For the past few months, I’ve been planning and starting small online products/services. Things like email lists, simple services, and blogs (so far). As time goes on, the companies become more complex. You can find all the details on ship21in21.com.
So why would you care?
I’m now going to break down my process for starting small side-hustles while working full-time.
Anyone can do this. The costs in my case are less than $200 per project (that’s the cost per year). The time involved is minor (I work full-time after all). I hope it helps you consider making the jump.
Let’s get into it.
In my last letter a few months ago, we talked about what’s going on with the economy. In order to maintain the same lifestyle, we’d have to earn more than most companies are willing to give. Salaries aren’t going up that fast, unfortunately.
There are other benefits. Side-hustling is a big industry and I’m sure you know that. We can diversify income and stay safe in case another pandemic comes and we lose our jobs. Depending on the side-hustle, we can also create assets.
Side-hustling is “worth” more than a salary when you consider the freedom it affords you. Businesses can also be sold, and there are marketplaces around that help with these transactions.
Most of all, side-hustles help us develop higher agency: greater control over our lives, our choices. It comes down to more freedom. In my case since I’m doing this while working full time, I have less stress.
So where do we start?
Some might think it’s deciding on what to sell. That’s not actually the first step. The first step is deciding on who we’re going to sell.
That’s our audience, and where we’ll begin.
When we start with “what” to sell instead of “who” to sell, we end up struggling to find customers anyway. By focusing on the audience first, we’re better set up for success. If we know what people want, we can make it.
Here are a few example audiences:
The version of me from just 5 years ago was a completely different person.
New to b2b, trying to build a career, and so focused on “making it.”
I got lucky that I caught on to office dynamics, and learned how to learn quickly.
It worked out for me (for a reason), and sharing that would be valuable for many I’m sure.
That’s it. No need to complicate it. Young, hungry, twenty-somethings that are new to b2b and may not understand office dynamics nor how to learn.
So what might I sell them?
Templates of emails, phone scripts, and proposals I used that made me successful.
Describing the differences between closing a small business vs an enterprise like Lululemon (which I did a deal with).
A small service reviewing their calls/proposals and giving them tips.
Courses - short and to the point - that describe the nuance of how I negotiated good deals, won against competitors, how improved over time.
There are opportunities all over the place.
My former self would have easily paid money for a fast-track from someone who’s done it. Perhaps your former self wouldn’t, and that’s okay. Let’s look at a few other audiences.
I work at Periphery Digital, an awesome agency that does bilingual marketing (English + Chinese). We sell to developers who are pre-selling hundreds of homes at a time.
Most of us have an employer, that’s why using them as the baseline for an audience.
So what describes my employer/bosses?
Young business owners focused on increasing sales, hiring awesome people, and building a great business.
Managing team dynamics, balancing business decisions with people-first decisions, and working towards an awesome culture.
Focused on personal productivity, getting more out of their time, and creating leverage (so one hour of work produces compounding benefits).
Making the next step in their careers, which (believe it or not), means going through much of what we went through to get the job in the first place like networking, and building a “personal brand” to stand out in the market.
My bosses are the owners of the business and yours may not be. That’s okay. They hired us for a reason regardless.
Hiring is a tough, expensive process and managers are always looking for a way to stand out among candidates.
They want to know how to find amazing candidates, hire them quickly, and (ideally) get good value for their money.
Teaching them how to do any of those things is one angle. So what might we sell them?
Access to a newsletter (with a paid-post-only option) that explores what makes a great employee in your field. You can conduct interviews, post relevant research, or share your own story. You make money when they pay extra for the higher-value posts (which is an absolutely booming industry by the way).
A service reviewing job postings for a small fee offering insight into what makes a job more or less attractive. Nobody wants to apply for a job when the posting is a wall of text and you can show them how to re-write postings into something great candidates desire.
Creating a job board where candidates in your field (assuming you have at least a small network of people who do what you do), can apply. You’d then charge a small fee for the posting on your board share with your audience (such as people like your former self). Ideally, you’d send candidates like yourself to the companies posting jobs.
It’s a bit of work upfront, but it’s easily worth it. Once it’s built, the hard parts are over and you keep most of the money that comes in.
This one is very common, but not for everyone.
Some people don’t like turning their hobby into a money-making thing because it sucks the fun out of it. For others, it’s more like “why not” (I’m one of these people).
Those who monetize a hobby create a store or something and then end up struggling to find buyers. We don’t want to be in that situation.
Let’s get into building an audience first that matches the buyers in the context of your hobby.
To find buyers, you’ll have to find communities of people.
Sneaker-heads join discord groups.
Artists create Instagram accounts first and build the audience there before their launch.
Gamers stream online and promote through Twitter or OnlyFans.
