How to turn your skills into a side business

Life is crazy. It’s always been true, but it feels especially so now more than ever. The current COVID-19 crisis has impacted every aspect of our lives, and the job market has been hit especially hard. In this unpredictable climate, it’s hard to know where to turn when you’ve found yourself looking for work or needing to make extra cash. The answer? Look to yourself and turn the skills you already have into a business.

You have passions and experiences in you already that people will pay for. It’s all about finding them and turning them into a side business. In this guide, we’ll turn the inklings and ideas you have floating around in your head into a reliable way to make money

Separate your skills from your knowledge, and talents

Take stock of everything you have right now to see what can be the basis for your business. It’s all up there in your brain already, so let’s shake out what we can use by separating what you have in terms of skills, knowledge, and talents. Then we can put all of that together and make it work for you as a successful self-owned side hustle or business.

The difference between knowledge and skills

Knowledge is information you have learned through books, media, school, and so on, while a skill is using that knowledge. Put another way, knowledge is a theory, and skills are the knowledge in practice. 

You need both knowledge and skills to be good at something, but there is a main difference between knowledge and skill. Anyone can learn about a subject and gain knowledge, but some people will naturally be more skilled at certain tasks than others because of natural ability. Consider how anyone can take a course about art history, but some people have an “eye” for it.

The difference between skills and talent

That natural ability to be better at specific tasks is talent. While most people can learn about a subject and apply it in a practical way as a skill, only some will excel at it or exhibit a talent. Like knowledge, skills can be learned and practiced, but with talent, you either have it or you don’t. 

Say you and your friends all took a knitting class. Even though you received the same knowledge and learned and practiced the same skill, at the end of the class at least one person’s scarf will likely be better designed and better constructed because they have a natural talent for knitting. That doesn’t mean everyone with slightly lumpy scarves should stop knitting; it just means that maybe those makers of irregular scarves without a natural talent might not want to open a scarf store.“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals”Larry Bird

Assess your talents

Grab a pen and paper and get ready to brainstorm. Start by writing out all the things you like to do and are good at. Focus on anything that you feel “comes naturally” to you. Consider activities and qualities that you are proud of, that people compliment you on, and that you have received professional recognition for. 

Ask yourself if any of these qualities relate to you and your talents. Are you…

  • Creative?
  • Extremely organized?
  • Hard-working?
  • A quick learner?
  • Great at public speaking?
  • An animal lover?
Tip: Take a personality test such as the Meyers-Briggs Type in personality and careers to help you with career planning at every stage: from choosing your first career, to advancing in your organization or changing careers later in life

List the marketable skills you can turn into a side business

Now it’s time to refine your list to focus on the skills you have that other people might want to pay you for. If you haven’t done any of the following in your first pass at the list, add these categories now:

  1. Ask your friends about what they think you’re great at
  2. Talk to your former employers and coworkers about areas they thought you excelled at
  3. List your hobbies and what you are passionate about
  4. If you had a free hour, how would you fill it?
  5. List the services you are already paying for and services other people pay for that you do for yourself. Don’t forget everyday activities that might have been left off the list.

Here’s a list of chores that could be the first thing you cross off your to-do list that may inspire a forgotten skill or talent.

  • Walking dogs
  • Cleaning the house
  • Ironing
  • Gardening
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning and detailing your car
  • Exercising
  • Knowing a second language
  • Organizing your closet
  • Odd jobs or handyman jobs

Is there anything you can turn into a business?

Edit your list with a critical eye. You want to take activities that come to you naturally and turn them into a side business. Look at your list to see if it answers the question:

How can I solve people’s problems with this skill or hobby?

Consider common problems that you may have as others may be in the same boat and brainstorm a solution.

Combine talents and skills to generate business ideas

Hopefully, by now your list is narrowed down to highlight your specific skills and talents that perfectly dovetail with a service people need. For instance, if your list said that you are detail-oriented as your talent and your skills include accounting and organization, the right service for you to provide might be as a virtual assistant or bookkeeper. If you are the type of person to do your taxes as soon as you receive the forms from your employer or if you excel at clerical tasks, this might also be the right calling for you.

