Guest Article

University of Houston expert on how to make your side hustle worth your while

Your side hustle should work for you. Photo by Hero Images

Some of today's most innovative companies started as side hustles — businesses born out of garages and dorm rooms, as founders worked a traditional 9-to-5 jobs or focused on school or family.

First of all, what's a side hustle? Chris Guillebeau, the creator of Side Hustle School, defines it as "an asset that works for you" and not just a part time job or a gig.

The side hustle can serve two purposes. The first, to give you some extra cash while you pursue your day job. The second is that the side hustle is your daydream. Either way, it makes sense that more and more people are compelled by the allure of the side hustle. It allows for extra income, it creates the incentive to learn new skills, and it is a creative outlet for many people.

In the years I've taught entrepreneurship classes and worked at the University of Houston's startup accelerator RED Labs and the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship within Bauer College, I've had the opportunity to connect with some phenomenal student and faculty entrepreneurs who are pursuing startups, small businesses, and side projects.

I've also met with a lot of people who had no idea where to start, and no idea what to pursue. I noticed that a lot of the people who were successful at starting a company had actually started with a side hustle. Then, a colleague mentioned that she'd seen the same trend.

I realized then we needed to put more resources into helping the hustlers interested in entrepreneurship. It made perfect sense — if you have the skill to expertly execute a small side hustle, you'll have the confidence to expertly execute a not-so-small business.

That said, expertly executing the side hustle is easier said than done. A side hustle has a science to it, and more importantly, it has an art.

Whether I'm working with founders in our RED Lab startup accelerator or guiding students in our Women In Entrepreneurship course, my goal is to help people figure out the best side hustle to meet their goals, and then how to most effectively create it. These are four key steps I've identified to take a side hustle from a hobby to a potentially profitable business.

Hustle needs heart

First, we talk about brainstorming what kind of side hustle best matches your skill sets. You'll be spending a lot of what used to be "free time" on this new endeavor, and it should be about more than simply making money.

Think about the things that you enjoy doing in your day job (or skills that you wish you had the opportunity to use in your current role). Ask friends and family for suggestions ― you might be surprised at the marketability of the ideas they provide.

Branding is everything

Your raw talent and skills will get you far, but the right branding can take you anywhere. The branding of your side hustle will help to legitimize what you're doing and give potential customers the confidence to work with you.

Your brand is the DNA of your side hustle. It's who you are and how a customer feels after engaging with you. Once you define your brand, think about your brand promise (a single statement that captures the essence of your side hustle) and your brand position (the space your side hustle occupies in the market). The elements of your brand will help to guide the business decisions you make for your side hustle.

Know your value

Pricing is another major consideration when it comes to starting a side gig. In addition to capturing the materials and resources it takes to produce your product or service, you have to consider the time you're taking to run your business. Be sure that at the end of the day, you're actually adding a revenue stream rather than doing a whole lot of work just to break even (or worse, spending money to have a side hustle).

Leverage technology

In any startup, you have to make creative use of all your resources to get the job done. The phrase "there's an app for that" couldn't be more appropriate when it comes to managing the additional work and obligations related to your side hustle.

Thanks to the rapid growth in mobile apps and technology, there's never been a better time to launch and grow your side hustle, straight from your phone. From tracking your business expenses, setting reminders for appointments and calls, designing marketing materials and collateral, connecting with customers, there's all sorts of resources at your fingertips.

Millennials intuitively understand the power of technology, social media, and marketing. You can use all of those skills to your advantage to create a relevant brand and connect to customers. However, there are other concepts and information that you have to understand to create a more legitimate side hustle.

You have to really consider your customer and what unique value you bring to them. You might not be disrupting an industry or creating a life-changing innovation, but you could be putting extra thought and care into your idea that keeps your customers coming back. You also want to make sure your financials and legal requirements are properly handled. The last thing you want is to start a side hustle to make money, only to lose that money (or more than that money) due to poor planning. Make sure your side hustle is working for you.

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Kelly McCormick teaches within the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at Bauer College and is director of RED Labs, the University of Houston's startup accelerator.

Research has found that 86 percent of consumers are now using off premise services at least monthly. Houston restaurants need to factor in that trend and adapt to the shift in the market. Getty Images

The past year revealed a continued increase in the number of people ordering out at home or in the office, rather than dining in a restaurant.

