Consulting as a Side Hustle…

Thinking about consulting, but not ready to go full time? Then consider consulting as a side hustle. You will learn a lot, and it will be much easier if/when you make your full-time JumpToConsulting.

First heard this phrase back in 2010 from fellow Arizona blogger Pam Slim at Escape From Cubicle Nation. I’ve sung her praises before, and will continue to do so. Unlike too many Internet bloggers/marketers, Pam is the real thing —  genuine, caring, and full of great advice and insights on starting ANY business.

But enough of the accolades. When I heard the term, it immediately resonated — for that is exactly how I got started in consulting over 30 years ago. Not ready to jump in full time, the part time route was a great way to test the waters to see if I would even like consulting in the first place.

The side hustle also brought in some extra bucks. With two kids at the time, any extra moolah was welcome. It even provided a tax shelter of sorts, by investing profits in some new fangled personal computers. (Have we come a  long way from that first Apple II…)

But most important, the side hustle provided a place to try ideas. Some worked, and some didn’t. The biggest disaster was a foray into computer seminars — but I learned an important lesson about barriers to entry. The biggest success was learning how to market consulting —  different from most traditional businesses.

So what was the original side hustle? We began teaching adult evening electronics classes at a vocational school (now part of the University of Minnesota system.)  My business partner had just started, and recruited me when another instructor had to drop our at the last minute.

Although I never taught before, it sounded like an interesting challenge. The challenge turned out bigger than expected, but I survived (as did my first students.) Actually, we all learned together, and my class reviews were positive.

That following spring, the school asked for help in organizing their evening electronics curriculum (a bit of a mess.) Recognizing an opportunity, we submitted a proposal. We had just  recently attained our PE (Professional Engineer) licenses, so we felt a nominal fee was warranted. We called ourselves Kimmel Gerke Associates.

The school jumped at it. When the dust all cleared, we probably earned a few dollars an hour. But we had tasted blood, and we had our first job under our belts.

We did many subsequent projects for the school (at improved rates). These included developing/presenting on-site training for several local companies (anybody remember BASIC?) The capstone was winning a state grant to develop a multi-year program on printed circuit board design, which was a nice chunk of change.

Other consulting projects began to emerge too. We were approached by a local county medical society to help them select a computer system. A small manufacturer asked us to develop a marketing white paper. Our side hustle was starting to generate some serious side income.

So why didn’t we break free? Well, actually I did — for three months. It took that long to realize I still needed to learn a LOT more about consulting, and I also needed to have a LOT more money in the bank.

Back to the corporate world I went, sadder but wiser — and also more determined that ever to make my own JumpToConsulting. It finally happened several years later, but it might never have happened without the original side hustle.

What about YOUR side hustle? Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you enjoy it? No sense doing it if it isn’t fun. After all, it is YOUR hustle.
  • Can you make money at it? The  bottom line.  But if your are not sure, a side hustle can be a good way to test a market without risking everything.
  • Any conflicts of interest? This is both an ethical issue, and a practical issue. Not a good idea to risk you day job over a side hustle. Keep it legal too.

Make a list of possibilities. A good place to start is Pam Slim’s original post, “What’s Your Side Hustle?” Be creative, and add your own ideas – even if the seem esoteric. Who knew there was a market for a couple of Electromagnetic Interference engineers?

Finally, give some thought to WHO your potential clients are, and HOW you would reach them.  This is called marketing — the linchpin of small consulting practices. No clients — no business.

Hustle on!

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