Four side hustles that found success through social

Learn how social media can scale a side hustle.

The term ‘side hustle’ may sound informal, but there’s serious money being made.

In the UK, according to research conducted by Henley Business School, 1 in 4 people are running a side hustle – a gig done in the margins of a main job – and injecting £72 billion into the national economy annually. Other surveys have put the figure even higher, suggesting more than half of UK workers have a side hustle of some kind.

Many of these side hustles are made possible by digitisation. You can now build a business using online tools, such as social media. These platforms pack the power of reach, allowing even the smallest operation to reach millions of potential customers.

Side hustles can quickly swell into small businesses on social media and take in tens of thousands of pounds every month. To inspire you, here are a few notable examples of side hustles that found success through social – with key tips to keep in mind.

1. Distilling hand-made gin from Down Under

Ellen Weigall felt that spirits marketed to women typically land on two sides of this split: either horribly saccharine and incredibly calorific, or low-cal and yuck flavour. So, in 2019, Ellen decided to strike a new balance. She launched Baby, a small-batch distilled gin that tastes great and is sugar-free.

To make it happen, Ellen devoted her entire life’s savings, and began operating the business from her home, labelling every bottle by hand (though occasionally recruiting the help of compliant family members).

The company’s Instagram has already amassed near 7,000 followers, and its TikTok has earned more than 63k likes. While that may not seem like much (especially when you consider this video of a supermarket lobster kept as a pet has 13M views), it was enough to build her customer base to an extent that she now earns $20,000 per-month selling Baby gin, and Vogue called it the ‘perfect Valentine’s day gift.’

For a small business, a few thousand followers are often more than enough. Niche products – like small-batch gin – may not attract enough customers in just your local area. But you can leverage digital reach to find your audience – anywhere.

Ellen is savvy about the way she uses social media. Sharing footage of her Grandfather dutifully adhering a label to a bottle, for example, Ellen uses TikTok to provide an authentic window into the day-to-day of her business.

This authenticity resonates with her target market. Hard to get more ‘small-batch gin’ than with bottles labelled by the founder’s grandfather on the kitchen table, eh?

THE TAKEAWAY FOR SOCIAL: Use social media to provide an authentic window into your business, and to spotlight its character. The more real it feels, the wider it reaches.

2. Selling bespoke graphic t-shirts on eBay

With a year left of university, Ed Snelson, landed an apprenticeship at Airbus UK. It was hard work, and Ed wasn’t sure he was suited for a career in aviation.

His future unclear, Ed thought he might start selling t-shirts. It was a leap; he didn’t know anything about t-shirts. But he did know that people sometimes bought them on eBay. Before launching his page, Ed thought about what other, more mainstream retailers offered. Then he thought of something they weren’t selling – but that people might want.

Ed’s unique t-shirts allowed customers to customise messages on them. This personal touch was not on offer on the high street. And his hunch was right: people wanted them.

Ed now sells personalised tote bags, t-shirts, and other items through five separate sites on eBay. In 2017, he was awarded eBay Business of the Year, and in 2019 he told the BBC he was making millions every year.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about freedom.”

THE TAKEAWAY FOR SOCIAL: Find an itch to scratch. To compete in any digital space, take a look at what else is on offer, and figure out what you can bring to the table that no one else is. Plus, when interacting online, any degree of personalisation helps cement a bond with customers.

3. Farming tropical fish from a flat

Malik King – who goes by the username AquaMalik on YouTube – is a self-described ‘fish influencer.’ He’s been raising tropical fish – now kept in elaborate stacks of aquarium tanks along virtually every wall in his flat – in his native Sri Lanka since he was just seven years old.

But he offers more than just fish by post. Via YouTube and Instagram, Malik shares educational and entertaining content about these creatures. Need to know how to care for King Tiger Pleco, a South American catfish with zebra stripes? Malik shares everything you need to know to look after this popular pet.

Creating a stream of content like this allows Malik to offer the kind of care you get in a local store, but to a global audience. He’s managed to build a community of followers from all over the world who turn to his expertise.

The second effect of Malik’s efforts on social media is that Malik has developed an international reputation as a fish guru. This gives buyers confidence in the health of the fish he raises, and helps him sell other products, such as water filters, as his endorsement carries weight.

Malik told Vice News that he earns more than $45k a year through his side hustle alone.

THE TAKEAWAY FOR SOCIAL: Don’t just try to sell. You can use your social media page to share genuinely useful content, which, by extension, shows off your expertise. By building a community of interested people, you can build a solid reputation and nurture customer relationships at once.

4. Rainbow-coloured, piñata inspired cake making

Despite having a successful, albeit conventional, career in the fashion industry, Amirah Kassem quit her day job to focus entirely on her side hustle: baking dazzling, decadent cakes, a skill her Mother taught her growing up in Juárez, Mexico.

To pursue her passion full-time, Amirah had to make some sacrifices, even renting out the living room of her one-bedroom apartment in New York City, where she moved in 2011.

Her dedication paid off. She now has more than 250k followers on Instagram, and her rainbow-coloured ‘Explosion Cake,’ which she says is inspired by pinatas, is a favourite of celebrities and influencers, ranging from Kim Kardashian to Aerin Lauder.

She says that one secret to her success was to never ignore a DM (direct message) via social. A lot of her first orders were from people who saw colourful cakes on Instagram and requested one directly by messaging her account. Amirah paid close attention to every single one.

“It was really helpful to see first-hand who the customer was, who was interested in our product, and to get to know our audience,” she told Glamour magazine.

THE TAKEAWAY FOR SOCIAL: Don’t ignore DMs. Use social media as a direct line to your customers. When they reach out, take advantage of the opportunity to start building relationships.

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