How to Score Paying Clients for Your Side Hustle When You’re Short on Experience
Welcome back to the Side Hustle Shuffle series! In the introductory post last week, we discussed the what and why of side hustles. Today, we’re diving into the how. Read on to learn how you really can make extra money on the side by picking up paying clients – even when you’re short on experience and just starting out.
We’re going to be addressing what many people view as the most intimidating part of starting a side hustle: actually being able to make extra money on the side. Because doing that requires picking up paying clients, something we’ve been told is hard to do when you lack experience.
Today, we’re calling BS on that nonsense. Everyone starts somewhere, and you won’t jump into a new side hustle with years of experience under your belt (most of the time, anyway). That doesn’t mean you can’t score paying clients and grow your gigs from the very beginning.
But first, we need to do a quick evaluation of our original side hustle idea.
Double Check to Make Sure You Have Access to Paying Clients
Remember how we talked about the fact that your side hustle could pretty much be anything? This is absolutely true, but some side hustles are going to be easier to get off the ground than others.
The biggest obstacle you may face is not a lack of experience. It’s gaining access to your ideal client.
If you love animals, for example, and you want to start a pet-sitting business, you’re going to have a hard time picking up your first few paying clients if you don’t know a single person in your network that keeps pets and would like someone to take care of them while they’re on vacation.
That’s not to say you won’t be able to make this work. But you need to come up with a plan to gain legitimate access to the people you could serve – and hanging around the front doors of the local pet store and harassing shoppers by shoving a flyer you made in Microsoft Publisher in their faces is not a great option.
Yes, people in your area may need pet-sitters. But if you don’t have any experience and you have no way to showcase what you can do for them, you’re going to have trouble convincing strangers to hire you and utilize your services.
If you’re working in “the real world” but have no ability to connect with your ideal client, establish trust, and grab your first paying gig, it’s going to be hard to get started.
Likewise, if you’re interested in working in the digital space online, but don’t want to have any sort of public web presence with which to establish a connection with people who need what you have to offer, it’s going to be really difficult to convince a perfect stranger that you’re the right person for the job.
So quickly evaluate your chosen side hustle. If you’re working in face-to-face situations but you don’t know a single person who could benefit from what you’re offering, you’ll need to come up with a creative solution to overcome this first problem. Same goes for wanting to do virtual work but not wanting to build an online platform.
You need to have some sort of access to your ideal clients. If you can’t think of a way to reach them in a way you’re comfortable with, it’s likely that you need to go through a fresh iteration of your original side hustle idea.
Creating Effective Channels of Communication and Connection
But, thankfully, the reality is that most of us have some sort of access to our ideal client. At the very least, we have the ability to create a channel of communication if we’re dedicated to the idea.
For example, if we want to get started with virtual work but have never done anything like it in the past, we can simply set up a simple website and perhaps a blog. From there, we can grow our online platforms into channels we can utilize to gain access to and acknowledgement from potential clients.
Similarly, if we want to pet-sit but we know exactly zero acquaintances that own pets, we can get started by volunteering at an animal shelter and building a new network of animal-centric friends who will need pet-sitters (and know of others who will need pet-sitters).
This is a long way of saying that what we think of as big challenges when we’re starting with side hustles are actually 100% manageable. Keep in mind, gaining access to your clients is actually far more difficult than scoring paying clients when you’re short on experience.
If you can get in front of an ideal client, you’re halfway to being able to make extra money with your side hustle.
Say it with me, friends: you can score paying clients even when you’re short on experience.
Let’s explore how to make it happen.
How Do You Start When You Have No Experience?
We all know we need experience to gain work, but we need the work to gain the experience. Right?
Heck no! If this were true, we’d all be endlessly stuck in a loop of work and side hustle frustration. What is true is that we all start somewhere, and the beginning of the journey may look radically different than the end. But the fact remains: we all get started somewhere.
Let’s return to our pet-sitting example, where we danced around the solution to what looks like a catch-22. If you want to pet-sit, but have absolutely no experience in doing so, you need to establish some sort of proof that you can do this.
That might mean offering to help care for a pet that your friend, family member, or coworker owns. You may need to volunteer your time or efforts, but do so in exchange for a review, testimonial, or recommendation.
You may have to start out doing some work for free in order to collect the first few pieces you can use for your portfolio or reference book.
This doesn’t mean you should do everything for free – and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be compensated in some way. When you’re just starting out, exposure and word-of-mouth marketing have some serious value.
If you do some work or provide a service or product to someone within your network, make sure you get something of value to your budding side hustle in return.
Just like that, you have a way to start even with zero experience.
Pick up 2 unpaid gigs, even if they’re just for a friend or family member, and knock them out of the park. Then collect a great testimonial or use those super-impressed people as a referral when you apply for gig #3: one that pays.
Make Extra Money and Secure Paying Clients by Working for Yourself
You don’t even have to work for someone else. If you’re trying to establish a digital side hustle you have the option of producing content and samples for your own site or blog.
That’s precisely how I got started with my own side hustle. In fact, here’s a basic outline of the steps I personally followed:
Started Common Sense Millennial in late July, 2013.
Wrote lots of posts that no one read. Found my voice and started writing better stuff.
Established a social media presence and started building connections with fellow bloggers and others in the industry I was interested in.
Read about how people were making a living a full-time bloggers. Reached out to several other bloggers to inquire about staff writing. Got turned down every single time.
Gained confidence by using my blog as my resume when applying for some content writing jobs. Pay was low but it was a start!
Went back to fellow bloggers. No’s all around again.
