There are numerous reasons why people start a side project. Maybe you just want the extra cash or want to finally work on a job that you love. Regardless of the reason, there’s been a long history of side projects, like Gmail and Twitter, that have become successful businesses on their own.

But, how can you become one of these success stories?

Start by following these 9 steps and begin turning your side project into a legit business.

1. Find a problem and solve it.

I’m not saying that you have to re-invent the wheel here. However, you do have to identify a problem and come up with a solution. Otherwise, this whole venture is pointless.

For example, Joel Gascoigne started Buffer a side project because he wanted to be able to easily and conveniently schedule tweets multiple times a day.

Photographer Benji Wagner noticed that there weren’t outdoor products for the young generation of surfers, snowboarders, skaters, and couch surfers that were also affordable. So he launched Poler Stuff.

Both Buffer and Poler Stuff realized that there was a true need for their products and services, along with having a target audience. Their ideas were simple to implement as well, which meant they didn’t have to spend a lot of time perfecting their ideas.

2. Test the water.

The best thing about a side gig is that it gives you the chance to validate your ideas and market. For example, if you were to start a landscaping business, you could mow lawns on the weekends when you have off from your 9-to-5 job. If you have enough customers, you may be on your way to starting a full-time landscaping business.

If you only have one of two yards to do, then you may have to think of a different business and keep mowing lawns as a way to pick-up some extra cash in the meantime.

3. Start marketing your business.

In a perfect world, customers would just come knocking on your door. Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a world. You’re going to have to market your business so that you can find your audience – or at least make it easier for them to find you.

Old school tactics like yard signs, flyers, or ads in local papers worked if you’re a local business like that landscaping example. However, we live in the world of digital marketing, so that’s where you should focus your efforts.

The first place to start is to obtain a blog and website. The best way to go about this is picking a domain, purchasing it on a site like GoDaddy, and set-up WordPress. Today, though, the process is a bit simpler with companies like Weebly.

Whatever path you chose, the idea here is that you start blogging so that you can demonstrate your knowledge and provide value to your audience. You can also use your site as a portfolio to showcase your work whether you’re a web designer or landscaper.

Here’s some other basics for marketing your business online;

  • Write guest articles on leading industry publications or websites.
  • Host a podcast or webinar.
  • Publish an eBook or Whitepaper.
  • Create infographics or instructional videos.
  • Be active on social media.
  • Get listed on leading online review sites.

The best part apart online marketing is that not only can you connect your with audience, you can also do so on a shoestring budget.

4. Pickup clients as a freelancer or presell products and services.

Before committing yourself full-time, start out as a freelancer or preselling your goods or services. For example, if you’re an accountant, then start acquiring clients on the side by joining freelance marketplaces. This allows you to slowly build a roster of clients that you can manage while still keeping your day job. It also helps you gain experience and build a portfolio.

If you’re tinkering around with creating a product or service, then start preselling these items on your website or through crowdfunding. Not only will this validate that there’s a market, it gives you a chance to earn money that you’ll invest back into the company so that you can launch.

5. Define your idea of success.

If things are starting to get busier, you need to sit down and determine how much money you need each month to quit your current job. If you’re getting close to that dollar amount with your side project alone, then that’s a pretty good sign that it can become a successful business.

To accurately define this, make sure that you create and track financial landmarks, as well as a monthly budget.

6. Cross your t’s and dot your i’s.

If you really want to make your side project legit then you’re going to have to consider legal and tax essentials like;

  • Choosing an available business name.
  • Applying for an official business structure like a sole proprietorship or LLC.
  • Registering your business name in your state.
  • Applying for any applicable permits.
  • Obtaining a Tax ID number.
  • Knowing what taxes you’ll have to pay.

Since this is an important area that shouldn’t be overlooked, unless you’re looking for trouble with Uncle Sammy, then use resources like to assist you in figuring out all of these legal and tax issues.

7. Scale correctly.

It’s awfully tempting to go on a spending spree when you have excess money in the bank in order to grow your business. The problem with this method is that this is a surefire way to fail. In fact, premature scaling is one of the main culprits in startup death.

Grow slowly and gradually, but steadily. This business model is a tactic that has worked for numerous companies that began as side projects. Take Craigslist, for example. Craig Newmark started it as a side gig in 1995 and didn’t turn it into a real company until 1999.

8. Avoid burnout.

Between your full-time gig and getting this new business venture off the ground, you’re going to be putting in a lot of hours working. And, that means you’re going to get exhausted and ultimately burnout.

To avoid burnout, try techniques like;

  • Establishing boundaries like the hours that you work and the hours you don’t
  • Asking others for help.
  • Establishing goals and priorities.
  • Building long-term relationships.
  • Using productivity tools.
  • Exercising and eating healthy.

9. Don’t burn bridges.

If the time has officially come to leave your 9-to-5, make sure that you don’t burn any bridges by leaving like a jerk. Give your employer plenty of notice in advance, complete your projects, and remain productive until your final day.

Why? Because what are you going to do if your side project doesn’t pan out as a full-time gig? You don’t want to have any bad blood with a former employer in case you have to ask for your old position back or ask for a reference in your new job search.


Best known as an Entrepreneur and Connector. John was recently named #2 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine as well as a blogging expert by Forbes. He is the Founder and CEO of Due.

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