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.

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Here's what not to miss at the first all-virtual CERAWeek by IHS Markit. Screenshot via virtual.ceraweek.com

While usually hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more descend upon Houston for the the annual CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference, this year will be a little different. Canceled last year due to COVID-19, CERAWeek is returning — completely virtually.

The Agora track is back and focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — can be accessed through a virtual atrium.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

Monday — New Horizons for Energy & Climate Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has made vivid and real the risks of an uncontrolled virus. Risks posed by climate change are also becoming more palpable every day. At the forefront of understanding these risks, universities are developing solutions by connecting science, engineering, business, and public policy disciplines. Along with industry and governments, universities are critical to developing affordable and sustainable solutions to meet the world's energy needs and achieve net-zero emission goals. Can the dual challenge of more energy and lower emissions be met? What is some of the most promising energy and climate research at universities? Beyond research, what are the roles and responsibilities of universities in the energy transition?

Featuring: Kenneth B. Medlock, III, James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow In Energy And Resource Economics, Baker Institute and Senior Director, Center For Energy Studies at Rice University

Catch the panel at 1 pm on Monday, March 1. Learn more.

Tuesday — Conversations in Cleantech: Powering the energy transition

With renewables investment outperforming oil and gas investment for the first time ever in the middle of a pandemic, 2020 was a tipping point in the Energy Transition. Low oil prices intensified energy majors' attention on diversification and expansion into mature and emerging clean technologies such as battery storage, low-carbon hydrogen, and carbon removal technologies. Yet, the magnitude of the Energy Transition challenge requires an acceleration of strategic decisions on the technologies needed to make it happen, policy frameworks to promote public-private partnerships, and innovative investment schemes.

Three Cleantech leaders share their challenges, successes, and lessons learned at the forefront of the Energy Transition. What is their vision and strategy to accelerate lowering emissions and confronting climate change? Can companies develop clear strategies for cleantech investments that balance sustainability goals and corporate returns? What is the value of increasing leadership diversity for energy corporations? Can the Energy Transition be truly transformational without an inclusive workforce and a diverse leadership?

Featuring: Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, which is opening a location in Houston this year.

The event takes place at 11:30 am on Tuesday, March 2. Learn more.

Wednesday — Rice Alliance Venture Day at CERAWeek

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship pitch event will showcase 20 technology companies with new solutions for the energy industry. Each presentation will be followed by questions from a panel of industry experts.

Presenting Companies: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

The event takes place at 9 am on Wednesday, March 3. Learn more.

Thursday — How Will the Energy Innovation Ecosystem Evolve?

Although the cleantech innovation ecosystem—research institutions, entrepreneurs, financiers, and support institutions—is diverse and productive, converting cleantech discoveries and research breakthroughs into commercially viable, transformative energy systems has proven difficult. With incumbent energy systems economically efficient and deeply entrenched, cleantech innovation faces a fundamental dilemma—the scale economies necessary to compete require a large customer base that does not yet exist. How is our clean energy innovation ecosystem equipped to be transformative? What needs to be strengthened? Is it profitable to focus on individual elements, or should we consider the system holistically, and reframe our expectations?

Featuring: Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president at Chevron Technology Ventures

The event takes place at 7:30 am on Thursday, March 4. Learn more.

Friday — Cities: Managing crises & the future of energy

Houston is the capital of global energy and for the past four decades the home of CERAWeek. Mayor Sylvester Turner will share lessons from the city's experience with the pandemic, discuss leadership strategies during times of crisis, and explore Houston's evolving role in the new map of energy.

The event takes place at 8 am on Friday, March 5. Learn more.

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