All side hustles are not created equal. Anything that takes away from your main business requires serious consideration before embarking upon. Additional projects have the potential to add or subtract. They can make or break an entrepreneur and their business.
Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different impression of what a side hustle brings. Some see it as an additional income stream, helping them diversify and not have all their eggs in one proverbial basket. Others are so focused and aware of where their attention goes that they are proudly non-serial entrepreneurs and tunnel vision with their enterprise.
Without a clear idea in your mind, you could be side-tracked by what works for someone else. Here’s how to identify the type of side project yours is and make the right decision for the way forward.
Your main business
Let’s use the analogy of a car for your main business. You invested in your car and now you are in charge of running it. Your car takes you where you want to go. It’s reliable and it serves you well.
All the energy and focus that goes into your car comes back to you. You look after it, it looks after you in return. You keep it clean and maintained with regular servicing. You treat it well, it runs smoothly. You make the car look and sound good and it gets noticed. You get out what you put in, sometimes more.
Multiply in the short term by improving the engine
Starting some side projects is like putting a better engine in your car. With the same effort, it will go further, faster and more efficiently. You burn less fuel over more mileage. If your car is solid and can handle it, upgrading the engine will be a good decision all round.
In side project terms, this is those that ramp up your efforts whilst channelling energy in the same direction. It’s the press and media appearances that put you in front of your perfect audience, the podcast tour with popular shows, the talks and events where you meet future customers. It’s the business you invest in that shares the same target audience but requires none of your time. It’s the upgrades and the improvements that mean you can do more for your customers.
Once your assets, processes and people are firmly in place, side projects that act as engines mean you can do more, better. You can make your mark in a shorter space of time and make a bigger impact. They multiply. The trick is in spotting the worthwhile experiments and the relevant trials, not the needless distractions.
Multiply in the long term with trailers
Some side projects act like trailers to your car. They are add-ons that might slow it down at first. The car has to get used to the trailer being there. It must learn how to steer and brake accordingly. In the short term, carrying the trailer takes resources away from your car and going the same speed requires working harder.
Over time, however, it works out. The car and the trailer can do more together. They are a more serious outfit. They carry more cargo, run well and can ramp up output whilst using the same wheels and driver. There are efficiencies made in every lane and the car gets used to being part of a bigger vehicle. The spec has changed and you’re racing on a different road.
In side project terms, these are the additional projects that gel with your main business. The vertical or horizontal integration. The restaurant’s meals at home service. It might require a different menu and more hands on deck, but the kitchen space is shared and the new offering brings more to the same loyal customers. It’s the agency offering another service to its existing clients. The coffee shop buying a coffee roaster or opening a new store. The author writing another book. The fitness centre investing in machinery for making gym equipment or hardy sports apparel.
As with the engine, the car needs to be solid first. A trailer on a car not fit for purpose will mean both break down. For a car comfortable with adding trailers, each additional one is a lesser burden. There’s a system in place and progress seems effortless.
Subtract and divide by buying a scooter
Some side projects are the car analogy equivalent of buying a scooter. You’ve taken the time to work on your car, hone the engine, ensure it’s running well, then you swap transport all together. Perhaps the scooter can fit in the car, but you can’t ride both at once. On paper it makes no sense. You had a perfectly good car, ready for a new engine and multiple trailers and ended up jumping ship for an alternative mode.
In side project terms, this is the unrelated endeavour. Having two jobs with no crossover of skills. Building a scalable business whilst being booked for irrelevant gigs. It’s the tech business holding a weekend bake sale, the agency owner starting a wedding band, or the landscape gardener making clothes for dogs. No crossover, no economies of scale, no point.
A side project is a scooter when its success can only come at the detriment of your car. For a car owner considering a scooter, something is going wrong. They’ve likely gotten bored with their car or are taking it for granted. The passion is gone and there’s no inclination to revive it. In terms of time and energy, something has to give. Cars rarely tick along without some TLC every now and again, so the cost of the scooter must include the losses the car might now incur.
Engine, trailer or scooter?
If in doubt, work on your car. Build the solid foundation, get it ready to scale and able to handle a new engine or new additions. If there’s no passion left or you’re onto a damp squib or slow burner, it might be time to start from scratch entirely.
Occasionally side hustles go really well and end up becoming an entrepreneur’s main focus. But for someone with an established business, they are far less likely to be worth the risk. There’s rarely a good reason to completely divide your attention. Look out for engines and trailers and avoid the scooters.