Five steps in starting a side business

One of the stark realities that face the everyday person is that they have to be proactive in seeking ways to generate additional income.

Whether this is through a side hustle or even starting a focused business, we need to settle with the language, tools and processes of starting alternative and agile businesses that address the problems arising out of the Covid-19 challenge.

I would like to offer five thoughts about starting a business, particularly with the uncertainties that prevail because of the challenge.

Start small

I wonder if you have heard of the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

It is a self-help book written by Dale Carnegie, published in 1936. Over 30 million copies have been sold worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.

In 2011, it was number 19 on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential books.

Yet this huge hit had small beginnings.

Here’s what he says about its starting point: “I prepared a short talk. I called it ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ I say ‘short.’ It was short in the beginning, but it soon expanded to a lecture that consumed one hour and 30 minutes.”

After giving this talk for some time, Carnegie found that the attendees started discussing their experiences and some “rules” emerged.

Eventually the talk became a course, and there was a need for a textbook of sorts.

“We started with a set of rules printed on a card no larger than a postcard. The next season we printed a larger card, then a leaflet, then a series of booklets, each one expanding in size and scope. After 15 years of experimentation and research came this book.”

I found that astonishing – the book came out of a short talk and a few notes on a postcard-sized piece of card. Interestingly, I think a lot of the really big successes we see around us, started like this.

Solve a problem or meet a need

The Covid-19 challenge, and its aftermath, will be with us for some time to come.

It has no respect for geographical or economic boundaries. All have been impacted in some way or fashion.

Yet with the many challenges, there are a few new opportunities that beckon.

The reason? Because now we all face new problems, be it educating kids at home, the need for protective equipment, or even how to operate remotely from home.

These very real problems constitute opportunity to start a business that efficiently addresses the problem and also provides a reasonable income.

My daughter-in-law runs a lovely photographic business focusing on new-borns and their parents.

The lockdown in the UK prevents her from carrying on in the same way. But parents still want to capture the memories of their kids.

So in meeting this new problem or need, she now photographs them from the gate with the kids and parents in the doorway of the home. (She calls it “This is us”).

She is satisfying an inherent need for social contact (photo) but still obeying the lockdown parameters.

Find a customer

One of the classic mistakes that budding entrepreneurs frequently make is to work hard on producing a product or service, and then to look for a customer. That really is putting the cart before the horse.

By understanding the problems that people face now, or having an insight into their felt needs, the astute entrepreneur can start with the identified group, find a probable customer and build the product/service to suit them.

At our incubator we hold that unless you have a paying customer, you haven’t got a business. So, start with the customer.

Seek feedback

If you start with solving a problem or meeting a need, and go onto find, keep and build a customer, you are in a great position to get feedback on your product or service.

That feedback will influence how you improve and adjust the product or service.

I aim to launch my book in June, and have been getting feedback from a variety of quarters for this very purpose.

The most recent feedback is to help nail the best cover design for the book. Yes, it takes some time, but the feedback is from those who may be future customers and so their feedback is gold.

In a similar way, push for feedback that can help make your product/service stronger, more appealing and impactful.

Speak about it

There are many free ways to promote your business offering to your target audience.

Explore what you can use for free. Investigate which platforms will work for you.

Even though social networks are essential today, don’t underestimate the power of other methods to get the word out: word-of-mouth marketing, website and internet marketing tools, public relations, blog posts, columns and articles, speeches, email, newsletters and calling folk.

I mentioned that I am close to launching a book, but the journey began 10 years ago when I started a blog for the 16 beneficiaries at the incubator I was leading.

This group has grown to a much broader audience with enough “raw material” to compile a book of real people on an entrepreneurial journey.

And that all started by my speaking about it.

How can you let your chosen audience know about your product/service?

You will be amazed just what is available to assist you.

Stay strong!

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at False Bay College. Contact him on