How to Turn a Side Gig Into a Successful Career

Side gigs, or part-time jobs you do outside your regular work, have become really common. But for many people who take on a side job, this outside work ends up being more fun than their 9-to-5 jobs. If you find yourself in this situation, you may be interested in turning your part-time gig into a full-time career.

About a decade ago, I found myself in this very situation, loving my freelance writing work and not very excited about the idea of using my new law degree to actually be a lawyer. While it took time, effort, and a lot of hard work, today I have a successful career as a full-time writer.

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My story and the stories of many others show that it's doable to turn a side hustle into a full-time gig -- just as long as you have a clear plan and take the right steps. If you're not sure how to get started, here are five steps to get you on the right path.

1. Figure out who your customers are -- and what they want

In order for your side gig to provide you with a full-time income, you need to have enough customers to pay you for your services. Figuring out who those customers should be and how to reach them is the first step toward building a successful business.

Customers will only come to you if you can fulfill a need better than anyone else, so pay attention to what your current customers seem happy with and whether they have any unmet desires. If you can provide a better experience or a more innovative approach to meeting their needs, you'll be able to grow your customer base quickly.

It's also helpful to look for an untapped niche market where the competition is smaller. When I started my freelance-writing career, I targeted lawyers looking for writers to produce legal content for their websites because there were a lot fewer writers with the ability to provide these services. If you can find an untapped market, you can build a huge customer base very quickly and will soon be making enough cash to turn in your notice.

2. Create a practical business plan

Hoping you can turn your part-time work into a full-time job isn't enough -- you need a concrete plan for doing so. This means you need to sit down and think about every aspect of your business.

How will you attract customers, what will you charge, how much work do you need to make a profit, and what materials do you need to succeed? These are just a few of the many details that need to be a part of your business plan.

There are plenty of online tools to help you come up with a detailed plan to build a profitable business, so pick one if you're not sure where to start. You'll also need a business plan if you have to secure any funding to get your company off the ground, as lenders want to know you've thought your business model through.

3. Scale up slowly before giving up your day job

One of the best things about turning a side gig into a full-time career is that you're already doing the work. But don't rush to quit your job unless and until you've got enough volume that your side gig can support your lifestyle. You may have to work a lot of hours in the beginning to juggle your full-time job and your growing customer base, but it will be worth it in the end if you can build your business without going broke.

Leaving your job too early could mean you end up with too little cash to invest in your business so you go belly up. It also gives you a shorter timeline for success because if you can't support yourself, you could be forced to give up your efforts and go back to work. Don't let this happen to you -- be patient and scale up your side work before handing in your notice.

4. Address the practical issues

Making a full-time career out of a side gig is going to require that you do much more than just provide a service or product.

Whether you're selling crafts on Etsy, looking to become a full-time dog walker, or becoming a freelance writer, doing it full-time without a fallback job means you need to think about things like accounting, payroll if you plan to hire employees, paying taxes, and protecting yourself from liability. You're going to have to be skilled in financial management, marketing, collecting payments, and keeping up with your obligations to the IRS. And without a full-time job, you're also going to have to figure out how to get health insurance and what to do about retirement savings.

Before you quit your job to become a full-time entrepreneur, have a plan to address all these issues. Learn about retirement plans for the self-employed, check out your options for health insurance, read some books about basic business accounting, and take the time to learn about business taxes. You may even want to look into consulting with a mentor, an accountant, or a lawyer to make sure you have the full picture of what's involved.

Making a side gig into a successful career takes work

As you can see, it won't be easy to turn a side job into a profession that can support you. It's definitely doable, though, provided you hit on the right idea and have a good head for business. Just make sure you don't rush to give up your day job and that you're actually prepared to handle the day-to-day minutiae of running your own business. If you approach the process the right way and take these recommended steps, you've got a great chance of success.

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