Taking the leap into a full-time entrepreneurship venture is downright terrifying—and the risk analysis can paralyze you from creating the business of your dreams at all!
But while interviewing successful food entrepreneurs for my book, Cooking Up a Business, I heard a similar story again and again: They first launched and ran their companies on the side and didn’t leave their regular paychecks until orders, revenue, or accolades started pouring in.
It’s the best secret to doing what you love: Start with a simple side hustle, and focus on making it uber-successful. Then you can decide whether to make it a full-time job or keep it as the world’s best nights-and-weekends gig.
So, here’s your challenge: Make this the weekend you launch your dream side hustle. Here are five lessons from those who’ve been there before.
1. Start Small and Local—but Think Like You’re Going to Be Big and National
When Alex Hasulak and Maddy D’Amato of Love Grown Foods first started dreaming up food business ideas when they were full-time college students, they initially thought they’d make Maddy’s “famous” pesto.
Then, they took a moment to think not just about the side hustle they could run now, but the company they wanted in five years. That made them ask a different question: What could they eventually mass-produce, while still maintaining high quality? If they began with something tricky now—like a perishable, high-labor product (pesto!)—they would run into issues as soon as they moved beyond a few area stores. Instead, they decided to go with non-perishable, scalable granola.
Related: Is Your Business Idea a Keeper?
At first, you might be selling just a few products or taking on a few clients. But take some time to think through how you could grow your venture larger—would the things you’re doing now work if you had 10 or 100 times as much business?
2. Spend Some Time Creating Your Brand Identity
When Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haut Chocolat created her first exotic chocolates in her small apartment kitchen, she was just thinking about selling to a few nearby shops. But her experience working with luxury brands made her insist on having a logo (which she drew herself), luxe packaging, and gorgeous catalogs printed on thick paper. It wasn’t that she had the money to create a brand—she taught herself the basics of design software and had her work printed at Kinkos—but the foresight to see that she needed a brand.
Make a brand, create a website, and give yourself an identity—even if you only plan on selling Valentine’s Day cards a few months a year or opening a popsicle stand on your corner. Making your project seem like it’s a legitimate brand will help sales and recognition at any point in your trajectory.
3. Get to Love Nights and Weekends
Obviously, a lot of the work you’ll do on a side hustle will be done in the early morning, evening, or weekend hours—and luckily, there are a lot of benefits to be had when you need facilities or supplies on the off-hours. For example, when Justin Gold started making his first nut butters (you now know them as Justin’s), he found a salsa company that had FDA-certified kitchen space and negotiated to rent it on nights and weekends for a significantly reduced rate.
Think like a tourist going on vacation: What can you get more easily or at better rates on an off schedule? Maybe it’s employing top-notch 9-to-5ers who want to pick up some flexible work on the weekends. Maybe it’s renting office space for a Saturday Fun Day with your team, or using machinery or crafting supplies in the middle of the night.
4. Use Vacation Time Strategically
Nights and weekends are great, but you’ll also want to use a few strategic vacation days so you can connect with buyers, suppliers, customers, and more during their normal 9-to-5 weekday jobs.
Kristy Lewis of Quinn Popcorn has a great (if extreme) example of using time off strategically: When Kristy came home from the hospital with her first child, Quinn, she immediately jumped into (you guessed it) Quinn Popcorn. Kristy looked at her three-month maternity leave as a chance to run with the idea she and her husband had of making an all-natural microwave popcorn. Their goal was to see if the concept was worth pursuing full-time, so Kristy spent her child’s first 90 days constantly on the phone and computer.
By the end? She’d found out enough to know that this could be a successful endeavor—and called her boss and left to strike out on her own.
Create blocks of time you can spend only on your idea—and aren’t tired after a full day or week of work. Challenge yourself to carve out two days over your winter holiday to spend solely on setting up the vision and plan for your venture—the “heavy” brain stuff—which you can then execute on when you’re not as fresh.
5. Learn Everything You Can While There’s Still Money Coming In
Mary Waldner and Dale Rodrigues of Mary’s Gone Crackers knew they had a great gluten-free cracker idea and recipe. However, they decided to continue their full-time jobs for two years—she as a therapist, he as a general contractor—while filling every second of their free time with cracker research and planning. Mary’s job was to find the right equipment and find a way to make her handmade recipe more automated, while Dale figured out the business plan and financial model—and they didn’t scale down their “day job” hours until they were ready to take their product to market.
Don’t be afraid to spend time just learning, asking lots of questions, and figuring out your side hustle. You don’t have to start selling on day one—but move progressively toward it while you don’t have to worry about income.
Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.
Rachel Mount Hofstetter (@rachelhoffy) is the author of the new, go-to guide to food entrepreneurship Cooking Up a Business. The former food editor at O, the Oprah Magazine and Reader’s Digest was so inspired by the entrepreneurs she wrote about that she started her own company, guesterly, which creates custom magazines. (Photo courtesy of Kate Lord.)More from this Author