Brands, side hustles and the power of empowerment - making work, work for you

For many people, work plays a huge role in our lives.  It therefore has a huge influence about how we feel in general, for example whether we suffer from “work-related-stress” or experience “job satisfaction”.  Realistically, for most people, the need to earn a living is the primary consideration, which is totally understandable, but that should never put anyone off working to improve their situation, whether that’s “getting the perfect job” or “creating the perfect job” (or a mixture of both).  What’s even better is that the steps you take towards getting or building your perfect job will also help you to future-proof your income against changes in circumstances.
With that in mind, here are three questions I think everyone of working age should ask themselves on a regular basis (by which I mean at least once a quarter).  Everyone means everyone, both employees and the self-employed.
  1. If I lost my current main source of income tomorrow, what would be my quickest option(s) for replacing it?
This question roughly translates as: “What in-demand skills do I have right now (or acquire really quickly) and how can I demonstrate them?”.  Both points matter.  You may know that you have a great skill level but you need to be able to demonstrate that to a potential employer/client right from the CV/proposal-writing stage.  Do you have any qualifications in the area?  Do you have a portfolio?  You want to have compelling evidence of your skills in place and ready so you can move quickly to replace your main source of income if need be rather than waiting until it’s gone!
  1. If I knew, in advance, that I was going to lose my main source of income at some point in the near future, what would be my best option(s) for replacing it?
In other words: “What can I do to upskill myself and/or to develop/improve a feasible business over the coming 6 months to a year?”.  The greater the challenge, the more effort it takes to achieve it and that usually means committing more time.  Six months to a year is usually enough to achieve meaningful goals.  Although it may sound like a cliché, the basic idea is to keep developing yourself continually, both for your own satisfaction and for the sake of being able to produce an income.
NB: In addition to improving your employment prospects, steps 1 and 2 will generally put you in a much stronger position for generating income as a freelancer if you want or need to (this applies regardless of whether you’re currently an employee or an existing freelancer).  If it’s feasible in your situation, it can certainly be worthwhile to start taking on some freelancing work, even on a very small scale, to start getting familiar with the freelancing world.  If not, however, it’s unlikely to be a huge issue if you need or want to freelance later.  The reason for this is that the process of getting freelance clients tends to be fairly similar to the process for getting paid employment, it’s just the manner and conditions in which the work is conducted which differ.  
  1. If I lost my current main source of income, in an ideal world, how would I like to replace it?
This is the big one.  What do you actually want to do and what’s stopping you from doing it right now?  Once you identify what you want to do, you can start to chart out a plan for getting there.  It may take a while, in fact, there’s a very good chance it will, but at least you’ll be putting yourself in a position to succeed and that’s where side hustles come in.  A side hustle is either a mini-business, which you could turn into a full-time viable business if you chose or, as a minimum, the foundations for such a business, which it would be relatively easy to monetize if you so chose.
Let me explain.
The most successful businesses are typically based on brands first and products/services second.
If you have a strong brand, people will want to buy from you whenever they can for that reason.  Strong brands develop when the person or people behind the brand has a strong relationship with those in the relevant community and, in particular, when the brand has the trust of the community as a whole.  Building these relationships and developing that trust is often the challenging and time-consuming part of creating a business.  The good news is that if you know the area in which you would like to build a business you can build a powerful brand in this this niche, even when you are still in employment and banned from working elsewhere.  You can then, if you choose, use your established brand as a launch pad for a new business, be it as a side hustle or as your main source of income.  The way to build a strong brand is to become a go-to person in this niche, an authority figure who is liked, respected and trusted.  There are basically two steps to achieving this:
  1. Go to where the people you want to meet are now and get on good terms with them there.
  2. Encourage them to go to where you have your (online) presence.
The easiest way to demonstrate how all this works in practice is with an example.
You’re employed full-time in an office job, but actually, you’d far rather earn your living from your real passion, which is gardening and nature.  Your contract forbids you from taking up additional paid employment and you believe that starting a self-employed business could put you on thin ice with your employer, which, at this point, would be very uncomfortable for you financially as you really need your employment income.  So, what do you do?
Step 1: You think about what you need to do to keep an income coming in right now.  If you work in an office, chances are you have typing and computer skills.  How up-to-date are they and how easy are they to demonstrate?  Can you upskill yourself reasonably quickly, for example by taking a course to improve your skills in key applications such as Excel or a course in transcription typing?
Step 2: With a few “quick wins” under your belt, it’s time to work on upskilling yourself, so you maintain and/or improve your employability.  For example, if you’re a great typist and you enjoyed learning transcription, then it might be a good idea to take it a step further and study a specific niche such as medical or legal transcription, on which you could then build further if you so choose.  If you’re mathematically inclined and you have already brushed up your Excel skills, then how about learning bookkeeping?
