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How To Use The Internet To Start Your Side Hustle

Following your heart — and your artistic or entrepreneurial dreams — used to require networking with the right people. You needed an agent or another legal representative to publish an album, sell a book, or start a business. But we’re in a new era — one where anyone can become anything if they know how to use the right tools. 

Today, the internet makes all that possible without the extra hassle. It’s more possible than ever to start a side hustle online — or simply gain an audience for a creative endeavor.

Don’t just take it from me — so many well-known public names have started online. Just look at comedian Bo Burnham, who gained traction when one of his songs on YouTube went viral, or Halsey, who scored a record deal after posting her song “Ghost” on SoundCloud. We might make fun of the Fifty Shades franchise, but did you know the infamous E.L. James books started as an online fan fiction post? And the popular YouTube channel “Yoga With Adriene,” which now has more than eight million subscribers and became a therapeutic world community during COVID-19, started as a side project for then-actress Adriene Mishler in 2012. 

Whether you want to make unique crafts on Etsy, sell a novel, or start podcasting, it’s time to gain followers and get the right exposure to launch your dreams. Learn how to garner consumer attention and focus your efforts so your side hustle or independent career dreams can become a reality.

1. Research your interests

The rise of side hustles on the internet flooded most creative markets and overwhelmed consumers. Before the web became a household utility, people only shopped at stores in their town. Now you can find almost anything made by a small business with a virtual shop.

Consider your interests to narrow down which of them drive your biggest dreams. For example, you might love watercolor painting, jewelry-making and restoring old furniture, but trying to create a shop that carries all three items could overwhelm you personally and stop you from creating a clearly identifiable brand. If you have several ideas and interests, thinking about the following factors can help you narrow down your plan for an online business:

  • Which interest means the most to you personally?
  • What do you want to be known for?
  • What do you enjoy doing most?
  • What can you produce more of in shorter periods of time?
  • What is in higher demand?

Do some research to learn more about your future competition. Free online tools like Marketplace Insights on Etsy or SEMRush can help you determine what people are most interested in online. Search for your intended products or services and see which have the highest stats of search traffic and sales. 

While you do want to choose something people are interested in, it’s also important not to enter an oversaturated market — creating a unique niche for yourself is actually more important. If there’s already a million search results for homemade candles, for example, you may do better by knitting baby clothes or making custom-designed notebooks.

Ruben Gamez, founder and CEO of SignWell, explains the importance of researching your market, niche and platform before beginning a creative or business endeavor online.

“The internet is a fast-moving landscape. What worked three years ago won’t work today and what’s working tomorrow will be outdated the day after,” Gamez tells Her Campus. “For example, 10 years ago, blogging was such a big deal. But nowadays the game has shifted to social media influence. Even inside social media, five years ago Facebook was best for organic traction while now Instagram and Tik Tok hold that space.”

So how can you set yourself up for more success before you’ve even begun? “What’s important is to find what’s trending before everyone starts trying it,” Gamez advises. “Once everyone jumps onto the bandwagon, it’ll become saturated. Having an eye on upcoming content distribution methodologies is key for success.”

2. Read about digital marketing

The availability of marketing materials is also how the internet has changed career opportunities. You don’t need an expert or an in-house team to launch a brand. It’s easier than ever before to self-start because you can read about the same tips people learn about in college while you’re eating lunch or watching TV.

Max Benz, founder of Remote-Job.net, talks to Her Campus about why the internet has ushered in a new age of possibilities and provided a platform to entrepreneurs and creative professionals. 

“The internet is not just about communicating with people, it is also a place where [they] can share knowledge, resources, and expertise on any topic they want. Anyone with an idea for a business or creative project can find support on the web through social media groups, digital communities, forums,” and more, says Benz.

Of course, using the internet to your creative advantage is all about knowing how digital marketing works, what tools to utilize for your idea or skill set, and how to find the right niche.

Larissa Pickens, founder of Worksion.com, describes how useful social media is to an aspiring creator, writer, entrepreneur, or internet shop. 

“With digital marketing bridging the barriers,” Pickens says, “it’s a lot easier to reach consumers all around the world. Artisans and creative businesses have been able to leverage this shift in digital marketing.” How? By using social media.

“Thanks to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram,” she says, “creators can now share their talents with people all over the world and garner a large customer base in the process.”

Digital marketing starts with your social media presence. Focus on perfecting one channel based on where your audience spends their time — do you notice more engagement on your Facebook posts, or do your Instagram photos and stories get more attention? Maybe you have a TikTok where you post videos of your crafting process, and people seem to be really interested. Of course, the road to social media success starts with some experimentation, so you might need to set up accounts on different platforms before figuring out which one gains the most traction.