Ask yourself if people have a concrete need for your skills

As you’re landing on your future business idea, make sure there is a need in the current market. For a business to find customers and succeed, it needs to provide something valuable. Specifically, your skills should fill a need people have. It should help businesses or people make money, save money, or save time. 

A great way to discover what services people will value is by performing some quick keyword research. For those familiar with SEMrush, you can find question-based keywords to find out what people are looking for surrounding the service you will be providing. If you’re not familiar with keyword research, you can hire a freelancer to do it for you. Keyword research helps you discover your customers’ pain points so you can see if your skills can help solve their problems. 

Personalize your service to a specific target market

Make yourself stand out. In a sea of other similar businesses, which of your skills will make you appeal to prospective customers? Let’s return to our previous example of a virtual bookkeeper: what makes you pop out in a sea of people that are doing the same thing? 

Get specific by focusing on a particular industry or niche group that helps you stand out and get noticed when people are searching for your service. In the bookkeeper example, you may consider marketing your services specifically to freelancers, small businesses, Etsy sellers, or local businesses unique to your area.

Have multiple streams of income

Make the most of your skills and explore all avenues of revenue. Google similar businesses and see if they are providing services you can also provide. 

Back to our bookkeeper example, offering bookkeeping services shouldn’t be the only avenue to make money. A bookkeeper could also create an online course about bookkeeping, offer different services for businesses and private households, or even offer online consultation services. Starting an online course is something anyone can do and can be as easy as recording yourself imparting the valuable knowledge you have and teaching others your skills over a video tutorial.

Package your knowledge into something worth

Now that you’ve narrowed down your business idea, your next step is to attract people to your service and transform them into repeat customers. You can accomplish this by finding ways to maximize the value for your customers so they recognize that your service is uniquely a good deal.

Ask yourself why you use the services you use. What makes you go to those specific places? It’s because you find their services valuable. The same idea is what will bring people to use your business. Increase customer value and grow your business by focusing on what customers want. 

Customers are looking for more than the perfect product or a good price point. There are lots of options in the marketplace with those features and that’s why customers look for additional value when making their choice. What could make you stand out against the competition, it’s to develop a personal relationship with your clients that will encourage repeat business

Customers also seek a service they can trust and rely on as a source of valuable experience. Fostering connections with your customers builds trust and provides opportunities for you to share your experience.

#1. Understand what drives value for your customers

To best reach your customers, you need to know what drives value for them. That’s just a fancy way to say that you need to know what they find important and the best way to do that is to simply ask them. Ask your customers, or future customers, what they want in a business—is it a low price, excellent customer service, or all of the above? Ask what other types of services they pay for or need that complement your own which will help you identify future business opportunities. 

Going back to our bookkeeping example, maybe your customers say they need assistance in figuring out tax forms. One option to resolve their issue is to provide a sample form with what to write and where to write it highlighted. This could be provided directly to the client via email, or be posted as a resource on your website. Having this kind of resource would save your customers time and alleviate the headache of figuring it out on their own, providing real value to them. 

#2. Understand your value proposition

And now for some fancy business math: The value customers receive is equal to the benefits of a product or service minus its costs. 

Basically, your customers will be weighing how much they need what you are selling against how much it costs. You do this every time you buy literally anything. 

Convenience also matters in this equation. A great example of this is getting gas. Say you are running late and you will drive past a gas station with okay-priced gas. You know there’s a cheaper gas station but it’s not on your way. So you decide you’d rather pay more for the convenience and not be late. Convenience is key, especially if you don’t have the lowest price point for your services.

Make something people want and sell that, or be someone people need and sell you

#3. Segment your audience

To continue with our gas station example, not everyone may make the choice to pay a higher price for gas. Some people do not have the extra money to spare and might need to risk being late to save money. If the gas station was in a wealthy area, people may have the money to trade costs for convenience, whereas in a less prosperous part of town, people may not have the extra money to make that trade. 

