Scale up your side hustle in 5 steps, from someone who turned her gig into a 6-figure job in 2 years

"Be honest about what is working, what isn't, what you can do better, and what sets you apart."

Jen Glantz is the founder of Bridesmaid for Hire.
Photo by Susan Shek Photography

I started my first company, Bridesmaid for Hire, as a side hustle over six years ago. Over the years, I've had moments of financial success and periods when I've had an influx of clients. But I've also had moments when I had no idea how to scale or pivot my company.

After two years in business, I had turned Bridesmaid for Hire into a six-figure full-time job. But I noticed things were beginning to feel stale and it wasn't as easy to come up with ideas. I struggled to put together a new game plan to grow my business and make more money. At the time, it almost felt simpler to start a new business from scratch than to sit down and figure out how to take my existing business to the next level. 

Rather than give up and start fresh, I decided to take a few steps back, work with some mentors and advisors, and tap into the needs of my customers. 

I decided to use a number of free and low-cost tools to learn more about them, like Google form surveys I sent to my existing customers, and reaching new customers with audience insight platforms like Brand24 and BuzzSumo.

Doing this helped me figure out what my audience wanted, and it showed me how I could set myself apart from my competitors. For example, when I learned that there was a need to help maids of honor not only with speech writing but with public speaking too, I added that feature into my packages. 

Investing quality time in studying my audience, my competitors, and my own business plan has made it possible for me to consistently expand my business. We've increased our revenue by 35% to 45% every year for the last six years.

If you're feeling stuck and unsure of what to do to scale your side hustle or business, here are five steps that have helped me reach new customers and earn more money.

1. Talk to your audience

When you're thinking about introducing a new product or service, take some time to connect with your audience. You want to make sure that you are launching something that they are really interested in, rather than investing time, money, and resources on an offering that won't make an impact.

Three years into Bridesmaid for Hire, I wanted to launch a new service geared toward mothers of the bride. Before I did anything, I wanted to speak directly to these potential customers, and their insights and perspectives helped me launch a phone call service where mothers of the bride could reach me if they ever had questions or just needed some support. 

There are a number of ways to get in front of a new audience, but there are a few that have worked for me. You can tap into a community they are involved in, like a Facebook group or slack channel. You can create a small focus group where you offer a gift card to 10 to 20 different customers in exchange for a 30-minute phone call, or make a survey that you send out to your audience on social media and through your email list. 

Using this strategy has helped me figure out new products and services, and stay on top of trends and unmet needs in the market. 

Six-figure side hustler: How to start while keeping costs low

Video by Mariam Abdallah

2. Test out everything and reset as needed

If you've already started developing a new product or have been thinking about a new service that would make sense for your audience, create a minimal viable product and test it with a handful of customers. An MVP is meant to be a low cost way to show a proof of concept

My best advice is to find a group of between 10 to 20 customers with a variety of experiences and backgrounds, and offer them this product or service for free to get their feedback. Set a budget for this so that you know how much product or how many services you're willing to give away for free. 

Collect the data on what they like, what's working well, what needs to be improved or changed, and what would make this product or service worth its cash value. 

Collect the data on what they like, what's working well, what needs to be improved or changed, and what would make this product or service worth its cash value. 

When I created my first online course as part of my business plan, I decided to test an early version out on a few different customers and used their feedback to make this product even better. 

This process helped me make a number of changes. I made the presentation less text-heavy so it was easier to consume, I added more videos to make it more engaging, and I included weekly assignments to keep students accountable. 

With customer feedback, you'll be able to see if this product or service is worth your focus or if there's something else that you can create based on the same structure or process you originally had in mind. 

3. Regularly analyze your finances

One key way to help make your business profitable is to sit down and do a complete financial audit. Knowing your finances inside and out will help you find ways to save, cut costs, and use that extra money to potentially scale your business.

After being in business for a year, I realized that I was focusing so much on growth and marketing that I hadn't taken the time to really organize my finances. 

I started the process of auditing my finances and worked with a bookkeeper, who helped me understand some mistakes I had made, such as not properly tracking expenses or sticking to a budget.

How to turn a side hustle into a full-time job, according to Tori Dunlap

Video by Stephen Parkhurst

The bookkeeper showed me some simple ways to cut costs so I could be more profitable, like canceling subscription services for tools I used once and then didn't use again and balancing my bank accounts so I wasn't hit with unnecessary overdraft fees. 

My bookkeeper helped me understand the importance of checking my bank statements frequently, keeping receipts, and tracking my budget to make sure I was being intentional about my spending

My best advice is to find someone you trust to go over your budget with you and figure out the best way to distribute the resources you have at your disposal. 

4. Remember that audits aren't just for your money 

In addition to your finances, I would recommend doing a complete audit on the platforms and systems you use for your business. This can be anything from social media content creation tools to bookkeeping tools to email marketing lists. 

An audit like this is meant to help you step back and see how you can do things in a more cost-effective and efficient way. 

I did my first systems audit after my third year in business and have continued to do them every single quarter. One major thing I found in my first audit was that there was at least 10 hours of work I was doing every week that I could potentially outsource, like updating blog posts, scheduling social media, and doing PR outreach. 

An audit like this is meant to help you step back and see how you can do things in a more cost-effective and efficient way. 

So I hired a virtual assistant to help me free up over 40 hours a month to focus more on things like business development and product research. Today, I employ virtual assistants on a project-by-project basis. 

One way to help you start this process is to track your time for one week. You can do this manually or use a tool like Toggl. At the end of the week, you can see how you spend your time and then look into the tools, technology, or people who can help you work smarter.  

5. Buy from your competitors

I've found that a simple way to improve your products and systems, or innovate, is to buy from your competitor. Go through their sales process, track the customer service experience, and even test out their product or service. 

Once you do this, you'll be better equipped to do a competitor analysis of their strengths and weaknesses, which will allow you to brainstorm ways to make your offerings more unique. 

In my fourth year in business, I was starting to feel a bit stuck again. So as a way to shake things up, I spent some time trying out services from similar kinds of businesses to mine. I was able to see how my communication and marketing measured up to theirs, and find ways to add features to my existing services that made them more attractive to my audience. 

Alissa Quart: Avoid making 4 side hustle mistakes

Video by Stephen Parkhurst

This helped me decide to create a new content series for Instagram to engage with my audience on a daily basis, and step up my email marketing game to better communicate with my audience. 

This series has helped me increase traffic to my website, prospective client inquiries, and added to a 15% boost in revenue so far this year.  

My challenge for you would be to buy from three competitors over the course of a month. Then do quarterly complete competitive analysis. Be honest about what is working, what isn't, what you can do better, and what sets you apart. 

Jen Glantz is the founder and CEO of the business Bridesmaid for Hire, the voice of the podcast "You're Not Getting Any Younger,″ and the author of the Amazon-bestselling books "All My Friends Are Engaged and "Always a Bridesmaid for Hire."

More from Grow: