I turned my side hustle into a six-figure job: Here's how I suggest side hustlers use stimulus checks

"Fresh talent is always a good investment."

Natalie Zfat runs a six-figure social media business out of her home.
Photo by Natalie Zfat

In 2010, during the last recession, I decided to start a side business after recognizing a growing demand for social media services. Over the last decade, my social media consulting side hustle has grown into a six-figure, full-time business with a five-person team. 

A combination of great clients, a hard-working team, and investments back into my company helped my business earn a 13% increase in revenue in 2020.

Last year, Americans launched 4.4 million businesses, a 24% increase from 2019, according to a February study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics. In January 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 492,133 business applications were filed, an increase of 42.6% compared to December 2020. 

As of last week, 90 million of the $1,400 stimulus checks were deposited. If you are one of the Americans who started a business amid the pandemic, or have an idea for a side hustle that you would like to get off the ground now, and if you don't need the money for more immediate concerns like rent or making sure you have enough money in your emergency fund, you may be considering how to best use those funds.

Here are five smart ways to invest your stimulus check into your side hustle. 

1. Make your office a place you want to be 

If you are going to run your side hustle from home, a good starting place to invest in your business is in your workspace. 

In my experience, some great basics that have helped to keep me focused and feeling professional are good lighting, a high-quality microphone, a few plants, and a chair with back support. If you're staring at screens all day, consider a pair of inexpensive but durable blue light glasses. 

You want to make your office a place where you enjoy being. That way, when you take calls from clients and pitch yourself for big projects, your confidence will shine through, even if you're on what seems like your 50th Zoom meeting of the day. Some of the items I personally invested in this year were a ring light and a standing desk. 

There is no shortage of affordable and creative ways to spruce up your workspace – and more importantly show your clients that you mean business.

2. Hire new talent who will help you grow 

Alex Luna opened Kindred Homestead Supply, a low-waste, bulk item, and refill storefront in September 2020 to find a way to help her community amid the pandemic. When Luna received her stimulus check earlier this year, she used it to hire her first employee, which she says freed her up to "do more outreach, getting the word out, ramp up our social media presence, and increase our inventory." 

Over the last five months, Kindred has moved into a larger location and hired two full-time employees.

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Whether you're using your stimulus check to hire employees, a lawyer to get your legal affairs in order, or an accountant to help you save money when tax season comes, depending on the needs of your business, fresh talent is always a good investment.

The first employee I hired almost seven years ago is still with me today, serving as our brand director. If you're able to bring someone on, a new perspective and skill set on your team can create exponential value. 

3. Give your brand a refresh

I know that when I'm focused on helping my clients, I've put my own business's needs on the backburner. But I've found that simple design investments can both impress existing customers and help you look sharper than ever when new business opportunities arise.

Run your numbers, and consider putting that stimulus money towards hiring a developer to revamp your website or tapping a graphic designer to create a new logo or other relevant materials. In my experience, graphic designers tend to charge $15-$150 an hour, depending on their level of expertise and the scope of your project. 

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Back in August, my company partnered with a web design company called Editor X to redo our website, which included SEO optimization and a design that would work both on a desktop and mobile devices. We were able to barter with Editor X in exchange for social content. 

Especially when you are just starting out, if there is another company you would like to work with, bartering can be a great way to get exposure and build a mutually beneficial relationship that can save you money in the short term, and add to your bottom line going forward. 

Seven months later, I continue to get emails from potential clients saying how much they love our website. One client, upon hiring us, even wrote me an email saying they wanted to redo their website to mirror mine, which is the ultimate compliment when you work in digital media.

4. Take a course that will help expand your offerings

Kim Barna left her job as a teacher in December of 2020 to turn her home organizing side hustle into her full-time business. 

With many people buying new homes, relocating, or simply adapting to the general needs of working and schooling from home, she recognized an opportunity to help families transition. After three months of running Align Your Space full time, she matched her former teaching salary.

Barna used a portion of her income to take an online course about feng shui to diversify her knowledge and develop a new niche for her company. 

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A growing part of my own business is teaching social media courses to entrepreneurs and executives, so I recently started taking an online class through HarvardX to earn a teaching certificate.

If there is a new skill you want to learn that will allow you to improve your business and expand your service offerings, consider putting some stimulus money towards an online course or certification.

5. Improve your online presence

I might be biased as a social media consultant, but I believe that having an online presence is critically important to the success of any side hustle or growing company. A lack of a digital footprint means missed opportunities. You want to be able to reach your prospective audience where they are. 

In my experience, larger social media agencies and public relations firms typically charge $3,000/month. But that isn't the only way for a new business to amplify a message or get the word out about offerings.

You may want to look into smaller shops or freelancers, like one we recently hired who charged us only for each media placement she secured for us. This was very helpful in terms of gaining visibility for our company, while also maintaining our marketing budget. 

There are also a number of free and affordable social media workshops you can take through platforms like Skillshare, Coursera, Udemy, and even colleges and universities. Take a look at your budget, and consider investing your stimulus money into a plan that can help you build that valuable digital foundation.  

Natalie Zfat is a social media entrepreneur and keynote speaker who has partnered with some of the most iconic brands in the world, including Facebook, Samsung, LinkedIn, and CNBC. Zfat's beloved social media community of 100K+ followers are dreamers, doers, and entrepreneurs, from college students to CEOs. In 2020, WeWork honored Zfat for having "cracked the code of the freelance economy."

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