How to Start a Side Hustle: Find Your Idea
This story appears in the March 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
Are you a shaky dreamer, an idea machine, or a hopeful founder?
As I’ve coached many entrepreneurs over the years, I’ve found that everyone tends to fit into one of these categories. Shaky dreamers have an idea but lack the confidence to move forward. Idea machines have too many ideas and a hard time choosing one. Hopeful founders are motivated but have no idea where to start.
Each category comes with its own challenges, but the solutions are largely the same: If you want to start a great side hustle, you need to approach it with focus, reality, self-awareness, and a problem-solving mindset.
Here are three steps to choosing the right idea for your side hustle.
Step 1 → Get to know yourself.
Think about what you’re interested in, what you’re passionate about, and what your strengths are. Brainstorm areas that allow you to leverage those talents and interests. Side hustler Marianne Murphy is a great example of this. She wanted to be an entrepreneur but didn’t know where to begin. So she took stock of what she knew: She has a marketing background, a full-time job at a hospital, and five sons. That gave her a starting point — a kids’ health product that required great branding.
Step 2 → Identify a problem.
The most successful entrepreneurs look for problems they can solve, not businesses they can start. Once you’ve identified a problem, explore it! Do not collect 10 different ideas and dawdle on which to pursue. Pick one, then talk to people who have the same problem to see if they’d pay for your solution.
That’s what Murphy did. She knew that kids hate teeth-brushing and wanted to see if she could build a better experience—so she wrote a book and later created a toothbrush that plays music to accompany it. It worked for her children, so she talked to friends, family, and preschool moms to confirm they had the same struggles and got them to try her musical toothbrush.
Step 3 → Iterate; don’t innovate.
So many people think their side hustle idea has to be a totally unique stroke of genius in order to work…but that’s not true. It’s easier (and less expensive!) to put your own twist on an existing idea.
That was Murphy’s path. She started selling her book and brush under the name The Twin Tooth Fairies. Did it reinvent dental hygiene? No. But it offered something fresh. It’s now sold online at Walmart and Amazon, earning her an extra $3,000 a month.
Side hustle ideas can come from just about anywhere. Look within yourself, out in the world, and in the current market to find a need you can fill, and you just might go from a hopeful founder to a successful one.
How Three Side Hustlers Did It
Find the Opportunity in the Everyday
“On Valentine’s Day in 2016, my husband of 27 years asked if I’d like a ‘special cup of coffee’ from Dunkin’ or Starbucks. It was so cold outside that I didn’t want to burden him, and I said we could just have coffee at home. As he was pouring me a cup, I glanced down at the caramel candies that he’d bought for me and my daughters — and I had that aha moment! ‘I have this crazy idea,’ I said. ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could pick up this candy and drop it into my cup of coffee or tea and it would instantly turn it into something special and delicious, and we wouldn’t have to go out and get it?’
That was the beginning of what we now call Javamelts. We had no prior experience in food and beverage, but we were so passionate about the idea — and determined to create a better financial future for us and our three girls—that we decided to just go for it. Now, a few years later, we’ve appeared on QVC, we’re sold out on Amazon, and we’re rebranding to shift to all-natural ingredients. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m showing my girls that it’s worth pursuing the things you believe in.” — Carolyn Barbarite, cofounder, Javamelts
Solve a Problem at Your Day Job
“I was working at Mercedes-Benz USA’s corporate headquarters in 2016 when I noticed a major need for communication and career development among our multicultural and multigenerational workforce. People were coming from so many different backgrounds and hadn’t found ways to properly understand and connect. I wanted to create a solution, so I developed a plan for an all-inclusive group that would help employees and leaders connect with each other for growth and development. I pitched the idea to the head of diversity and inclusion, got the green light, then got an executive sponsor and hit the ground running.
It was a great experience. The group facilitated one-on-one meetings and group workshops and even hosted a speed networking event, where we achieved the impossible task of getting company leaders in the same room to meet and greet with employees. Then I realized there was a bigger opportunity here — I could do this at other companies, too! So while still at Mercedes-Benz, I developed a curriculum that teaches the art of connecting with others for success professionally, and then launched a coaching service called Connect. Now I use this curriculum to coach, host workshops, and deliver keynotes internationally.” — Michelle Enjoli Beato, founder, Connect
Create Ease for Others
“I work for a company that owns the largest Asian grocery store in Jacksonville, Fla., and we work out of an office inside the store. I see customers shopping all the time, and I started thinking about how much easier their lives would be if they had their groceries delivered to them at home. There are already delivery services out there, but they don’t often work with small specialty stores like ours — and that seemed like an opportunity for me.
The grocery delivery business is complicated, and I wasn’t in a position to do it all myself. I was working full-time, while also going to school full-time. When would I be able to run this business? So I approached my boss, the company’s owner, and asked if she’d be my partner and provide 50 percent of the funds needed to launch this. (Plus, we were saving on overhead costs by focusing on delivery.) She said yes. Now we’re running a delivery service for the store, have created partnerships with local restaurants and food trucks, and in the future, hope to expand our service and build an app for our customers.” — Nalae Kim, cofounder, Shelf To Curb
Want to start your own side hustle? Check out our Side Hustle Accelerator and get going today!