When making a digital marketing strategy, it’s important to know both your intended audience and the platform they prefer. Start by identifying your audience and their interests — who do you want to sell to? What are their needs and their personalities? What kind of content and products do they like? Think about factors like your audience’s age, gender, location and lifestyle — it’s a good idea to map out a “my audience” paragraph or mind map to make sure you have a clear idea of the audience you’re targeting. 

Once you know who you’re trying to reach, think about what platform would suit them best and set up a couple of accounts to start building your presence, then focus your efforts on the channel that people are engaging with most. You’ll maximize your exposure to the most interested crowd without feeling overwhelmed with posting regular content on every possible platform.

3. Learn successful business strategies

The rise of side hustles on the internet is more complex than just making goods and understanding how to market them. You’ll also need a business strategy. In the past, people had to hire contracted experts for advice and growth plans, but now, everything’s at your fingertips with online classes.

Virtual courses often cost much less than in-person classes. You can also pick the specific topics you most want to learn. A class could teach you how to manage risks, accelerate your business’s growth or pitch your idea to investors to get your shop running. 

If you want to learn online, platforms like Udemy, LinkedIn Learning and Skillshare have hundreds of course options to choose from in any subject you can imagine, including online business. Self-starting using the internet is much easier when the world’s experts are ready to teach you right from your couch. 

If you’re still in college and want to go down a more traditional learning route, it’s possible your college or university already offers options you have access to. Email your academic advisor to ask about taking an extra business course credit, check the course catalogue to see what’s available, and look into whether your college — or another — might offer free virtual courses

4. Delegate your time

Your side hustle should add joy to your life. However, if you don’t delegate your time well, it could increase your usual stress level until you want to quit. Working 40 hours a week at your full-time job and then working past midnight on your side hustle isn’t healthy or helpful. This is why time management is so important!

Practicing time management is essential to balancing your side hustle with your full-time job or college courses. To keep yourself focused and avoid multitasking or overthinking, it’s important to separate different spheres of your life into different allocated periods. Plan out certain blocks of time in your day to work on your side hustle, and make sure those blocks are realistically shaped around going to class, working or studying. For example, if you work a 9-to-5 or have classes Monday through Friday, you might take two hours after dinner on Tuesday and Thursday to work on crafting or updating your online business platform. Make sure you have set times to start and stop — otherwise, you could overwork yourself. 

Scheduling around downtime is important too. Give yourself time to relax, recharge, exercise, eat and care for yourself in addition to hustling. Remember — as important as your dream is, your mental health is more important. If you’re working non-stop and getting into a mindset of toxic productivity, where you can’t take a break or you feel as if your self-worth is attached to your work output, business success won’t make you happy — it will just consume all your energy.  

5. Set realistic goals

Self-starting using the internet is another great opportunity because you’ll learn how to set realistic goals. While researching your potential new industry or learning from online courses, you’ll discover which goals are helpful and which aren’t practical.

As you learn about how the internet opens opportunities for artists, pay attention to the stories of other people’s failures. See how they learned from mistakes, like setting quarterly sales goals too high while their business was still growing. There’s no longer a pressing need to pay for expensive tickets to business conferences when firsthand success and failure accounts are easy to read online.

6. Reflect on the practical details

Enjoy the butterflies that come with getting started on your dream — whether it’s a business, a blog, a book or an Etsy page — but don’t forget to reflect on the practical details. The internet has all the resources you need to learn about paying taxes on your small business. You don’t have to consult an expensive accountant or hire them full-time. Read about paying quarterly taxes, estimating those payments, and which ones you’re required to pay as a small-business owner. You’ll get ahead of your annual tax filing bill and avoid getting swamped with debts during your first few years of precarious financial growth.

If you want to know how the internet opens opportunities for artists, writers, and entrepreneurs, just look at the many resources at your disposal. Writers, artists, content creators and entrepreneurs can chase their dreams and eliminate the middleman that used to make starting a small business, publishing a novel, or anything else you want to try more expensive. Learn everything you can and maintain that interest in learning to refine your professional skills while doing what you love.

Experts:

Ruben Gamez, Founder and CEO of SignWell

Max Benz, Founder of Remote-Job.net

Larissa Pickens, Founder of Worksion.com

Ginger Abbot

Arizona '17

Ginger is a freelance writer, English grad student, and content editor for the online publication https://classrooms.com. She loves helping undergrads, grad students and young career women make their way in the world. When she's not reading, writing or editing, Ginger enjoys traveling, landscape painting and British television of any kind.
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