Decided to branch out and tried contacting others in the financial industry. Finally, success at pitching myself!
Word-of-mouth marketing took off and my side hustle grew exponentially after this point (including finally landing contributor spots with two awesome financial blogs: L Bee and the Money Tree and Your PF Pro)
When you “work for yourself,” or pursue your own thing – like a blog, website, or other project – you’re essentially creating your own experience. You can then use this to pitch your services to potential clients or when applying for a gig somewhere.
More Actionable Steps to Take If You’re Looking to Score Clients with Little to No Experience
Yeah, yeah, but what if I already have a blog or have been doing work for free? Now what?
Great question. If you’ve already established your own blog or have picked up a handful of clients for your side hustle, you’re off to a great start – but you’re likely wondering how to keep that momentum going.
On the last Side Hustle Shuffle post, Connie of Savvy with Saving asked about finding new clients and getting your name out there when you’re looking to grow your side hustle. E.M. of Journey to Saving had a related question, and wanted to know how to continue building on experience when just starting out with a side hustle.
Here are five actionable tips to help you score (more) paying clients and how to continue building your experience if you’ve already been doing some work for free, either on your own projects or for someone else.
Ask. The best way to pick up more clients is to put it out there that you’re actually looking to expand. You never know who has been thinking about hiring on some part-time help, but simply had no idea who to turn to.
Create a blog post explaining what you do and share that you’re looking to pick up new clients. Use social media to share a post about the kind of work you’re looking for. Turn to your network and ask if they know of anyone who could use your skill set.
Be proactive. One of my absolute best clients was one that I picked up because I sent an email asking if she’d like some help. While I initially pitched writing services, after we discussed her needs I ended up working for her as a content manager – even though I had never worked for someone as a content manager before.
It didn’t matter that I didn’t have that job title on my resume. It was much more important that I had the skills necessary to do the job and with my first view small assignments I completed for her, I proved I was capable of being a valuable asset to her business. So be proactive. And on that note…
Don’t fear the cold-call email. I know. It’s scary, it can make you feel sleezy, and it certainly seems like a big fat invitation to face a whole lot of rejection. But if you’re going to be a real hustler, a go-getter that makes their own fortune – and experience – you need to get over your fear of being the one to initiate contact.
Gather a list of people you sincerely believe you could help in some way. And then email them. The secret to creating a cold-call email that doesn’t piss people off is to be genuine, sincere, and honest.
Open with a greeting. Explain that you’ve been a fan of what they do (and point out something specific about them that you appreciate or admire, to prove that you talk the talk and walk the walk). Then share how you’re looking to expand your part-time work, and you’re interested in helping out if there’s an opportunity to do so.
And always remember your manners. That means asking about how the other person has been and saying please and thank you.
Create passive channels. Yes, you should take the initiative to pitch ideas or services to clients – but you should also have some sort of passive channel that people can find on their own that tells them about what you do and how to get in touch with you.
Most people do this via a “hire me” page somewhere on their site or social media accounts (mine actually links out to a completely separate site). You never know who might stumble across your corner of the web and be interested in working with you, so it’s smart to have an easy to access and understand resource for those who might just ask if they can be your next paying clients.
Engage in value-driven networking. When I started side hustling, networking was a dirty word (much like cold calling). It conjured images of people throwing business cards at each other. I felt like networking was ridiculous and a waste of time because what was the point of trying to connect with a group of people who only wanted to get and not give?
The good news is that networking doesn’t have to be this way. What I mean when I say “value-driven networking” is that you should be eager to make new connections and then immediately provide that person with some kind of value.
In other words, network with giving in mind – not getting. It can be as simple as providing a quick tidbit of advice or as generous as offering to write a free blog post. When you connect with someone, you should be thinking something along the lines of, “how can I help this person in a meaningful way now that we’re aware of each other?”
Keep things sincere. You should have no expectation of receiving something in return for a small gesture that you give to someone else. But rest assured, in the business world, what comes around goes around (even for side hustlers).
Also, keep things relevant. Identify who the industry leaders are in your field. Follow them on Twitter and @mention them or engage in a conversation they’ve started. Read the blogs of people you’d love to work with, comment on their posts, and send them an email with a helpful suggestion if they mention they’re struggling with a problem or situation.
Diversify your hunting grounds. Finally, if you’ve picked up a few clients but you’re looking to gain more, consider going a little outside your comfort zone.
If you’ve had luck finding a handful of gigs via one venue, search for another.
For writers, Problogger is a big-time job board that everyone is trolling. But it’s not the only source for job leads out there. Hunt around and find new places to look for postings, or try emailing a different set of potential clients next time around.
You may feel like you’re stuck in a rut when it comes to growing your side hustle or acquiring new clients. But it may be that you’re just fishing in a teeny tiny pond that everyone and their brother is trying to fish in, too.
Expand your horizons and try something new. Be sure to try something new on a regular basis and more than once, mind you, if you want to eventually have success. Rarely do things work out for us the very first time we give them a go. Stick with it. You’ve got this.
Stay Persistent and Consistent
If you do all of these things, consistently and over time, you will score paying clients.
Even if you’re just starting out. Even if you’re short on experience.
Hit on all these tactics and keep at it, and you will see your efforts pay off.
What other questions do you have about scoring paying clients even when you lack extensive experience? Did you find new strategies here, or are you still feeling uncertain of how to get started?
If you need additional tips or feel like your questions weren’t adequately answered, I encourage you to speak up in the comments. The Side Hustle Shuffle series is meant to open a two-way dialogue, so don’t be shy!
Once you’ve left a question or two, it’s time to get back out there and put these ideas into action.