How to Build Your Side Hustle

Start a side hustle without getting burned out

My name is Erik Bergman. I’m the co-founder of Catena Media, one of the largest affiliate marketing companies in the world. When we first launched Catena Media, it wasn’t my full-time job – it was a side hustle.

Well, even before it was a side hustle, it was a hobby. We spent almost a year working on our small casino affiliate site and learning about the industry before we ever made our first dollar.

My partner and I worked on Catena Media at night, over the weekend, and whenever we could make time for it. Over many months, it grew from a hobby to a side hustle and from a side hustle to a full-fledged business opportunity.

After almost two years of running it as a side hustle, we were able to focus our attention on Catena Media – growing it from there to a more than $200M valuation.

When I look back at the growth of Catena Media, I credit a lot of it to our ability to scale it by side hustling. Had my partner, Emil, and I focused our entire efforts on it from the start, there’s no telling where we would be today.

The pressure to make money could have changed our business model or branding decisions. We could have made operational mistakes and created stress for my personal and professional relationships. Instead, we were able to grow the side hustle in a low-risk environment until we had the infrastructure to fully own it.

You can follow in my footsteps with your passion. I encounter would-be entrepreneurs all the time who have great ideas but lack the funds or ability to take a risk and quit their jobs. Instead, try starting your idea on the side and see whether it grows from there.

Consider following these six tips to build your side hustle.

Set Goals for Growth

Any business needs goals for growth. Whether you want to grow your side hustle into a full-time job or keep it as a secondary source of income, you need to track your success.

When setting growth goals, try finding and prioritizing enjoyable activities. For example, if your side hustle involves building your personal brand, find a social platform you already enjoy that you can use to build your presence instead of spending your time learning a new platform or pursuing other activities that are less enjoyable.

If you can set goals for your side hustle that involve activities you enjoy doing, you’ll find it much easier to stay focused and motivated. In fact, I’ve found that the more effort I put into doing productive and enjoyable tasks, the more likely I am to hit my other goals like revenue and profits.

With goal-setting, you may be inclined to focus on high-level monetary goals – like ROI or revenue. These measurements are valuable and do paint a picture of your overall success, but they can be misleading if it’s all you focus on.

With your side hustle, try focusing on goals that will help you create a sustainable business – even if it doesn’t lead to immediate monetary return. These goals could involve product or service development, finding and improving your processes and systems, or creating great customer relationships. While they might not improve your ROI or increase your revenue, these goals can help you grow your side hustle exponentially.

Bootstrap On Your Own

A lot of entrepreneurs try growing their side hustle through financing. These business owners might take out loans, funding from their family or friends, or pursue VC money. However, I don’t believe that’s always a wise decision.

If you try scaling your business through additional financing, you will bring on additional stress and risk that can be detrimental to your growth. While there are certainly situations that warrant scaling through funding, I always recommend side hustlers to take their time scaling in a slow and strategic manner.

Failing is a part of being an entrepreneur, and if you have the added pressures of someone else’s money, it can put you into compromising situations. Instead, try bootstrapping your side hustle on your own as long as you can.

This will obviously involve financial competency, so make sure that you understand and track your expenses (rent, materials, labor, etc.) and revenue efficiently. Be frugal with your spending and optimize your finances to find opportunities to reinvest in your business.

Scale Slowly and Strategically

If you do bootstrap your business, you’ll find it much easier to scale because you can take your time and grow strategically based on feedback, market behavior, and other factors that you learn. When we grew Catena Media, we had the time to test and adapt our activities based on what worked.

Over time, as we continued to adapt and mold our efforts, we became more efficient. This optimization took many months and years, of course – and was only possible because we didn’t rush.

As you start to grow your own side hustle, I encourage you to take your time and avoid rushing the process. One of the benefits of launching a business as a side hustle is that you are not completely invested in it. Relish in this and prioritize growing strategically, even if it’s slower than you’d like.

Businesses that grow too quickly often face infrastructure issues after the dust settles. Those issues can be internally like with company culture and human resources or externally with the product quality or customer relations.

By prioritizing slow and strategic growth, you can mitigate a lot of these issues beforehand.

Maintain a Work-Work-Life Balance

Most people who work one job maintain their work-life balance, but your side hustle means you will have a work-work-life balance. Set aside time for your side hustle outside of your normal work hours, but make sure you balance it with your time off as well.

For example, commit to spending each Saturday working on your side hustle, but step away to spend time with your family or significant other on Sunday. You can even set aside a minimum and a maximum number of hours each week that you are willing to “hustle.”

It is easy to get burned out if you build up your side hours to the point where you are working two full-time jobs. Burning the candle at both ends will leave you exhausted and ineffective.

Create a Long-Term Plan for Success

You may be eager to turn your side hustle into a full-time gig within a few months, but that’s a quick way to burn out. Set a realistic timeline for a launch and evaluate that time every few months. You might want to quit your job by the end of the year, but in reality, you could need a few more months to prepare.

My new hustle is Great.com, an affiliate that donates 100% of its profits to environmental charities. One of the pillars for this project is that I have a 50-year vision. I don’t make decisions based on immediate return, but I’m creating a sustainable business and am making long-term investments into our culture and organization.

“Learn to be patient because things take time,” Itzel Islas, creative director at YAY Itzel, says in an interview with Forbes. “I like to remind people who are barely starting that it’s taken me almost a full decade to get to where I’m at now.”

If you are prepared to balance your side hustle with your existing job, then you can work at a steady pace and make smart career and financial decisions.

Stay Committed to Your Day Job

Your current day job might not ignite the same passion as your side hustle, but that doesn’t mean it’s not equally important. Your full-time job is the stability that enables you to pursue your side hustle with minimal pressures. If you aren’t remaining committed to your day job, you could eventually lose it – which could affect your side hustle.

Keep your work separate from your side hustle. Working for another company while at your current job is considered time theft and could be a fireable offense.

Stay dedicated to your day job and do your best to make a positive impact. The time when you can quit may be on the horizon, but it’s not today.

Don’t Be Afraid to Start

Starting your business as a side hustle is a smart way to build a company because it allows you to finance your idea with your current job, test the market before jumping in, and gives you time to perfect your systems and build a scalable infrastructure – among other things.

If you’re considering starting a side hustle and are looking for tips to help you build it efficiently, consider doing what I did: be patient, prioritizing finances, plan strategically, and avoid burnout. If you can follow these steps, you’ll be on your way to building a successful side hustle.

Tips to start a successful side hustle
How to Start a Side Hustle Without Getting Burned Out.

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