to in-person services like driving for a ride-sharing company, to creative endeavours, like developing a website or selling handicrafts online. The list is as endless as your goals.

But when it comes to marketing and expansion, many gig workers and solopreneurs don’t know which way to turn. Some side hustlers maintain a small cadre of clients and/or rely exclusively on word-of-mouth referrals when they’re looking to grow their businesses; others want to secure as much side work as they can get—maybe in hopes of turning their side hustles into full-time roles—and need to develop a digital presence to promote their offerings.

With more and more solopreneurs launching new ventures, it gets tougher to manage your finances as your business grows and stand out enough to attract new customers. Here are six tips for making the promotion of your side hustle possible and just a little bit easier.

1. Commit to the journey

Lisa Tanner, a homeschooling mom of nine children, has been using freelance writing, virtual assistance, and blogging to help pay the bills since 2015 with her business lisatannerwriting.com. She has become an expert on what it takes to maintain a successful side hustle.

For her, the first step was simple: Make sure what you are doing is something you really enjoy, because it will eat into whatever free time you have. Second, don’t expect to know everything. “This point is often the hardest since it’s so easy to get caught up in wanting to learn it all before you begin,” says Tanner. “You will never have it all down, so don’t let this stop you. You’ll learn so much just on your side-hustle journey alone.”

Lastly, it’s not just about knowing what you want. It’s also about growing it. If you’re committed to your side hustle, you’ll be willing to take the consistent steps needed to develop new habits and long-term strategies, like creating a solid marketing plan to achieve your goals. Once you’ve committed yourself to a given side hustle, “do something every day to promote your business,” says Tanner.

2. Create a website

Having a website, or centralized place to advertise your services, is critical to business success and the first step to promoting yourself. If your target customer is likely to be looking online for what you provide, you want to be as “findable” for them as possible. Without a website, you may not be found.

Thankfully, it’s easier and less expensive than ever to build and maintain a dedicated website. If you don’t have any skills when it comes to web design or development, you could hire someone to do it for you, or consider using an out-of-the-box solution like WordPress, Shopify, WIX, or Squarespace.

If you use a content management system, such as WordPress, there are themes built right into it that you can download to build your site. Prices are based on how complex your needs are, but you can spend anywhere from $25 to $200 or more (one-time fee) on a premium theme.

3. Leverage social media

Try using your personal social media accounts first to promote your side hustle by posting links to your website and showing off your products or recently completed work. Engaging with potential customers through your personal accounts shows that there’s a human behind the work you do and gives you a way to drum up interest in your business prior to launching a dedicated business account.

Once you’ve mastered your personal accounts, you can look into creating a business account on social media, as well as new handles for your business, which can be used to engage in social media commerce. You can also cross-reference your business and personal accounts for even more awareness.

Depending on what products you offer, you may want to sell items using Facebook, TikTok, Amazon, Reddit, Pinterest, or Instagram Shopping (though you must sell physical goods and link your Instagram to a Facebook page in order to qualify for the latter).

Keep in mind, however, that social media marketing isn’t necessary for everyone. Tanner, for example, uses social media for networking rather than self-promotion. “I do participate in some Facebook Groups,” she says, “but I see those more for building relationships with other entrepreneurs. I’ve connected with some amazing people in the groups.” LinkedIn can also be a good outlet for finding connections and clients.

With social media or any other forms of marketing, it’s wise to “really think about any marketing you do and make sure it’s a good fit,” says Tanner.

4. Utilize digital advertising

To boost the “findability” of your website, you may consider paying for digital ads. Using Google ads manager, for example, you can bid on terms related to your business—e.g., “dog walkers in [your location]” or “graphic design freelancers”—to gain exposure to people looking for your services.

Social media offers advertising avenues, as well. Consider Facebook or Twitter ads, which are relatively cheap and can reach people you may not have access to. Also, launching a Twitter campaign can spark interest in something special, like a sale or new product launch, or build brand awareness in general for your business.

The key to any ad strategy (on social media or elsewhere) is to try things out and test if they work. If you don’t see meaningful results, move on. “Don’t take out ads just because everyone else is doing so,” says Tanner. “It’s a strategy that works for many people, but it has to make sense for your business.” Have the patience for a little trial and error to find the right ad for your hustle.

5. Make the most of referrals

For many solopreneurs, including Tanner, referrals from existing clients are the most valuable source of new business. Being recommended to others starts with providing excellent service and establishing a strong relationship with each individual client. “It’s so important to do your best work, treat your clients courteously, and own your mistakes when you’re trying to get referrals,” says Tanner.

Being able to communicate well also plays a big role. You want to keep your clients in the loop and be willing to ask for help when you need it. “All of these things can build your relationship with your existing clients,” adds Tanner. “And when you have a good relationship with someone, they’re much more likely to send additional work your way through referrals.”

As you build up your stable of client relationships, consider asking a few of them for reviews you can add to your website. This kind of proof on your page can help solidify your online reputation for new customers who find you without a referral.

6. Stay engaged with email marketing

Depending on what services you offer, your clients may be interested to hear from you in automated marketing emails or weekly newsletters. These formats can give you an avenue for communicating new discounts, features, or updates on your business. Marketing emails also are a good way to capture email addresses and send information creatively that includes a direct call-to-action. MailChimp, Constant Contact, or the Klayvio app on Shopify are a few do-it-yourself solutions. You can usually find free trials to help you figure out which service best suits your needs.

The right email marketing strategy differs for every side hustle. The key is to stay engaged with who you want to keep you top of mind. As a blogger, Tanner has a segmented strategy. “I use email marketing to stay in touch with my blogging email list, not my freelance writing or virtual assistant clients,” she says. “I stay engaged with my audience by publishing new blog posts, answering questions they send my way, and weekly emails.”

Keep up with regular maintenance

Ultimately, launching and growing a side hustle can be a rewarding journey. The challenges are many, but the right digital promotion can help you stand out. The sooner you start creating your marketing presence, the more potential you have to shine—and make your side business successful.

But also don’t forget that as you grow your side hustle, it’s crucial to lean on your professional relationships for guidance—from financial planners to lawyers to tax experts—which can go a long way in keeping your side hustle on track. As your business continues, “it’s also important to stop and reflect—what is working, what isn’t, what do you enjoy, what do you not enjoy?” says Tanner. These moments of self-reflection can really help grow your side hustle into a sustainable business.

For more on how to successfully run your side business, contact a Coast Capital advisor.

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