From Side Hustle to Full-Time: 5 Steps To A Thriving Online Business
Entrepreneurship is all about discovering problems worth solving and turning them into products or services that people want to buy or use. I explained the “startup idea validation” — in guides like MVP Frameworks, Validate Niche Markets, and MVP Website Optimization.
Today, I’ll share my personal experiences with starting my entrepreneurial journey. I’ll walk you through the steps I’ve taken and the thought processes that have led me to where I am today as a full-time product builder.
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Step #1: Sell your time and skills
Start with what you already know.
If you’re just starting out, you probably don’t have the capital, expertise, or credibility to start with.
When I first started my self-employment journey as a marketer, I didn’t have any of these things:
- I didn’t have the money to start a business.
- I didn’t have any experience in the XYZ field.
- I had no previous work experience as a fresh graduate.
- I didn’t have any client testimonials.
But I knew I had to start somewhere.
Here’s how I solved the cold start challenges:
The first logical step for me was to sell my time in exchange for money. This could mean searching for a job, a paid project, or a side gig.
The idea is to start with what you already know and turn it into a paid service.
In my case, having graduated in marketing, I had a background in selling things. So I went to UpWork to look for freelance marketing jobs.
My very first gig was to write promotional copy for a simple website.
I made $100 from that in one day.
It wasn’t a huge amount. However, it gave me the opportunity to earn on my own terms and set my own rates, rather than relying on a fixed paycheck.
Step #2: Build your expertise
If you can create, build, and sell at the same time, you’re unstoppable!
At that time, digital marketing was in high demand back in 2016. So, I took a step further by branding myself as a freelance digital marketer.
Since then, I began offering retainer services for SMBs such as sales copywriting, WordPress SEO, social media advertising, and employee training.
My previous career as a freelance digital marketing trainer and instructor
Unlike the traditional marketing I studied in college, it was a new frontier for me.
And I needed to demonstrate my expertise, but I didn’t have any previous work to which I could refer.
Here’s what I did:
- I crafted a 12-page free PDF eBook focused on WordPress SEO optimization. This became a tool for me when reaching out to potential clients through cold emails.
- I also created another lead magnet called “free website audit” to capture the client’s problems, needs, and challenges. Providing a custom audit report became an effective way for me to demonstrate my expertise.
- I began writing step-by-step guides and shared them on LinkedIn and Facebook. These posts covered topics such as Facebook Advertising, technical SEO, and content marketing.
Looking back, the unique skill sets I developed in content creation, cold emailing, and training have proven invaluable in my current work as a product builder.
Step #3: Find your niche
Identify your personal moats and become the master of your niche!
After a few years of working for myself as a marketer, my excitement started to fade.
I felt like I was spending my time helping other companies in marketing their products, but I don’t have my own product to sell.
So I decided to make the transition from marketer to product development.
Around 2019, I discovered Product Hunt, coding, indie hacking, and no-code tools. These were new concepts to me. It was, in fact, a new horizon.
Coming from a marketing background, I realized I knew nothing about building products and apps.
Here’s what I did:
- I began learning Python, Django, CSS, and no-code tools on YouTube.
- I started a “24 Hours Personal Hackathon” challenge. The rule was to quickly turn product ideas into fully functional products like AI article tool, event app, SaaS tracker, sneaker app, etc.
- I continued to solve my own problems and create solutions around them to improve my productivity.
My inbox began to fill up with requests from Silicon Valley companies and VC-backed startups looking to hire me to handle product marketing and no-code MVP (minimum viable product) projects.
Around this time, I started writing about how I make MVPs without coding and started Zoe’s Build & Launch newsletter.
As my knowledge grew, this became the niche that I discovered: tech startups, market validation, and no-code MVPs.
Step #4: Create micro-offerings
Build an audience. Amplify your expertise. Solve problems for your audience.
I had a lot of fun hacking things without code and working on projects for my clients. But I didn’t stop there.
I wanted to try making my own product and earning from it.
During that time, I began productizing my expertise, i.e. by converting content into sellable products such as downloadable, templates, video guides, and mini-courses.
Here are the steps I implemented:
- Build an audience: I grew my Substack, Medium, Twitter, and LinkedIn followers, reaching a total of 24,000 startup founders, entrepreneurs, and product managers at the time of writing.
- Amplify your expertise: I share my best product frameworks, guides and builder’s knowledge gained from client work, my own business, and side projects.
- Solve problems for your audience: I researched the pain points of my target audience and created solutions that address those issues.
Step #5: Validate business ideas
Design the smallest experiment to prove the demand for your business idea
At this point, I began my career transition from client service to product-based business.
But it wasn’t an overnight jump. I was accepted into On Deck Founders cohort 10 to figure out what I wanted to build next.
I had the idea of creating a Crunchbase alternative, and launched Venturescale as a product that consisted of research reports and databases. This product helped technologists discover lucrative niche markets in the digital-native economy.
Here’s how I validated my product idea:
I created the first prototype in a PDF document, used Gumroad to create a sales page, and priced the report at $39.
Within 24 hours, I made several hundred dollars in revenue, all without even having a website.
By the second month, my new project had surpassed my freelancing monthly revenue.
After validating my idea with customers who were willing to pay, I made the decision to focus on Venturescale full-time instead of freelancing for clients.
It ended up being a profitable project, which I’ve been able to monetize full-time for the past three years!
- Stop asking for permissions. You don’t need an authority figure, guru, or expert to tell you whether your idea is good enough or whether you’re on the right path. Start walking your path, and the answer will come to you.
- Gradual transition. If you have a day job, you can gradually move from part-time to full-time entrepreneurship by 📗validating your product ideas with paying customers before committing entirely.
- Diversify your knowledge and skills. Learn about anything that interests you, no matter how insignificant it may appear. Only by looking back on your journey can you see how the dots connect.
- Always be testing. You don’t need to have a well-defined passion or purpose to begin your entrepreneurial journey. Build something, launch something, and you’ll see the hints unfold in front of you.
- The market is the boss. Forget about the fear of creating something that will never take off. Put something out there and let the market/users/customers decide.
- You cannot fail in the entrepreneurial journey. So-called “failures” are ideas that are being invalidated; I refer to them as “ideas to be refined, iterated, and improved.”