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7 CEOs share their best tips for starting a side hustle or business right now

Jaime Schmidt
Supermaker co-founder Jaime Schmidt, center, aims to help new business owners with her initiative, the Entrepreneurial Dream Project (EDP). Some of the project's mentors are: (L) Jaclyn Johnson, Chris Cantino, Beatrice Dixon, and (R) Jeff Raider, Helena Price Hambrecht, Karissa Bodnar.
Courtesy Jaime Schmidt

I started my personal care company, Schmidt's Naturals, in 2010, in the wake of the Great Recession. I understand how difficult it can be to forge a new path when the odds seem to be against you. But there is never the perfect time to start a business, and you can't control when inspiration hits.

I understand how important it for new entrepreneurs to have a support system. In the early days of my company, I built community with other business owners I met at trade shows and networking events. But it can be tough to find those peers when you're starting out. And in this economic climate, the challenges facing aspiring founders can feel formidable.

So I reached out to some of the CEOs and founders in our mentor network — which includes nearly 50 business leaders including Mark Cuban, Rebecca Minkoff, and executives from companies like Unilever, Adidas, and Harry's — and asked them what they have learned from this moment and what advice they want to impart to people starting new businesses and side hustles right now.  

Here are some of their top tips for people who want to start side hustles or businesses right now.

Don't be afraid to jump in

"Start by starting. Especially now, it's daunting to even check your email, but the biggest lesson I have learned is you have to be self-motivated and keep moving, one day at a time," says Jaclyn Johnson, founder and CEO of Create & Cultivate.

Make mental health a priority

"One thing that I think everyone at Harry's has found incredibly helpful during the crisis is our emphasis on prioritizing mental health. Our social mission is focused on mental health and we work hard to support communities that struggle with mental health through amazing partner organizations," says Jeff Raider, co-founder and CEO of Harry's. "We also try to live the value internally, and it's been amazing to see our team support each other during this time."

Lead with honesty and vulnerability 

"Be vulnerable with your team and share your vision for the future, even if it seems uncertain. I'm not saying to get on Zoom and tell them all of your personal fears, but if you aren't exactly sure what your plan is, share what you do know for sure and what you hope for the future," says Karissa Bodnar, founder and CEO of Thrive Causemetics.

"It's your job as the CEO to paint a picture of how your company can come through this and hopefully, your transparency can bring your team together so you emerge stronger. Also, focus on your personal wellness. You can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself first."

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Look for emerging patterns

"One of the best things you can do as an entrepreneur right now is observe," says Helena Price Hambrecht, founder of Haus. "Pay close attention to what your customers need right now. What worked six months ago may not work now, and it's important to change your tune quickly if necessary."

Find opportunities to grow

"Covid-19 has been both a challenging time but also an undeniably major learning experience for me and my team as we have been pushed to the edge from both bandwidth and inventory perspectives," says Beatrice Dixon, founder and CEO of The Honey Pot.

"It's shown us so many different aspects of our business that need to be tightened and improved while also showcasing the essential nature of our business, and the need to keep supplying the demand. Nothing could have prepared us for this but, at the same time, we are incredibly grateful to be where we are and that we are able to continue moving towards."

Be flexible to meet new customer needs

"Businesses are finding success by repurposing their models to serve a new set of customer needs. For example, restaurants offering takeout groceries, prepared foods, branded sauces and meal kits, or even virtual classes in which chefs teach viewers how to make signature recipes at home. We've also seen social clubs and co-working spaces transition to digital memberships by offering educational webinars, panels hosted by business leaders and influencers, and Q&A sessions with community members supporting mental health," says Supermaker co-founder Chris Cantino.

"Moving forward, we expect that companies will incorporate these new revenue streams into their ongoing strategy."

Jaime Schmidt in the early days of Schmidt's Naturals. She sold the the company to Unilever in 2017 and founded media company Supermaker and VC fund Color.
Courtesy Jaime Schmidt

And here's my best advice, based on what I learned from my own experience.

Remember you can do a lot with a little

When I launched Schmidt's, my resources were at a minimum, so as I built my business I took to heart the principle of doing a lot with a little. I had to make sure I was only putting my money towards costs that would result in immediate income for the business.

This meant maintaining a lean team of employees and making products in my home kitchen for as long as I could before I invested in an outside space. I kept a minimum supply of raw materials and manufactured products as orders came in, rather than overbuying materials to have an abundance of finished goods ready. And I closely watched how our ads were performing to make sure we were only spending money on the ones that resulted in the most customer purchases.

It was a nerve-wracking and vulnerable period. But running the business this way allowed me to bootstrap without raising venture capital funds and to continue building the company with a tight budget. This approach to growth allowed me to say yes to opportunities and establish distribution partnerships that allowed my brand to quickly expand beyond a niche market.

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Consider collaboration 

For new business owners and side hustlers, my biggest advice for how to thrive during this moment is to collaborate.

Think of ways you can work with other businesses or organizations that will be mutually beneficial across your brands. Maybe this means partnering up for a virtual event, collaborating on a limited edition product, or taking over each others' social channels. This allows you to grow your customer base and bring new eyes to your brand at no additional cost.

Consider joining forces with a direct competitor to help each other support your industry as a whole, like with an education initiative around a product category. There's immediate benefit and long-term potential in forging strategic relationships now.

I know how valuable a strong support system is for new business owners, especially right now. With that in mind, my media company Supermaker recently launched Entrepreneurial Dream Project. It is a financial award of $100,000 that will be split equally between two companies. The two winners, as well as 10 other companies, will receive guidance from our mentor network.

Things are uncertain, but we're hoping that through this initiative, we can help give every good idea an opportunity to thrive.

Jaime Schmidt is the founder of Schmidt's Naturals, and co-founder of Supermaker and ColorThe Entrepreneurial Dream Project (EDP) was created to help new business owners. It is a $100,000 nondilutive grant and mentorship program benefiting businesses that are building during Covid-19. Applications for the Entrepreneurial Dream Project are open through June 15, 2020.

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