Unpopular opinion alert: I don’t believe in taking the leap from your full-time job without having a plan in place. For years I dreamed about standing up from my corporate desk, proclaiming that I was going to be my own boss and having a total Beyonce-level walk-out moment from the office into my newfound freedom, but…that just didn’t happen for me.
If you, too, daydream about leaving your 9-to-5 to pursue your dream business or bring your side hustle full-time, I know exactly how frustrating it is to feel stuck right where you are! After all, I was there myself just six months ago before I became a full-fledged small business owner. I side hustled outside of work for five years before I decided to focus on this business full-time.
If you’ve toyed with the idea of leaving your full-time job to go into business, or you’re seriously considering doing it soon, this post is for you. I want to share with you exactly how you can start building the roadmap to leaving your full-time job now, so that you’ll feel empowered, confident, and secure when you do.
Since I have a lot to say about this topic (and it’s the topic that I receive the most emails and Instagram DMs about!), this blog post will be split into two parts: this post, Part One, will cover how to build up your side hustle to the point of full-time sustainability, and Part Two will chat through all of the bases that you should have covered before taking the big ‘ol proverbial leap.
Ready to step up your side hustle and feel more legit than ever before? Here are five actionable steps:
1: DEFINE YOUR NICHE AUDIENCE AND HOW YOU’LL REACH THEM.
If there’s anything that I’ve learned from one of my favorite business resources, Being Boss, it’s that niching down – or positioning your business to serve a very specific need, industry or individual – is step one in defining your brand and business values. Positioning your business to appeal to everyone may work for some brands, but anticipating that you’ll appeal to a certain kind of person or community is key.
Ready to find your niche? Here are a few questions to get you started:
• WHAT is your core service, product, or offering?
• WHO can your work serve the best? Get very specific here (i.e. my business serves watercolor artists; my business serves alternative brides; my business serves entrepreneurs who are in their first 1-3 years of business).
• WHY is your core service, product, or offering needed by this niche audience?
• WHERE can you reach your core audience? Are your customers and clients hanging out on Instagram, or are you going to reach them through in-person connections? How will you do this?
2: MAKE THINGS LEGIT (AND LEGAL!) ASAP.
Before I left my full-time job, I registered Lindsay Scholz LLC with the state, got my EIN number and magically felt more legit than ever before. I fully believe that establishing my business as a real, legal entity was the big final push that I needed to get focused, be serious and really make things happen in my business. I like to say that once you’re an LLC (or corporation, or sole proprietorship!), you can no longer define what you do as a “side hustle” – it has now morphed into a business, and you should treat it as such.
So, this is what I want you to do: research what legally registering your business in your state looks like (this information should be available on the website for the Secretary of State where you live!); purchase and claim your website domain; grab all of the social media handles that you need to get started. I promise that you’ll instantly feel motivated to keep chugging along on making this business a big reality more than ever before.
3: FIND YOUR FIRST CLIENTS AND DO THE WORK.
So, once you’ve got your business legit and legal, it’s time to get to work! But…how will you find your first clients? Plus, how will you stand out when it seems like hundreds of other people offer the same services and goods that you do? Ugh!
As a social media strategist and brand designer, I know full well that there are hundreds of other talented business owners out there that offer similar services and packages to mine. But the reason why my clients chose me is because they saw a part of themselves in my work. Whether it was the fact that our visual aesthetics aligned and they liked the design of my website, or they related to a personal post that I shared on Instagram, forging a connection with potential clients across social media, email, and in-person meetings matters.
Need a little push to help you find your first clients? Here are a few ways I connected with my first clients in the past:
• Instagram: This little app has been one of the biggest catalysts for my business. Aim to post daily, but share insights about your life and your work. Keep things balanced, real, and not salesy. Pinpoint hashtags that are relevant to your ideal customer (re: step one of this post!) and forge authentic connections through comments.
• Online freelance marketplaces: I’m very selective when it comes to freelance job marketplaces, but there is one that I trust: CloudPeeps! If you’re in a place where you have a service-based business model in mind but don’t necessarily have the portfolio that you desire, CloudPeeps is a great resource for picking up social strategy, PR, and web development jobs.
• Share what you’re doing with others: This sounds pretty terrifying, huh? Sharing your side hustle (AKA your baby) with others can be downright nerve-wracking, but you never know what it could lead to. Share your new business with your family; mention it to a friend; maybe even post about it on Facebook if you’re feeling really crazy. Word-of-mouth is still one of the most effective means of marketing your business.
4: SET SIDE HUSTLE OFFICE HOURS.
My days side hustling to build up my business (and income!) while working full-time looked a little something like this: wake up early to finish up that business blog post and push it live; get to my full-time job by 8:30 a.m. so that I can work ahead before a day full of meetings and strategy sessions. Try my best to leave at 5 p.m., have a quick dinner and sit down to work on my business for an additional 2-3 hours.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: some of these days were grueling, but they were 100% worth it. For every side hustle client project that I finished, my confidence in myself and my business was boosted just a bit, and I began to believe in myself and my ability to run a business more and more.
But one thing I didn’t do was set boundaries for my side hustle, which is something I wish I had done. So, instead of working endlessly into the night, do this: set weekly office hours to dedicate to your side hustle, with the intention of giving your business your undivided attention. This could look like working 2-3 hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or dedicating all day on Saturday to your business. Do what works best for you, but find balance.
5: ESTABLISH YOUR WALK-OUT DATE AND STICK TO IT.
Now, here’s the fun part – finding a future date on your calendar, circling it in red pen and writing in these big, bold letters: “Last day at my full-time job!” -insert a million exclamation points here-.
Once you’ve established your business legally, found your ideal audience, and have a few clients under your belt, it’s safe to say that you’ve learned a thing or two about how a business runs, how much work you can realistically juggle, what you should charge, and how you can make a game plan to scale your income to support your work full-time.
Armed with that information, it’s time to put a date on the calendar to leave your full-time job and stick with it. This date could be three months from now, six months from now or years from now – but the point is, you need to have a big goal to work toward, and one that you can hold yourself to.
As for me? I side hustled for five years before I fully committed to taking the leap, making my business legit and working for myself. Everyone is different and everyone will have a different timeline that they’re comfortable with – and that’s perfectly OK.
Are you in the process of deciding if you should leave your full-time job to pursue your business? I’m here for you! Let me know if this post was helpful in the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat!
Meet the Author
Lindsay Scholz is a social strategist and brand designer at Lindsay Scholz LLC, where she helps creatives and small businesses establish a purposeful digital presence. Prior to taking the leap into business ownership, Lindsay held various roles in PR, advertising, and social media with notable companies like Caleres and J. Walter Thompson, where her expertise and work was featured by the likes of USA Today, Fast Company, Huffington Post Live, and more. Lindsay currently resides in St. Louis with her husband and two Australian Cattle Dogs, River and Brooke. You can find her on social media at @lindscholz.