Knowing background data like this about your prospective customers will help you appeal to them based on what they want and need. Segmenting your audience will help you find the right way to appeal to your prospective customers. Different customers value different things and have different needs. Rather than try a one-size-fits-all approach with your audience, figure out what makes each segment tick and tailor your service, product, and marketing to them. 

Put yourself into your customer’s shoes and then adjust your message to speak to them specifically. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t try to sell something to an adult the same way you would to a teenager, considering your specific audiences’ needs and realize they will be different across the board. Knowing this and making your message as specific as possible will help clients feel like you understand their needs before they even walk in the door.

#4. Create a win-win price

Figure out the right amount to charge for the service you provide. You want to make the most money you can while still providing a good enough value that your customers will feel satisfied so everybody wins. 

To figure this out, you need to factor in your costs and time as well as what your consumers are willing and/or able to pay for. Research what other people are charging for your service and price yourself competitively. If you are providing more valuable or convenient services that others aren’t providing, you can raise your price point because the value is there. In other circumstances, you may be able to afford to charge less than your competitors which is a great way to drive customers to your business.

#5. Make your services or products easy to buy

This one feels like a no-brainer but needs to be said anyway. In starting your own business you need to make sure your intended customers can find you. To be able to sell, they need to be able to buy. So how do you do that?

#6. Provide a different way to purchase

Make it as easy as possible for customers to give you their money. This could mean staying up-to-date on the latest technology and accepting payment through all of the various payment apps, or it could mean selling things over Instagram and having people interested in your product or service send you a direct message on that platform (often called a DM) to arrange payment. 

In addition to different payment options, you could also allow for home delivery or services that let people pay at the time of drop off or time of service. Another way to provide a different way to purchase products is by providing a subscription option. A subscription will let people “set and forget” their payment for maximum convenience for them and for you.

#7. Craft a pitch that is tailored to their needs and concerns

The current COVID-19 crisis has changed how people buy services. Focus on what people are concerned about and tailor your approach accordingly. Contactless delivery, orders over the phone, and business are typically done in person performed over a video conferencing service like Zoom or Google Hangouts have gained popularity because of the current climate. 

This theory extends beyond the current crisis as well: don’t make payment available only through a payment app no one uses. Find what is easiest for the customer and meet them where they are. And if you don’t know where that is? Simply ask your customers how to make the purchasing process as easy as possible for them.

Takeaway: The more you know about your audience and their needs, and the better you can serve them with the right advice and how-to information to help them solve their problems and live better lives

Leverage the power of digital to engage customers

Get people in the door of your business (metaphorically, since you most likely are offering something that does not involve a brick-and-mortar storefront) through marketing. Help people find you by taking advantage of all of the different tools the internet has to offer. Here are a few ideas: 

#1. Create a blog

Introduce yourself to your future clients by creating a blog. Writing a blog is an easy way to better explain who you are and what you do to your clients. Writing in a friendly and personal tone will help establish a relationship with your clients and let them get to know you and establish trust. In addition, hosting a blog establishes you as an authority on the subject as it provides a platform for you to display your knowledge and skills. If you don’t have the expertise to build a blog, you always have the option to hire a freelancer to help you.

You can also use your blog to teach people about your area of expertise and advertise your services. Most blog platforms have a form option for you to collect reader emails. You can use that information you gathered to create a mailing list. Create a newsletter you can send to clients now that you’ve gathered their contact information. You can use it to update them on the latest features of your company and any sales you may have. Much like with setting up a blog, if you don’t have the skills yourself, you can hire a freelancer to help you build a personalized newsletter opt-in form and create the newsletter template for you.

Additionally, if people are receptive to the information you are sharing on your blog you can start to charge for that knowledge and sell online courses. Online courses can be recorded very similarly to a vlog, so it’s a natural pivot from your blog to vlogging to teaching your first online course.

#2. Facebook ads

Advertise your business on Facebook by creating Facebook ads. First, you need to set up a Facebook business account and then you can start running ads on Facebook. The process is explained on their site and is relatively simple, but you can also hire a freelance marketer to help you incorporate best practices and get the best results.

