When it comes to your side business idea, launching it quickly could make the difference between your business thriving or dying. Since you can’t work on it full time, it’s easy to lose momentum.
You might get overly busy with your full time job, or simply not have the energy to do additional tasks during the workweek. Because of this, launching your business as quickly as possible is crucial.
But what exactly qualifies as a quick launch—especially since each business has its own unique requirements? Rapid launches are not about following a specific time frame. Instead, it’s about cultivating the following qualities in yourself and your business:
1. Sharpen Your Focus on Bringing in Paying Customers Quickly
Side businesses can’t afford to waste time and resources on activities that don’t directly bring in paying customers. Getting paid shortly within your launch is not just a sign that your business may be sustainable, it’s a morale-booster as well.
2. Be Decisive When Deferring Important Actions
Since you’ll be focusing almost exclusively on making your first sales, it’s important to be decisive about the tasks you won’t do within the first months of launching.
This might even include tasks that are typically associated with having a business, such as having a professionally-designed website, business cards, paying for advertising, or worrying about increasing your social media followers. Focus on your business plan, directly reaching your target customers, and making sales.
3. Launch With a “Limited” Version of Your Business First
For many entrepreneurs, they wouldn’t dream of opening for business until every surface is polished or every pixel of their website is perfect. But, as the owner of a side business, you can’t afford the time and energy it takes to build a perfect product or business. This means that you can launch your business with just a limited number of inventory or one or two services instead of a full lineup.
Also, any online storefronts such as your website or eCommerce store don't have to be ready at this stage. As much as possible, try to make sales directly to customers you can reach out to one by one. Your online store can just follow as a result of those sales.
Launch a Business on the Side Quickly
How to launch a business on the side, and get it off the ground quickly, involves pursuing a limited launch strategy.
This limited launch will be about narrowing the scope of your idea and focusing on getting your first sales fast. For example, if you want to sell handmade crafts, consider putting up only one or two items for sale as soon as possible.
You can also limit the quantities by making only ten items, or whichever quantity makes sense for your product. After all, the goal for your quick launch is just to get your first sales and then build your business from that. You can just add inventory or additional products or features when you’re ready to scale.
Until then, however, here are the steps you need to take to get started on your side business quickly:
Step 1: Outline the Steps to Your Limited Launch
Estimated Time: One hour
The first step is to come up with a short checklist of tasks you need to do to make your first sales. As you read through the steps of this tutorial, you might have some ideas about what these tasks could be like. Adapt your task list to the business you’re trying to launch. Some of the items you might include are:
- Identify your target customer segment
- Pick two marketing channels to use to reach them
- Create a marketing plan for these two channels
- For side business ideas that sell products, list the tasks that go into creating the products (include items such as purchasing materials, assembling the product, and packaging). If you’re looking to sell services instead, choose one or two services to sell for now.
- Come up with a business name to test
- Add any tasks related to executing your marketing plan
- Gather testimonials and feedback from customers
To have an idea of how long the launch will take, put a deadline or estimated duration beside each task. This will help you figure out how to schedule your free time for your limited launch. Review this helpful tutorial:
There are also tasks that seem essential to most businesses, but you have to avoid them at this stage because they might be too costly or could take too much time to accomplish. Here are some ideas on what not to do:
- Create a blog (unless your business idea is the blog itself)
- Write ads for radio and TV
- Design and print out business cards
- Look up listings for office/shop space
- Hire an assistant
While the above tasks can be crucial down the road, they have no place in a limited launch. After all, you’re just trying to find out if your target customers will buy from you at this point, as well as learn how you feel about the everyday responsibilities of running your business.
Step 2: Create a Lean Marketing Plan for Two Channels
Estimated Time: Two to three hours
For this step, you can refer to our tutorial on writing a lean marketing plan. Basically, this plan lays out your target customer, their needs, and the channels you’ll use to reach out to them.
These channels could include referrals, email, online groups, and social media. The important thing to remember at this stage is to just pick a maximum of two channels and focus on them throughout your launch.
It’s recommended that you focus only on two channels so that you won’t stretch yourself too thin while working on your side business. Prioritizing one or two channels will also give you the much-needed focus for testing and improving upon your marketing strategy. After all, you can always expand your marketing plan later as your business grows.
Remember that your lean marketing plan doesn’t have to include a website or an online shopping cart. Since you’ll only be accepting a minimum number of orders, you don’t need a streamlined system yet. For now, get customers to order through email, phone, private messaging, or ready-made solutions like Etsy (for physical goods) or Envato Market (for digital goods).
You don’t have to write your marketing plan in one sitting, especially if you have to do additional research. It’s also not necessary to write it in a formal way—in long paragraphs, citing sources. If you write it in bullet points and can understand the ideas you’re conveying, then it’s good enough for a limited launch.
Step 3: Come Up With a Good Business Name
Estimated Time: Half an hour for brainstorming
There’s an important reason why coming up with your business name is the third step rather than the first: It’s best to pull ideas from what you know about your target customers and the market, rather than from a vacuum.
