So, I’m still paying off student loan debt from the late 90’s.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that between February 2015 and now, I’ve paid off more than half of the student loan balance I’d been carrying around with me, from state to state, job to job, and through almost two decades. In less than a year from now, I will be completely debt free for the first time in my life.
Debt is one of those things that can sit there on your back, weighing you down, but never causing quite enough pain often enough to get you to actually do something about it. You just quietly (and resentfully) continue making payments, believing that someday you’ll have it all paid off and then finally you’ll be able to “get ahead.”
Until, of course something out of the blue happens.
And that’s what happened to me.
In late 2008, the company I was working for decided that, instead of letting employees go, the better solution would be to cut all employees’ hours and salaries by 20%. I still think that was the right choice. But, I was scared out of my mind. That 20% put me very close to the danger zone. I was already living paycheck to paycheck, with 7 credit card payments, and a student loan in forbearance (yes, forbearance).
Needless to say, that 20% salary cut rocked my world. It changed things forever.
I started a debt management program, cleaned up my consumer debt, and learned how to live without credit.
When I started seeing progress, I began to have a sense of hope about my financial future that had never been there before. I began teaching myself about personal finance. I started listening to podcasts about wealth building and that led me to podcasts about entrepreneurship.
And I started my first side business.
It took me close to a year of spinning my wheels, batting ideas around and shooting them down, before I landed on a business idea I thought would both be viable in the marketplace and not make me dread spending time on it.
My winning idea came from literally the last place I’d ever thought to look, my volunteer experience. Because I’d never been paid for my social media management and basic WordPress skills, it never dawned on me that I actually could be paid for them.
I’d learned about virtual assistants from the podcasts I’d been listening to and figured being super detail-oriented with a background in science, having solid project management skills, and knowing my way around Facebook and Twitter, it would be fun to give this VA thing a try.
I reached out to a few podcast hosts I’d previously corresponded with and asked them for their advice. I was looking to match my skills against what the podcast market needed in a VA. I wasn’t looking for clients at that moment, only advice. But, two of these hosts became clients!
If you’re interested in starting a side business but have been really struggling (like I was) to come up with a business idea, try getting out of your own head this week.
Crowdsourcing Your Business
Ask at least five of the people in your life who know you and know your work best (friends, family, coworkers, etc) the following questions:
- What would you say are my biggest strengths?
- What would you completely trust me to help you with?
See what comes out of this! You might be surprised!
You’ll likely get back some things you hadn’t thought of and you’ll probably find this exercise sparks a few new ideas!
Once you’ve got your idea, I highly recommend stepping outside of your comfort zone and finding ways to connect with others who are doing what you’d like to do. Find out what has worked for them, what hasn’t worked, and anything else you can learn from their experience.
Then, begin looking for opportunities to speak with the people you’d like to serve with your solution or service. Ask them what they are struggling with, what solutions they’ve tried in the past, what it would mean to them to have this problem solved? Listen first. Don’t assume anything. Don’t pitch. Just listen.
Take what you learn, put together the best offering you can, and introduce it to the world!
Now you’ve got your idea. You’ve decided to move ahead and start a side business!
But, recognize that you’ve just made a new commitment.
Ok. So, what does that mean?
Well, it means you’ll need to make room in your life for this new commitment.
You’ll want to consider the time, energy, and any other resources you’ll be dedicating to your new side business.
Talk with your friends and loved ones about what you want to do and why it is so important to you. Get on the same page from the start.
I use the time-blocking or zero-based schedule method to make sure that all of the areas of my life that I care about (not just my side hustle) get the time and attention they deserve.
When you first start out with this method, you will need to spend a little time (a week or two is usually plenty) tracking. You’ll probably find “pockets” of time that you’re currently not using productively that you can “reclaim” for your side hustle.