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Growing from hobby to business
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Hi 👋 and welcome to Dan’s Growth Newsletter, where I try to help you grow your business. If you like this content, subscribe (it’s free)!
Q: I have a cool side hustle that makes some money, but I’m having a hard time turning it into my full time job. How can I make the change?
Lots of people are running some version of a side hustle, but it definitely can be challenging to figure out how to grow enough to make your side hustle your full time job.
Luckily I was in Birmingham Alabama last weekend and was invited to speak on exactly this topic. These notes are from the presentation I gave.
Advice to past Dan
The first thing I considered when preparing my presentation was what advice would I offer myself before I knew much about marketing.
A little bit of background on me, I studied Spanish linguistics in undergrad and went to one year of graduate school studying computational linguistics. So my background was not in marketing. I do think I had a bit of a natural disposition to it, I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and smart people, so my dinner conversations and family reunions were very insightful and I attribute a lot of my early success to having good examples of marketing and business within my own family.
Once I was in grad school I was offered a position to join a solar company and help their marketing efforts. I told them I didn’t have any formal experience and that I would want to spend the first few months just studying. Once they agreed, I jumped on board and never really looked back.
After some time with the solar company I decided to try and freelance, mostly because I felt that my learning pace was faster than the solar company could move. I continued to contract with them, but started working with other small clients to learn more.
This is really where my growth and marketing expertise started to develop, and why the following strategies are those that I offer.
Strategy 1: Get specific with your target market
This strategy applies to almost any business. You might decide to target schools, banks, doctors offices, dentists, tech companies, whatever. Whatever space you know best.
By focusing on one niche, you are solving problems that everyone in that space has. If you decide to target dentists, you are forced to learn what problems dentists have.
Then once you understand their problems and have some experience solving them, it’s much easier to go to a new dentist client and understand why they would want to hire you and what value you provide.
Selecting a specific target also allows you to refine your marketing and advertising. Your ads are going to a very specific group of people. Your website becomes a persuasive product marketing tool because it’s specific to one group and doesn’t have to cater to needs of other segments. Even your products or service offerings can get more specific because you don’t need to add extra pieces for other clients.
Strategy 2: Build a conversion focused website and prove it works with experimentation
Your website is one of your most powerful sales tools. Your website is making sales or driving leads while you’re asleep. In addition, a good looking website builds trust and develops a relationship with leads and clients before you’ve even had a conversation on the phone.
If I visit your website and it isn’t immediately clear what your product or service is, you should clarify. Your website needs to inspire confidence in what you do and your ability to do it. If you visit a poorly designed or developed website, you don’t trust the business.
Having a functioning and good looking website is a must in today’s business environment, and a crucial component in scaling from hobby to business.
Once you have your website built, be prepared to experiment and prove that your website is working. Your website might be the most beautifully designed website on planet earth, but if it isn’t converting then no one actually cares. I’m going to say this a lot about content too, you can write the most incredible content in the world, but if no one ever sees it, no one cares.
Your website needs to be focused on providing a specific and planned user experience.
You don’t need to look far for examples, but check out Apple’s website and explore their user experience. Everything they do is focused on getting you to convert or make a purchase. Most good websites are designed this way.
This doesn’t mean you can ignore design in favor of conversion, you need to have both. Check out my newsletter on design and how important it is for your business for more on that.
Strategy 3: Install and study website analytics
Once you have your beautiful website and you’re prepared to experiment to make sure it’s converting, you need to make sure you have clear data analytics so you can understand how people are using your website.
Google Analytics is a great place to start, but if you can go deeper, you should. I personally really like Heap.io’s analytics tool because it allows you to track every action a user takes across your site, to an almost creepy level of detail.
The point of having these analytics is to better understand the user journey and the user expectation on your website.
Are users getting to your website and exploring? Where are they clicking? Are they buying or filling out forms?
The scenario you are trying to avoid is one I encountered recently when helping a friend with her website.
She had no analytics or tracking on her website but was spending money advertising. She was concerned that her ads weren’t working as effectively as they had in the past, a very valid concern. The problem was that she had no website analytics on her site, and therefore had no visibility into what was happening. She could see that people were clicking on ads and then she was getting form submissions and phone calls, but everything in between was a black box.
By installing website analytics we were able to identify where her traffic was coming from and her conversion rates based on her channels.
Surprisingly we learned that her biggest channel was word of mouth referrals, something that had nothing to do with her ads. We were also able to identify her conversion rate and start to build experiments to see if we could make improvements.
After just a few weeks of working on her website, we were able to improve her website conversion rate from 5% → 8% just by having better visibility and improving the user experience on her website.
Strategy 4: Produce high-quality, subject matter expert content
I went into depth recently on why your business needs a blog, and a lot of those principles apply here, but I want to expand further because a blog is just one option for producing content.
You should also be working on video content, images, anything that can help your business get more visibility.
People get nervous about writing blogs or recording themselves, but those same people also love to read and watch content where people talk about their favorite things. The barrier to entry for content production, video or written, has never been lower.
I should clarify high-quality too. High quality doesn’t mean you have a million dollar budget or a whole team of producers. High quality is referring to the information in your content. It could be you in your basement recording yourself on your phone. Doesn’t matter. What matters is what you say. If you want to produce high quality content, you need to focus on answering questions that you and your customers have.
So when people ask, “what should I blog about?” I always say, “what questions are your customers asking?” I think the low hanging fruit for content production, especially when running a business, is answering customer questions. How much does it cost? How does it work? Answering these questions will boost your organic profile and give website visitors information about your business, what you do and show everyone that you are an authority on the topic.
The overall goal of content production is to build trust. You don’t need a fancy soundstage to build trust, in fact, sometimes being in your basement builds more trust because its real and authentic.
Show your audience that you are an expert and build trust with your content.
There are lots of things you can do to grow your side hustle and make it your full time job, these are just some ideas and they certainly aren’t the end all be all.
But these strategies will work and help you grow. These strategies are in my playbook for every company I’ve ever worked for, and they really work.