At this stage, you would have finished your marketing plan. This means you’ve done a bit of digging about your target customers’ needs and wants, and you also have some ideas on how you could reach them.
With these in mind, do a half-hour brainstorming sessions of words that you could use in your business name. Check out the following tutorial for some tips:
Once you have a shortlist of names, you can take the extra step of testing these ideas. Go to the online groups or social networks where you could easily find your target customers. You can even post on your own Facebook or Twitter account.
Let people know the type of business you’re starting, what you’re offering, and the name you’re thinking of calling it. Read their feedback, ask follow-up questions, and see how they receive both your side business idea and your potential business name. Even if it’s still early in the launch, this will let you know if you’re going in the right direction.
Step 4: Act on Your Lean Marketing Plan
Estimated Time: A few days, depending on the channels you choose
It’s now time to follow through on your marketing plan so that you could get the word out that your side business is open for orders. If your plan is to post an announcement on Facebook, get started doing that. If you’re planning to post flyers and posters in your community, start looking for design templates you can use quickly. As you tick off items from your marketing plan, ask yourself the following questions to determine how it’s going:
- Are you getting signs of interest? If you’re posting in social media, are there likes and comments when you announce your side business? Do you get messages from people asking for more details? If there seems to be no interest despite making multiple tries, perhaps it’s best to try other marketing channels.
- Do these signs of interest translate into sales? It’s a low commitment for people to click “like” or give you a compliment on your business idea, but it’s a deeper commitment for them to actually open their wallets and pay for something.
Which approaches get more interest than others? For Facebook posts, perhaps your announcements with photos or 10-second videos get much more attention than plain text posts. For flyers, it’s likely that you hear back more from potential customers from one area in the neighborhood rather than another. Make a note of these possible trends so that you can refocus on the techniques and venues that work better.
As you’re going through with your marketing tasks, you’ll be encountering unexpected obstacles and problems. Perhaps getting paying customers from social media was much more difficult than you anticipated. Or you realized that you don’t have much time in your schedule for printing and distributing flyers. List these conflicts as you encounter them, so that next time, your marketing can go much more smoothly and can bring in better results.
Step 5: Complete Your Limited Launch
Estimated Time: A few days, depending on the product or service you provide
As you get some orders in, you’ll have to finish all the tasks needed to complete the order. For products, this might include creating the products, packing them, and sending them for shipping. For services, you might need to send in proposals, contracts, and finish the project before invoicing.
This is why it’s recommended to sell a limited run of your product and service at first—so that orders are wrapped up as quickly as possible. If your project takes several months to complete or the orders are for dozens of products and hundreds of items in inventory, the launch will take a longer time to run, as well as more time and money to invest.
During this stage of your limited business launch, keep track of the problems that come up. Was it hard for you to find packaging material for your crafts? Did it take days before your client would reply to an email? Noting problems this early in the process will allow you to anticipate them better and find fixes before you do a more complete launch of your side business.
Step 6: Gather Social Proof
Estimated Time: A few minutes per customer
When your first orders are completed, use your momentum to gather social proof. This social proof can come in the form of reviews, ratings, or testimonials. This is an essential part of your limited launch, since you won’t just be gathering feedback so that you can quickly improve your side business.
Any reviews or feedback you gather can be useful for marketing and sales, too. This guide shows you how to gather testimonials from customers, including an email template you can use:
It might seem intimidating to get feedback on your business this early—the fear of negative feedback or unanswered requests for reviews is understandable—but even one or two customer testimonials can help give your new business an added credibility boost.
Step 7: Learn From Your Experience
Estimated Time: One hour
Once you’ve complete your first sales and your customers have sent in some reviews, evaluate what you’ve accomplished so far. Here are some questions you can ask yourself before you decide to take further steps to maintain or scale your side business:
- Were you able to hit your sales targets for your limited launch?
- If you weren’t able to reach your sales targets, what could you have done to meet them?
- If you were able to hit or exceed your sales targets, what can you do to improve them further?
- How successful were you with the marketing channels you used? Should you keep using these channels or switch to something else?
- What else needs improvement? (This could be anything from the customer experience to the business name.)
- How is the experience of running a side business so far? Was it manageable or did you encounter obstacles to completing your task list on schedule?
- If you were to start over again, what would you have one differently?
After you’ve gone through all these questions and reviewed the results of your business launch, you’ll know what steps you can take next. Whether it’s scaling up your business, changing your strategy, or switching to a different business idea, your next step will be an informed one.
Get Your Side Business Up and Running Fast
How to launch a business on the side quickly can seem daunting at first, especially if you think about all the things you have to do to get things running. Strip down your launch to its bare essentials and the entire project becomes more manageable.
You don’t have to worry about how it will affect your current commitments. You’ll be able to launch and make your first sale as soon as possible, giving you the momentum and knowledge to keep going.