Independent Market Alliance, a network of independent market share leaders in broadline foodservice distribution with 16 brands, found staggering statistics in their research demonstrating that 86 percent of consumers are now using off premise services at least monthly and a third are using it more than they did a year ago. This trend has driven a dramatic increase in third-party delivery service options, further facilitating growth.

Furthermore, consumers now want to better understand the full lifecycle of single-use packaging from how it was made and impact on the environment. With 24 percent of consumers always or usually considering sustainability when purchasing, sustainability has truly become a competitive focus that cannot be ignored, but not willing to compromise on functionality.

Adapting to consumer habits

Restaurants that have traditionally relied on a delivering an exceptional dine-in experience are now being faced with the challenge of creating that same customer experience through their packaging consumed offsite.

Diners expect to receive the same quality of food when they order delivery or take out as they would receive sitting down at a restaurant – from temperature, crispiness to the utensils needed to consume. Quality and the menu item's ability to travel well is important to consumers in the consumers decision-making process as 90 percent at least sometimes think about how well that particular food will travel, according to a recent study by the Cleveland Research Company Foodservice Council.

To combat this, restaurants operators are looking to new delivery solutions such as switching to temperature-control packaging with proper ventilation and carrying packages that separates different foods to prevent sogginess and loss of texture. This is key to succeeding the age of third-party delivery services, as nearly 60 percent of consumers would see the restaurant at least partially at fault if the delivered food is of reduced quality or took too long to arrive, per the study.

There is still a gap, in many instances, between the customer demand and traditional restaurant operators adapting to advanced packaging either due to cost of packaging or lack of product knowledge. National chains have begun to bring in third-party organizations with the core competencies in off-premise product knowledge for guidance and solutions as to what the offsite dining experience could look like. IMA has become a resource to help provide more understanding between cuisine type and the right packaging.

Third-party delivery and packaging innovation

While traditional sit-down restaurants and even their fast-casual counterparts haven't always had the at-home or offsite experience in mind, the rise of third-party delivery systems has led to additional considerations across all operators. In fact, the Cleveland Research Council's Online Food Consumer Survey (Gojak, et al., 2019) shows that 50% of U.S. consumers surveyed have used a restaurant delivery service at least once.

Customers who see that their food provider understands that safety is a priority have increased loyalty to establishment. As a result, the rise of tamper-free packaging has become a staple in food service within the past 18 months albeit providing the security through a label, a stapled bag or even more advanced with plastic seals

Tamper-free food packaging is taking on a higher profile as consumers fret about the possibility of delivery passing through hands of "touchy" third-party workers. Through simple innovations such as seals and button-top lids, tamper-free packaging goes a long way to give consumers peace of mind and demonstrate that operators are concerned about their well-being.

Bottom line, delivery demand is growing given structural tailwinds from shifting consumer demand for convenience and off-site consumption, and operators for both fast casual and traditionally dine-in restaurants must adapt.

Factoring in sustainability 

Sustainability is a frequently used buzzword in the foodservice industry that many do not fully understand. While sustainable and biodegradable are often used interchangeably in the foodservice industry, the word "biodegradable" has been greenwashed and actually means the package will degrade sometime in the next 500 years not what most consumers assume as compostable meaning it will biodegrade between 90 and 120 days

IMA and other industry leaders typically define sustainability of products by items that can be broken down within 90 and 120 days and are made of substrates that can be easily recycled by the average consumer. Many are now looking for ways now to develop these products to be truly sustainable in a way that is cost efficient enough to appeal to operators and help stop this greenwashing

Because operators don't always see the added value of innovative packaging, the additional price tag that comes with also ensuring that packaging is sustainable prevents wider use of sustainable materials in today's take out landscape. For that reason, most operators are just beginning to truly explore the cross over between sustainability and customer experience.

In 2020, operators will still find the greatest success from targeting the customer experience, but as researchers invest in affordable solutions, sustainability in single-use packaging will continue to gain importance.

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Stephanie Nicholson is the senior director of business development and national accounts for Independent Marketing Alliance, a network of independent market share leaders in foodservice distribution with 16 brands.