You can also start running ads for a very low cost so you can see if Facebook advertising is worth it in the long run before you invest more money and time into Facebook ad campaigns. Facebook also offers A/B testing and analytics for your ads so you know exactly who your ads are targeting and reaching, which is very important in marketing to a specific segmented audience.

#3. Google local ads

Find people in your area and advertise to them directly by using Google local ads. Your ads will target the people in the area you serve and there is a low risk by creating a Google ad because you only have to pay for the ad if someone clicks on it. In the event that you create an ad and don’t receive any clicks as a result of the designated ad, you haven’t wasted any money

Ad pricing is flexible and rates are advertised as starting as low as a dollar per click. If your fledgling business is taking up most of your time and attention, it may be a good idea to outsource this step by hiring a freelancer to run your ad campaigns effectively. You’ll save your time and energy to focus on the other demands of your business, while ensuring that your ads are reaching the most people, making the most of your time and money.

#4. Expand your social media presence

Make sure you have a social media presence so your clients can find you and learn more about your services or products. Often when deciding if a product is legitimate or a scam, people will seek out their social media accounts to learn more about the person behind the business. You can establish trust and authenticity by not only showcasing your business but also showcasing yourself in your social media accounts. 

Think of your future customers and find the best social media platform to reach them. If there’s an older audience, make sure you have a significant Facebook presence, but if you serve millennials, you might want to have a stronger presence on Instagram. Even younger audiences can be found on TikTok. Find similar services to your business and follow all of the people that like and follow similar business’ accounts. This will bring people to your account and you will gain followers. You can turn followers into customers by engaging with them in their comments and liking their posts to build a digital relationship.

Social media management can take up a tremendous amount of time. There is a reason established companies have large social media teams that handle branding, copy, content creation, graphic design, and scheduling for peak performance. If you need help managing your social media presence, consider hiring a freelancer (or team of freelancers) who have social media experience and skills. 

#5. Run a social media challenge

Further your social media presence by creating viral content by way of creating a social media challenge. Creating fun and viral challenge by asking followers to complete a wacky task can garner social media attention for your brand. Make sure the social media challenge relates to your brand but has an unusual or eye-catching element. Don’t forget to create a related hashtag so people will follow it back to your brand. 

You can also make your social media challenge into a contest to bring more interest to your brand. Offer the winner a free service from your business which will incentivize people to do your challenge and share it with their followers, all telling more people about what your business does along the way.

Create retainer plans

Automate your business by driving repeat customers. When starting your own business or working as a freelancer, a lot of time and energy goes into finding new clients. Once you find these clients you can create and use retainer plans to, well, retain them. A retainer plan is a business strategy that ensures that you’ll have consistent, returning customers and also a consistent stream of income. These programs include deals, package plans, and loyalty programs, all working to further your relationship with your clients.

#1. Offer services that need regular renewal

Create a long-term relationship with your clients. Many services you can offer involve a long-term commitment or regular renewal. House cleaning, teaching a language, or walking dogs are all businesses where clients will need your services repeatedly. Building and sustaining relationships with these clients will not only bolster your business but also provide a continuous income source. With services that are ongoing, you can offer your customers a subscription or package deal, where if they buy 5 classes or dog walks in advance they get a discount compared to paying for them a la carte.

#2. Instead of having to quote a new project each time, offer packages

Much like offering a discount if customers pay for ongoing services in advance, you can offer package deals for one-off services as well. Consider the service you’re already providing your customers and pair it with similar services as an incentive for the customer to choose you. It’s very convenient for your customer if you are a one-stop-shop. 

In addition to convenience, you can create a package deal that either provides a discount or at least gives the appearance of a discount because of the incredible value your customers have for the services you offer. A great example of this is if you are a web designer or a freelance graphic designer, you know that your clients will need new marketing materials or a website refresh every quarter. You can offer a package that includes an initial website design with refreshes included in the packages or a marketing material bundle. People will appreciate the convenience and you will have a stream of promised income to count on.

