So you’re ready to launch that side hustle you’ve always been dreaming of doing. Maybe you’re doing it because inflation has put a strain on your budget. Maybe you’re doing it because you want to take your hobby to the next level. Maybe you’re doing it simply because you’re bored and want to add a little spice to your life.
No matter the reason, a side hustle certainly seems the best way to fulfill your needs.
But how will you measure success?
Before you can answer this question, you need to understand exactly why you want to start a side hustle.
“What I teach my students is that the whole point of a side hustle is to escape the rat race,” says Nick Wood, founder and CEO of Digital Landlords in St. George, Utah. “The pressure and restrictions associated with the standard 9-5 job is what creates a lot of anxiety, depression, and overall dissatisfaction. Passive income is the key to unlocking a lifestyle of freedom and flexibility where you are no longer trading your most precious commodity—time—for money.”
This is the key. A side hustle isn’t meant to grow into a full-time business (although it could, and many have). This is why so many retirees start a side hustle. It’s meant to divert you from the humdrum of everyday activities, whether you’re working from nine to five or just living a retired life.
Rafe Gomez knows this firsthand. He is the founder of VC Inc. Marketing in Montclair, New Jersey. That’s his day job. He also started Danceteria REWIND. That’s his side hustle. He says, “A side hustle should be a pursuit that brings you joy and offers you an escape/departure from your ‘day job.’ If it doesn’t deliver in these areas, it’s just a second job!”
To be a success, therefore, a side hustle must, at a minimum, not be “a second job.” That being said, it can also offer some benefits of a second job. That’s up to you.
“Success is measured in a side hustle when you hit your goals for yourself, whatever those may be,” says Dielle Charon, CEO and sales & money mindset coach in Raleigh, North Carolina. “For some, they may be trying to bring in an extra $500 a month. For some, it may be they want to quit their full-time 9-5. For some, they may be trying to pay off the debt that they have, and for some, they may just want a project of their own that their side hustle fulfills for them! This is all relative to the person, and success will look different depending on who you are.”
If you can’t tell by now, a side hustle has dual success metrics: one rational, the other emotional. Both are equally important.
“There are two measures you should consider when looking at your side hustle,” says Christopher Mitra, Executive Leadership Coach at An Inspired Life in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. “The first is the ‘numbers’ side, where you review the revenue vs. expenses. As the name implies, a side hustle is done in addition to your day job. Since it’s occupying a portion of your day used for leisure/home/family, it needs to be cash positive. At the very least, you need to see an upward revenue trend so that a cash-positive state is imminent.
“The second aspect you need to consider is your quality of life with a side hustle,” continues Mira. “You cannot answer this by looking at numbers on a spreadsheet. A side hustle has an expectation you work for your money, but if the job takes up so much of the non-work hours that you have no opportunity for enjoyment, rest or connection, then you need to look at the value being provided.”
You can find this one-two punch repeated by other side hustlers, although the order of success isn’t always the same for everyone.
“For me, it’s two things,” says Wendy Conklin, owner of Chair Whimsy in Round Rock, Texas. “Number one, is it fun? Do you enjoy doing it? And as you get busier with it, do you still enjoy it? And number two, while you’re enjoying it, are you also making money, even if it’s just a little bit? Is it making money, and is it making you happy?”
And while a side hustle doesn’t have to morph into a full-time business, there are some who see this as the ultimate aim.
“I measure success in a side hustle when it becomes so busy that it becomes my main hustle,” says Nidah Barber-Raymond, mompreneur, esthetician and founder of The Peel Connection in Beverly Hills, California.
How does success in a side hustle differ from success in a full-time start-up business?
Still, don’t confuse the success metrics of a side hustle with the success metrics of a full-time start-up business. At the very least, the former is more casual than the latter. A side hustle need only pay for itself. A full-time start-up needs to pay for your food, clothing, shelter and all your other day-to-day living expenses.
But that’s not all.
“A full-time startup to me is different in that the potential is larger and the machine of the business will require more work over the course of time than a side hustle,” says James Bowersox, founder of Pindrop, based out of Maui, Hawaii. “The benefit of this is, of course, that the full-time business has a much larger potential for profits over the course of time.”
How do you evaluate a side hustle?
If the range of expectations is different for a side hustle, you might wonder if you can assess the prospects of a side hustle the same way you do with any other business.
As with many questions, the answer is both “yes” and “no.”
“There are lots of factors to consider, including competition, scalability, sell-ability, and importantly—fun,” says Nick Loper, founder of Side Hustle Nation in Sammamish, Washington. “The last thing you need is a second job you come to dread. I’d also look at the risks and startup costs associated with different side hustle options.”
How do you keep track of side hustle income?
Once you start that side hustle of yours, you’ll want to make sure you can answer the numbers side of the “success” questions. This is where you can trip up.
Remember how, in many cases, a side hustle begins as a hobby? In situations like this, you’ve been folding hobby expenses into your normal living expenses. Once that hobby becomes a side hustle, for your own good, keep the books separate.
“Keeping track of a side hustle’s income is not easy if an individual doesn’t have proper reporting and/or a separate bank account,” says Sacha Walton, business strategist and CEO of SWI Management in Hampton, Virginia. “Utilize income statements integrated with a robust payment system to automatically record the side hustle’s receivables. Having proper income records helps one to track revenue. Many individuals are creating side hustles to bring in extra income for their households. The proper management of the income depicts the financial health of the hustle. Most importantly, one should not mix one’s side hustle income with other income. It makes it harder to track the income generated by the side hustle.”
How do you build a successful side hustle?
Once you can envision the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the next logical question is getting from today’s launch to tomorrow’s success. Again, this is where you have to treat your side hustle just like any other business.
“There is no 100% working recipe for building a successful side hustle,” says Fred Winchar, CEO, co-founder, and president of MaxCash in Reno, Nevada. “To create a successful side hustle, you must have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and be passionate about the product or service you are offering. You should also have a solid plan, be willing to adapt and pivot if necessary, and continually work on marketing and promoting your business.”
What is the most successful side hustle?
There must certainly be some templates out there that showcase successful side hustles. It’s tempting to think there is generically a particular side hustle that’s “most successful.” It’s not, however, that the side hustle itself is the “most successful” side hustle; it is that the path taken by the side hustler is the “most successful” path.
“The most successful side hustles are ones that fit an unmet need or drive a personal passion,” says Emily Wheeler, senior manager of corporate sustainability at GoDaddy
Ultimately, it’s all about you, not your side hustle.
“The most successful side hustle is something that you get excited about,” says Kendra Gerein, empowerment coach & spiritual mentor in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. “It helps people and generates you income!”
Don’t think success can only be found in an accounting ledger. That’s for your day job. For your side hustle, you’ll find success in how it allows you to spend time with your grandchildren, how it fulfills a long-sought curiosity and how it makes you feel each day as you watch the setting sun drift slowly beneath the far horizon.