3 Keys to Make Your Side-Gig Take Off

March 4, 2014


I’ve always had a side-gig—an entrepreneurial business outside the hours of my day job. Some of them died quick or slow deaths, but a couple of them turned into growing businesses that changed my life. The successful ones had a few things in common—things that, according to author Kimberly Palmer, are common to many side ventures that take off, including her own.

Kimberly is the author of The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life, a timely book for a world where our success is becoming more and more dependent on what we do on our own, and less and less about catching a ride on someone else’s success.

To uncover the factors that underlie many side businesses that work out, let’s look at some stories, including Kimberly’s.

A side-gig goes sideways

In her main gig, Kimberly writes about money—how to have more of it and how to manage it—for US News & World Report, where she is the personal finance columnist and Alpha Consumer blogger. In an effort to earn more money and gain some security for her new family, Kimberly started a side business in 2010. That business involved selling a series of money and time planners that she created through her Etsy site, (www.palmersplanners.com) and her website, www.bykimberlypalmer.com. She was passionate about the planners and threw herself into marketing them. And that’s when something weird happened.

While she made money through selling her planners, she discovered she was making more money from her marketing efforts—speaking engagements, guest blogs, her own blog. She was able to earn money through those promotional activities because she was providing valuable financial and productivity advice, rather than merely advertising her products.

A creative accident

Another side-gig success story is Todd Henry, who Kimberly writes about in her book. Todd launched a podcast called The Accidental Creative because of a need to help his team at the non-profit where he works developing new ideas. It took off and so he created a companion website, www.accidentalcreative.com, for his followers. But as the costs of maintaining the podcast and website started adding up he needed to find ways to monetize his work.

To solve that problem, he created a membership community where people would pay for premium content that demonstrated his creative expertise and to interact with Todd personally. He did such a great job building his brand on-line that companies began asking him to speak to their employees about how to increase their own creativity. Eventually, the one-on-ones and the paid speaking gigs he got by building his personal brand made enough money to support his initial business idea—the podcast.

These success stories have a few things in common:

  1. If your marketing activities add real value to your audience, they will pay you for it.
  2. The more you build your brand as an expert the more people will pay you for your expertise.
  3. The business you start might not be the real money engine for you. Instead, the profitable idea is often something you discover while trying to get your original concept going.

These three elements were certainly true for the two side businesses that took off for me, one of which started as a publishing venture. I had coauthored a couple of business books and to help sell them my coauthor and I joined forces with a consultant to develop training programs around the books. Those programs both raised the profile of all of us authors and quickly developed a life of their own. Our joint venture eventually turned into a fully-grown educational enterprise, and the revenue from training was orders of magnitude greater than it was for the books that started it all.

The last word

When I look back at the side businesses that failed for me, I can see that some of them died because I was too focused on pushing the service or product, rather than developing value-added marketing, building my own brand as a champion for the business or opening myself up to following spin-off or related opportunities. I should add that it’s important to be cautious here, because focusing on the training opportunity was one of the keys to its success. So the lesson here isn’t to jump at every new possibility because something isn’t working. You have to use your judgement, but just like Kimberly and I have, keep your mind as open as possible to the idea that your greatest success could lie, not in your original side gig, but in a new side business it spawns.

The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life is an awesome look at starting and succeeding in your side-gig. You can check it out at www.bykimberlypalmer.com.

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about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.