Hundreds of online platforms jockey to help side hustlers find viable ways to make money as independent contractors. But you don’t need an online platform, like Lyft or Airbnb, to have a lucrative side hustle.

Just ask Nick Loper, 35, founder of Side Hustle Nation. Loper started his career selling auto parts. But quit the day job when his first side hustle — selling shoes online — became profitable enough to pay a substantial number of his bills.

Uncertain whether he wanted to remain in the shoe business, Loper started interviewing other side hustlers about their businesses, asking for tips on why they started what they started and what made them a success. Before long, the podcast that Loper created from those interviews was drawing such a substantial following that he dropped the shoe websites and went all in on Side Hustle Nation.

Now his podcast draws about 20,000 listeners each week has been downloaded a total of 5 million times. Some 60,000 consumers have signed up for his email list. Loper now makes “a comfortable six-figure income” — more than twice what he earned selling auto parts.

“My first goal was just to make enough to pay my mortgage,” he says. “But I was going through a lot of the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and did a lot of soul searching.”

I asked myself what I wanted to be known for,” he adds. “The ability to make money outside of your day job was so empowering that the podcast just took on a life of its own.” 

How can you create a six-figure side hustle?

Make a graph

Loper suggests that you start with a three-column graph. Label the columns “skills,” “interests,” and “contacts.”

At its most basic level, any business is a system for solving problems, Loper explains. For you to start a successful business, you have to think through the problems you would be uniquely good at solving and who your clients might be.

Are you able to design and build a website? Are your language and spelling skills good enough to help someone edit a book? Are you a design or marketing or sales genius? Are you a gourmet cook or a workout guru? Whatever you do better than anyone else should go in the first column.

But, because you’re doing this in your precious free time, you should also enjoy it. So jot down your interests, hobbies and passions in column two. Love baseball? Collect stamps (or coins or dolls)? Do you spend your free time tinkering in the stock market or reading about the history of European monarchs? Put your favorite pastimes on the list.

Now look at how columns one and two might intersect. For instance, you think you could edit a book? Perhaps it ought to be a book about one of your passions in column two. The more you’re able to connect skills with passions, the more likely you are to have a viable side hustle, Loper says.

Finally, in those areas where your skills and passions intersect, consider who you know who would either need that skill or would be able to introduce you to people who would need your skills.

“You don’t need business cards or a website to start a business, you need a client,” Loper says. “You might get those other things eventually, but focus on finding one person who will pay you to solve a problem for them.”

Loper, for example, was always a decent English student, so he thought he might be able to edit books. However, he wasn’t interested in vampire novels. He was interested in business and personal finance. So he turned to members of a group he had joined that self-published business books to market his services.

“It’s amazing how quickly the word of mouth starts to spread in these communities,” he says.

Specialize

You might be tempted to make your side hustle as general as possible — say, calling yourself an “editor” rather than an editor of personal finance books — to broaden your potential client base. But that’s a mistake, says Loper. You should be zeroed in on not only what you can do, but what you can do better than anyone else because it unites your skills and passions.

“If anyone can do it, anyone will do it and that will drive down the price,” he says. “It’s the same thing with Uber. Driving is not a unique skill, so they have cut the rates continually. But I had a guy on my show who teaches people to play piano in 21 days. That’s unique. If you can be the go-to person in a specific market, you can command higher rates.”

Block the time

When you’ve got a full time job and a family, finding enough time to launch a side business is a legitimate challenge. But even if you can’t block out a big stretch of time, you need to block out some time every single day to push your business forward, Loper says.

“Chip away at it – half an hour a day; an hour a day,” Loper says. “Figure out a time — maybe before you go to work or before you go to bed — to devote to nothing but your side hustle.”

Even a few minutes a day can make a difference, he says. Waiting until you have a big block of time to start is just an excuse to procrastinate and procrastinating accomplishes nothing.

Conduct periodic check-ups

After you’ve been at it for six months or a year, you should take a look at the hours you are spending; the progress you are making; and whether your effort is worth the time.

“When you are not seeing the results you want – or if you come to dread the work – it’s time to move on,” he says.

Plug and play

While you may be able to make more money by starting a side hustle on your own, working within some established “plug and play” platforms can be a good way to develop a client base and make ends meet while your business is getting started.

Loper says he got his start posting his editing availability on Fiverr. He still does self-publishing and some print-on-demand work through Amazon; and offers a course on Udemy. In fact, for him, and many side hustlers like him, a six-figure income is made up from a number of different side hustles, not just one.

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