Take Callum Murray. He’s the CEO and founder of award-winning legal services platform Amiqus that employs over 30 staff and is based in the vibrant Seed Haus building in Leith. Yet, five years ago, he was running a small painting and decorating business out the back of his car. Amongst the tins of paint and dustsheets in the boot, he kept a smart suit so at the drop of a paintbrush, he could slip out of his overalls and into business-ready attire to pitch to clients and investors his idea of what would become Amiqus.
Murray had what is known as a ‘side hustle’ – a secondary business or job that brings in, or has the potential to bring in, extra income. He’s not alone. According to Henley Business school, one in four of the UK population has a side hustle, and it’s growing in popularity, especially amongst millennials who are looking for fulfilment beyond the traditional 9-5 and want to earn additional income without the risk of going all in.
I started my business Prolifiko – productivity coaching for writers – on the side while working full time in publishing and it led to a fascination with why and how people make ideas happen. I discovered that while a business idea is as unique as the person who builds it, there are tried and tested approaches we can all use to get started working for ourselves.
However, I’m not going to sugar-coat it. Building a business is tough – that’s why it’s a hustle. Side hustling involves time, effort and hard work, all done alongside your current commitments. If you start small, work on an idea that excites and motivates you, and build it step by step, you’ll increase your chance of success and find fulfilment in the process.
That’s how Murray did it. He started with an idea born through personal experience – a bad experience at that. His first business was hit by the 2008 financial crash; clients delayed paying for work he’d already completed and cash flow soon dried up. Desperate to keep the business afloat he pursued the debt he was owed through the court, but with no luck. At 22 he was forced to dissolve his business and lay off staff.
The civil court system let Murray down at his time of most need. It got him thinking, he explains: “My frustrations of trying to engage with the legal profession to try and solve a problem made me realise that hundreds of thousands of small businesses would have this type of problem.” He spotted a gap in the market and dreamt of making legal services as easy and accessible for everyone as booking a flight online. To make it happen he needed time, money and a network of experts and supporters.
“I had nil in financial capital,” say Murray, “but I did have good will and social capital. I had the ability to go out and network.” Working as a painter and decorator gave him the financial stability to get a new business off the ground. That money bought him time to explore his idea and gain additional sources of funding, including grants and loan support from Scottish Edge and a year’s fellowship plus a salary from The Royal Society of Edinburgh to research machine learning in the legal sector.
Any good financial advisor will tell you that in addition to managing income, you need to keep costs low. As Murray says: “I’m not an expensive person. I kept my personal overheads low, which meant I was able to go out and get things done.”
As well as keeping an eye on the finances here are some other tactics that can make a side hustle more likely to succeed and the process of going into business more enjoyable.
1. Dream big but start small. Ambition is great – it gets us out of bed in the morning and striving for more. But without a plan, your dreams can come to nothing. You have to start. And by starting small you bypass the fear centres of the brain, lower the stakes, and are more likely to rack up the wins that will keep you motivated, positive and moving forward. For example, think of the smallest thing you need to do to start, it could be telling someone about your idea, naming it, or buying a website domain.
2. Make time. To fit a side project into your schedule you must make the time. That isn’t easy. It involves saying ‘no’ to nice offers, setting boundaries, and reprioritising what’s in your schedule so there’s space to make things happen. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to making time; the important thing is to just do it. Don’t feel bad when you really don’t have the time, but make the most of when you do. You’ll surprise yourself by what you can achieve, even when you’re feeling tired and uninspired.
3. Forget perfectionism. You don’t have the time or money to keep tinkering. Focus on the people your business is serving and get something out to them quickly and often, then use their feedback to improve. Think of each version as an experiment to gather data to inform what you’re doing next. By doing this in small increments you learn fast and improve your idea as it takes shape in the world and it stops you forging ahead with a failed plan when the evidence tells you to quit or change course.
4. Connect with others. Working in isolation is the worst thing you can do for your idea’s survival. So, find friends and peers who can support you, early users who can test and feedback, communities of people who are interested in what you do, and networks of people on a similar journey. Relationships will help you and your business thrive.
5. Focus on the process not the outcome. While you can use various metrics to determine the success of your business growth, such as number of customers, revenue or feedback, only you can define what personal success looks like. Don’t aim for a narrow end target, but instead enjoy the journey.
As you build and test your side hustle, learn from the experience, notice what fulfils you, reflect on what works and what you’d like to do more of, seek out engagement, and be motivated by what excites, challenges and stimulates you. And when things go wrong, you’ll have the resilience to keep going.
As Murray says, “It’s not all sunshine and rainbows.” But building a business, and one which makes a difference to people every day, is one of the most satisfying things you can do.
How To Have A Happy Hustle by Bec Evans is out now, published by Icon books at £12.99.