Step 3: Now you’ve taken steps to secure your income for the immediate and near future, it’s time to think about making your dream a reality.
So, in the case of our example, the obvious place to go is gardening forums, where you work to become an established and valued contributor.  You can then use the insights you gain from these forums to create original content for your blog, which you host elsewhere.  Once you have become recognized as a valued forum member, it is usually absolutely fine to point people to external content, including your own, as long as it is relevant to the topic.  So, for example, if someone has asked a question about watering plants, you could write a blog post on the topic on your own site, then go back to the forum, offer the poster some quick tips and refer them to your blog for more detailed information.   If blogging is not your style, then you could open a YouTube channel or an Instagram account, maybe a Pinterest board.  The choice is yours, I’d just recommend you focus your efforts on social media platforms which are:
1: used by people looking for answers to problems (unlike Facebook, which is basically a digital coffee lounge).
2: capable of accessibly storing an archive of content (Twitter, Periscope and Snapchat may be fun, but the temporary nature of the content is a drawback here).
Number 1 tip for starting a side hustle – own your own domain.
Domains are very affordable.  The exact price will vary depending on what domain you choose, but they are very affordable.  Secure yours before you start building your web presence so that you have it for future use.  If you start a blog, which I strongly recommend, you can actually point your own domain towards Blogger.  In other words, if you buy a domain called “”, you can give this address to people and when they type it in, they will be sent straight to Blogger for as long as you choose.  If you then move to another hosting platform, all you need to do is change the settings on your domain and send them to your new online home instead.
Build your brand first and then decide what you want to do with it
You may start your side hustle as a precursor to starting your own business but then find that it opens doors to work as an employee in positions which would otherwise have been closed to you.  That’s absolutely fine.  The great point about building up your standing in a niche about which you are passionate is that you keep ownership of it and as long as you continue to contribute to your niche, you will continue to maintain your standing and will be able to use it as a foundation for building your own business in future should you ever wish to do so.
NB: Generally speaking, if you’re operating in different niches, you want different brands.  Going back to the example above.  If the person in question had to decided to move into freelancing to bring in an income while they built their own gardening business, they would probably have been best advised to build and manage two separate brands, one for their freelancing (say as a medical transcriptionist) and one in the gardening world.  In terms of freelancing, while it’s perfectly feasible to run your own website, you may well find that it’s enough just to have a full, complete and up-to-date LinkedIn profile, which demonstrates your credentials.
Turning a hobby into a business
As, the old saying goes: “Do what you love and you’ll love what you do”, but before you decide whether or not you want to make that move, you need to be clear on the difference between a hobby and a business.
A hobby is something you do purely for enjoyment; a business earns you money.
This may seem obvious, but it actually has a number of ramifications, including legal ones.  At a basic level, people expect value for money.  If you’re giving away something for free, they have very little scope to complain, but if you’re charging them, then the dynamics change.   The legal position can also change as well.  In the UK (and I would suspect many other places), businesses are expected to meet higher standards than private individuals.  Therefore, when thinking about how to turn something you love into something which earns you an income, there are two questions you need to answer:
1, How, specifically, am I going to make money out of this?
2. What legal requirements do I need to meet?
Basically, the answers to these two questions will almost certainly form the core of your business plan.
There are many factors which will determine whether or not your business will ultimately succeed and a lot of them revolve around the following five key points (which are also useful for employment).  I’ll talk more about these topics in later posts, but for now, here they are in brief.
Get good at self-care
This may seem an odd one to put first but bluntly looking after your physical and mental health is critical to being able to enjoy a fulfilling life.
Tackle priority management
Some people like to talk about time management; I like to talk about priority management.  In other words, use your time where it matters most.
Learn to appreciate the importance of finance
There’s a lot more to life than money, but the simple, harsh, truth is that lack of money can be really painful.  Learn to manage it properly and you’ll relieve (or at least reduce) a source of stress, which will impact your quality of life.
Understand you will be responsible for your own brand
Managing your brand requires seeing yourself as others see you.  Powerful brands are huge assets.  They can take a long time to build and can be destroyed in, literally, a few seconds.  If you think I’m exaggerating on this, try Googling “Gerald Ratner”.
Appreciate the importance of relationships

Businesses are built on relationships, for example your relationship with your customers, your relationship with your suppliers, your relationship with people who can help you in some way.  Appreciate both the people themselves and the importance of relationships in general.  Do everything you reasonably can to build, curate and maintain them.

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