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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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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