Whatever the hobby, keep distribution in mind and start there. I bring this up because most people go straight into selling before there’s anybody there to see what they’re doing.
The risk is you come off very “salesy” before you’ve built trust with potential buyers. That’s why it takes longer. The trade-off is you like the hobby, and you’ll be active because you’re doing more of what you love anyway.
It’s a great opportunity, and I want to see you thrive instead of struggle from a lack of distribution.
Now we need to get into creating the actual thing people buy.
So what are the building blocks to our ideas, and how do we make offers?
Let’s get into it.
These are what I focus on first:
Website. I use super.so. There are many website builders out there, but I like Super because it’s fast, easy, and built on Notion (which I use for everything). $12/month.
Email list. These are key. I use buttondown.email for mine because again, it’s simple, fast, and easy to use. Free for the first 1000 subscribers. I use it for these letters.
Payments. I use Stripe for collecting payments. Setup took me about 30min and the funds go straight into my bank account. The first payment takes a week or two, and after that, I get deposits every few days. $.29 + 2.9%.
Forms. Often forgotten but very important. Collecting data is key, and helps later when you want to track who bought what. I regret not setting up proper data collection sooner. I use tally.so because it’s fast and their forms look great. Also, it integrates with Notion or Google Sheets to save time. Free.
Robots. This is what I call simple automation that glues things together. I’ll cover automation in detail in a future letter. I like using Zapier because it’s so good. It can get expensive though. Integromat is a good alternative that’s much less expensive. $9 for 1000 automated actions (more than enough).
Miscellany. You’ll have to purchase a domain and I recommend upgrading a g-suite account for a professional email. This is usually $20 for the domain and $8 a month for the email account. You can go without the email for a while if money is tight.
I set up the average project in a few hours including writing all the website copy with these building blocks. You can see more on the partner pages on ship21in21.com.
This is going to be its own letter in the future, but, here’s a short summary of how I write offers:
Saving time. Templates, curated lists of good resources (like tools or blog posts on a certain subject), are huge time-savers. Writing “save 100 hours of research” on the website is a big selling point.
Achieving desired outcomes. My former self wanted to learn how to sell and build a career. Templates, scripts, playbooks and more help that audience do just that. The key is to write “social proof” that they will achieve their desired result with a purchase. Logos of who I’ve closed (Lululemon, Anytime Fitness, Skadden Arps, Oxford Properties, Lenovo etc). Seeing those logos of clients I’ve personally closed is proof it works. Testimonials also help with this if you can get them.
Guarantees. People want less risk. Guarantees that you’ll update your templates, add more resources to your curated lists, money-back if it doesn’t work help reduce risk. They also forces you to have a great offer. In my experience, most happy customers don’t take you up on this (especially if you’re selling something under $1,000).
Comparing to a more expensive, trash product. 50% less than competitors is a compelling offer. Same if you can directly compare your offer to theirs. Faster, cheaper, better, more effective, are all great things to add (if they’re true).
An alternative, less expensive offer. Let’s say they don’t want to pay your price of $500 for example. You can instead direct them to your email newsletter that includes pro-level only posts for just $15 per month. Since they’re looking at a $500 spend, the alternative is so much smaller it’s more compelling on a psychological level. This is called anchoring.
Let’s get into what I just described above. Here’s a decent offer:
“Everything you need to crush your quota in b2b enterprise sales (even if you’re brand new):
Save 200+ hours looking for the answers (and making all the mistakes).
Proven email copy, phone scripts, and 1-page proposal templates.
Playbooks for how to handle every common objection (pricing, timing, process).
From someone who’s closed a few million dollars doing deals with companies like Lululemon, Anytime Fitness, Lenovo, and Skadden Arps.
Your purchase includes a course where I describe the nuance of each section.
For $799, but on sale for 20% off this month with no recurring fees.
Or, you can hire a coach for $1,000 a month - who hasn’t actually sold anything in a decade - and who purposely takes things slow to keep charging you month after month.
Guarantee 1: if these aren’t working for you, I will book a call with you for free to review what’s happening and tell you exactly how to improve.
Guarantee 2: If we book the call, you try it, and there are no improvements in the next 30 days, I’ll give you a full refund.
Buy it today, crush your quota, and cut those cheques. Worst case, you get your money back.”
If you’re in b2b sales or a business owner that sells things I’d say that’s a pretty compelling offer. It’s not the best it could be, but you get the idea. There’s a process to this and that means anyone can do it with practice.
I’ll include more examples in future letters so you can see how someone else in a different industry with a different audience can do the same.
But that’s an example offer. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts.
I’ll be sharing the detail of each product in my letters and how I approached building it and writing the offer.
If you have a minute, send a reply with a number from 1 - 10 with what you’d rate this email. 1 is terrible and 10 is amazing. Comments are welcome!
Thanks for reading!
With my best regards,