Whether you’re pulling in extra income with your primary skillset or testing the waters of owning a full-time business in a new passion, starting a side business can feel intimidating. What are the first things you should focus on doing to get your side hustle off the ground?
Based on dozens of interviews with successful young women business owners on Thumbtack, here are the top six tried-and-true places to target your precious time and attention.
1. Get Reviews
This is a don’t-skip step if you’re just getting started. People want to see what other customers say about your work. For example, our data shows that 85 percent of hires go to pros with at least one review, and in some categories having even one review can double your chances of getting hired.
Ask former clients to seed your reviews. Personal trainer and nutritionist Kaitlyn Noble used Thumbtack to develop her side passion for wellness coaching into a steady client base. “Before I had any clients through Thumbtack, I reached out to my existing and former clients who knew my work well and asked them to write me a review,” Kaitlyn says. “They always said yes—and if a few days went by without a review, I gently nudged them in a very friendly way.”
2. Know Your Worth and Price Accordingly
Do the math on your value and costs. This includes scoping the competition’s pricing. It all starts with really understanding the kind of service you’re providing. Are you offering a white glove event planning experience? Consider pricing at the high end and telling customers what they get with that premium cost. But if you’re just starting out and need to build up your reviews, consider taking smaller jobs or offering discounted services—then make sure you overdeliver for the client.
Understand the pricing nuances of the particular market for the service you offer. Thumbtack has cost estimate pages for hundreds of services, like photography, wedding planning, and life coaching, which are based on research from millions of real professional quotes to customers. If you’re tempted to play it safe by pricing in the average, remember that pricing isn’t the primary driver of getting hired—instead, think about what makes you stand out from the crowd. Customers choose the pro who delivers the best value and seems to genuinely care about their project. Playing it “safe” won’t get you very far.
Value yourself! “Don’t undersell yourself. People won’t always pick the cheapest quote. Help people see your worth,” says Meghan Aro, a personal trainer based on Los Angeles.
3. Your Smartphone Is (Still) Your Best Friend
Mobile business apps make it easy to slip your side hustle into a busy workday. It’s no surprise that 88 percent of millennials on Thumbtack have used their mobile phones to connect with new customers (whether they’re full-time or on the side).
Your phone is the key to connecting with customers fast. This is critical in competitive professions like personal training and wedding planning. Trainer Meghan Aro says she’s “always” on her phone. “I’m rarely on my computer when answering quotes. Thumbtack’s mobile app allows me to be anywhere and get work. I live in LA so job requests in areas like Santa Monica, Venice, and Beverly Hills go quickly. I have maybe 2 minutes to respond before that job request is gone.”
4. Show Off Your Work
Post photos and videos of your work online. Customers may be paying you for a service, not a product, but they still want to see what they’re buying upfront. Invest in high-quality photos of you and your work, whether you’re a party planner, interior decorator, or personal trainer. The most successful professionals showcase 10 photos on average, but the more the better: Thumbtack research shows that in some highly visual services like painting, more than 20 photos can mean a higher rate of success than even 10 photos.
Show your personality. Professional headshots and portfolio photos will help this come through. Customers like to see your smiling face more than a business logo—they want to see who they are hiring.
Help customers imagine the results. For example, if you’re a caterer like Paul and Stephanie Staley, photos can help customers see how your services will delight them and their guests. “Make sure to take pictures of your food to share with your potential clients,” they advise. “It makes a difference.”
5. Be Persistent – and Follow Up
Follow up shortly after initial contact. This is one of the most important ways to seal the deal with customers. Customers are most responsive to brief follow-up messages that connect on a personal level, like information about your background and approach, not necessarily more job-specific qualifications, which feel abstract.
Show genuine interest by asking questions. Top Pro Rachel Grahmann manages a photography and design business alongside her day job and swears by this strategy. “So often the client is waiting for you to ask for more information to better understand what they’re looking for themselves. I’ve also found that clients tend to appreciate suggestions, from a favorite photo location to a unique color scheme for their branding.”
Stay on it. Meghan Aro says, “Consistency is key. People can be forgetful, so follow up with your job requests after a day or two. Remind them you still want to work with them and do your best to meet in person.”
6. Know Your Limits
Know how far you’re willing to travel. Jennifer Kasmer, a personal trainer in Charlotte puts it this way: “Personal training isn’t a one off thing like the dentist or the accountant. If you’re not a stone’s throw away from your customer, you won’t be able to retain them for regular sessions.”
Know when to say no. When she first started her personal trainer and nutrition business, Kaitlyn Noble was so excited by the number of clients flowing in that she overbooked herself. “Once I became more conscious of my personal limit, I was able to create a schedule that allowed me to be truly present, energetic, and the best coach I could be every session,” she says. “Speaking generally, things that helped me find my way were to try different rates and experiment with different messages. Experiment until you find the sweet spot for getting clients.”