Secrets to Launching a Successful Side-Business

January 7, 2014

Side-gigs, from blogging and life coaching to freelance writing or web designing, are quickly becoming an essential part of building a successful career in the new economy. In addition to bringing in (even modest) extra income, they help us learn new skills, make new connections, and discover the true value of what we have to offer the world.

When I launched my own side-business of selling money planners on the handmade marketplace Etsy, I hoped for little more than selling a few copies so fund my own gift purchases on the site. Instead, I ended up creating workbooks that have now helped hundreds of people organize their finances, finding a new community, and working on some of the most satisfying projects of my career.

As with many other side-giggers, my entrepreneurial venture actually contributes to my full-time job. I’ve learned new online marketing, design, social media and technical skills that I can now apply to my primary job as a writer and editor. With those kinds of benefits, it’s no wonder that the Young Entrepreneur Council reports that one in three millennials have launched side-businesses. The trend extends far beyond young people: A MetLife survey found 17 percent of 30- and 40-somethings freelance to give their incomes a boost and 12 percent of baby boomers do the same.

If you’re ready to join the movement, here are five strategies to consider:

1. Spin your existing skills.

The most successful side-giggers take advantage of the resources, contacts, and skills they’ve already built up in their day jobs. For me, that meant using my personal finance and writing background to make planners. For Stevens Institute of Technology head hockey coach Emily Beach, it meant inventing a new kind of training hockey stick, the Dribble Dr. For former art teacher Morgan Hoth in Richmond, Va., it meant designing silk scarves and selling them online.

2. Leverage your contacts.

Chances are you already know people who can help you with your budding business, even if you don’t realize it yet. Share your new project on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and any other online community you are part of. Your contacts will probably offer recommendations, introductions, and support.

When a client of Steve Lemler, a chief financial officer for a wireless communications company in Kansas City, Missouri, left him a positive recommendation on his LinkedIn profile, new clients started contacting him almost immediately. Now he generates steady extra income on the side, which he puts toward family travel plans, a college savings account for his daughter, and his own Roth IRA for retirement.

3. Avoid conflicts.

The fastest way to create a financial catastrophe is to create a conflict with your full-time job: Working on your side-business on company time, stealing clients, or working for competitors are all big no-nos, but so are subtler ethical violations. Be sure to clear any questionable activity with your supervisor.

4. Impress your boss.

Many companies, though, are happy to have enterprising employees on staff. Colleagues of Olympic-hopeful Alisha Williams, a marathoner who also works as a certified public accountant for an energy company in the Denver area, embrace her running ambitious and schedule meetings around her training and racing commitments.

5. Flaunt your hybrid status.

Describing yourself on your LinkedIn profile, as well as other social media accounts, in terms of your new hybrid identity, is the best way to start spreading the word about your new venture. People who search for you online will immediately learn about your side-business.

The satisfaction of doing work that reflects your deepest skills and ambitions, along with the extra income it generates, is the best part of building the economy of you.

Kimberly Palmer is the author of the new book, “The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life,” and senior editor at US News & World Report.