You don’t earn loyalty in a day. You earn loyalty day-by-day

#3. Create loyalty programs

Loyalty programs are incredibly popular for a reason and that reason is that they work. People are more likely to use and return to companies that have loyalty programs. There are several different types of loyalty programs, including point-based, tier-based, and perk-based. 

  • Point-based loyalty programs: These programs give customers points for purchases, opt-ing into emails, and providing feedback. Once a customer gets a certain amount of points they will be eligible for a free item or service or discount.
  • Tier-based loyalty programs: Customers enter different tiers based on how much money they spend. The more money they spend the higher tier they rank. Each tier has specific benefits, discounts, and bonuses; the higher the tier, the better the perk.
  • Perk-based loyalty programs: Perk-based loyalty programs are normally of the smaller variety and tend to be free items included with purchase or service, often in the form of an included surprise. Think free sample size beauty products or free digital bonus content. Another example would be if you are running a business that details clients’ cars, maybe as an added bonus you wax the car or include a free air freshener.

#4. Create surveys

Survey your customers to find out what your users think of your services. It gives you the opportunity to continue to provide the elements of your business that people love and improve the areas that could use a little more work. Your customers will appreciate that you are open to feedback and also appreciate any changes implemented based on what they said. This will also engage your customers and give you an opportunity to thank them for using your services and get to know them on a more personal level. (If you are looking to create a digital survey but don’t have the capability, Fiverr has resources for creating a survey.)

#5. Provide personalization

Appeal to more customers by creating a personalized experience. According to RILA’s (R)Tech Center for Innovation and Accenture, 63% of consumers are interested in a personalized brand experience. The way to do this is by collecting information from your customers. A good entry into personalization is asking your customers when their birthday is and then sending a happy birthday message with a special discount or coupon. Some services allow users to send personalized newsletters that fill in each client’s name into the email greeting.

Don’t forget about customer service

Customer service is a very important element of running a business and the best way to keep your customers coming back to you for repeat business. It adds a personal touch to your business that people remember much like the previous step of personalization.

It almost goes without saying that a happy customer is a repeat customer. Unfortunately, you can’t ensure that everyone has a perfect experience from your service, even though you would like to provide that initially. Luckily you can rectify any issue your customers have through customer service. If a customer is unhappy with their initial experience thanks to your surveys or comment section they can let you know their issues and you can reach out and rectify those issues.

Establishing real relationships with your customers. Talk to your customers directly through their social media. We previously discussed how to establish a known social media presence and now you can use that to connect with your customers and future customers alike. Don’t just post and expect people to like your posts—you also need to engage with your customer’s posts, especially if they share something related to your product. 

Repost any positive feedback people post about your services and be sure to thank them for the good review. If people are posting less than stellar reviews, it’s a valuable opportunity to receive feedback from customers. Reach out to those privately and see if there is anything you can do to rectify the situation. 

Stellar customer service is an ongoing project. It’s good to establish a policy of returning your customers’ queries within a short span of time. Taking time to remember details about your customers and saying please and thank you goes a long way. 

It’s also very important to be available when your customers need you and therefore you should offer 24/7 support. No, we’re not advocating that you skip sleep and always be on-call for your customers. You can create a chatbot to field simple questions from users (or you have a Fiverr freelancer to create one for you). If the customer query is too complicated for the bot, they can forward the question to a live customer service representative or forward it to your email account.


The job market is rough and many of us are stuck looking for work in an uncertain economy. Your best bet is to rely on yourself and your specific skill set to start a side hustle. Using the steps we just outlined, you can narrow down what areas you excel at and use them to your benefit. Your skills will create the foundation of your business and your business will be bolstered by creating value for your customers, focusing on marketing, and creating excellent customer service. Segmenting your audience and focusing on your customers will enable you to turn people with a problem to solve into loyal, repeat customers. Enticing and retaining these customers will create a steady stream of revenue in these uncertain times. 

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