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

 
 

As of this week, Lara Cottingham is the chief of staff at Greentown Labs. Photo via LinkedIn

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

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