The farm was beautiful: A moderate house and 11-stall barn built on 40 acres outside of Nashville. It reminded Christy Wright of her dad, and of Bo, the wobbly-legged foal she watched take its first steps nearly two decades prior. Bo was her first horse. He was wild and adventurous, kind of like her. She’d wanted to live on a ranch—this ranch—since that day. But there was one not-so-small problem: The rent was about three times more than the struggling college grad could afford. Wright rented it anyway.
She wasn’t focused on the ways she might fail; she was focused on her dream. To solve her big ranch, little money problem, Wright looked to the resources she already possessed—knowledge of horses and horse care, and 11 empty stalls. Fields of Grace Farm would become her first business, a horse boarding service that transformed into a haven for miniature donkeys, a few stray cats and two fainting goats. She never went in with the intention of making a huge profit or even labeling herself as an entrepreneur. She simply combined her skills, background and available resources in order to solve a problem she saw in her life.
“More often than not, business is not super sophisticated; it’s just scrappy,” Wright says. “It’s just making it work. It’s failing and picking yourself up and trying something new.”
Opening the farm was a risk, and those times weren’t easy. But Wright was tired of living in a house filled with an endless cycle of roommates moving in and out. She was tired of working 80 hours per week at a nonprofit earning minimum wage. She gave herself permission to chase a bigger dream and then made a plan to achieve it.
Now a 39-year-old business coach, bestselling author of books including Take Back Your Time and Business Boutique and public speaker, Wright’s mission as former Dave Ramsey-aligned media personality and creator of the Business Boutique brand was to empower women everywhere, in boardrooms and nurseries, to embrace that little voice in their head brimming with ideas.
How to start a side hustle in the YouEconomy
A solo or side hustle doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to change the world, Wright says. You don’t need to move to Silicon Valley or even out of your basement. You don’t need to scale up to $1 million in revenue. In fact, you can make just enough to fund an annual family vacation, for example, or your child’s club sports travel costs. The beauty of the YouEconomy is that it’s eternally customizable. It can be bent, turned, twisted and contorted until it fits the reality of your existing schedule. Your YouEconomy venture should fit within your life, not the other way around.
This new concept of the American dream is available to any woman willing to work for it. And helping women ideate, plan, launch and grow their YouEconomy pursuits was the basis of Business Boutique.
“My favorite part of this journey is to have a front row seat to watch these people do this thing, build their businesses and chase their dreams,” Wright says.
But, she cautions, starting a business—no matter the size or complexity—isn’t easy, and it’s not for everyone. For those who want it, though, the timing has never been better. Here she offers SUCCESS her best tips for starting a side hustle in the YouEconomy.
1. Understand your calling
So you like designing and building coffee tables? Cool. Is it your passion? Is it your life’s work? Will it be what people remember you for? Maybe not, and that’s OK. The point is that you enjoy it, and maybe you’ll find a group of people who also enjoy handmade coffee tables but don’t have the talent, time or patience to build their own. Who are willing to pay you for your product and potentially even create a long-term business relationship with you. Boom, you have a first customer, which means you are in the YouEconomy. It can truly be that simple, Wright says.
“[‘Calling’] implies that there was one thing that you were put on this earth to do, and I don’t agree with that,” she says. “Regardless of what you do or how you do it, I’m passionate about serving people, and there are a lot of different ways we can do that.”
Chasing your dreams can feel intimidating when you start to consider whether your hobby or skill is profitable and scalable enough to share with the world. Put those negative thoughts aside, Wright says.
2. Embrace your story to start your side hustle
Wright’s entrepreneurial journey began long before her adventure on the farm. When she was 6 months old, her single mother approached a moderately successful candy store owner in downtown Nashville and rewrote the script of her life. He needed more business, and she needed an established platform to showcase her talent for creating cakes and desserts. So she proposed that he display her homemade sweets in one of the storefront windows. For a percentage of her profits, Wright’s mother would have prime real estate and the candy store owner would see more foot traffic. It worked, and Wright’s mother eventually opened her own cake shop.
Wright grew up in that cake shop. She became friends with the employees, ran deliveries around downtown and organized the icing bags by color. She wasn’t much for the baking side of it, but the hustle of a small business excited her even then. Wright spent many early mornings before school napping on 50-pound bags of sugar and flour, often showing up to class with a powdery hue in her already white-blonde hair. She liked the cash register, the rhythm of the buttons and the satisfying whir as the drawer popped open. Wright holds a BBA and is a certified business coach, but her first business and leadership lessons happened in that cake shop.
“My mom didn’t teach me work ethic and character and passion and perseverance and kindness and customer service,” Wright says. “She lived it in front of me, and as a result, I live it as well.”
The cake shop never grew exponentially. Wright’s mother made a comfortable living, though she never became independently wealthy from her business. But she loved baking and it brought her joy to play such an integral part in celebrating the life milestones of her loyal customers.
In a time when virtually anyone with internet access can launch a startup or start a side hustle, the market might seem too crowded for handcrafted jewelry or all-natural soy candles. But Wright says the same age-old marketing principles apply: Customers want to try new products, and the market is always ready to embrace new ideas.
But what truly sells is the person and the story behind a product.
“The personal brand is your business brand, and that’s a unique advantage,” Wright says. “It can be the reason people come to you.”
The things that might seem weird about you are the things that make you unique, and by extension, make your product or service unique. Embrace the story of who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish. Your audience will feel that vulnerability and respond.
3. Do your research and be realistic when starting a side hustle
Wright doesn’t subscribe to sugar-coated advice. After managing large teams, growing departments and launching new ventures, she is a realist. If your passion has no demand in the current market, she’s going to tell you that.
If you love teaching piano lessons, great. But if your neighborhood has three other piano teachers who are struggling to fill time slots, you might have a problem. That doesn’t mean you’ll fail, but it does mean you need to do your research. Why are those other teachers struggling to fill benches?
“For someone to make money in the world we live in today, they have to solve a problem,” Wright says.
4. Start with what you have—and quickly
Starting a successful side hustle doesn’t have to be complicated, Wright says. Start with the resources you have. Maybe you speak three languages fluently. Consider teaching a foreign language or launching a digital course that your clients can take at their own pace. Your barrier to entry into the business world is now the cost of your internet connection and the time it takes to develop a course outline.
For many, the hardest part is getting started, Wright says. This is true for most scary or unpredictable things in life. So try to focus on getting just one paying customer as quickly as possible. Your first win may provide the confidence boost you need to stay motivated. After that first customer, you can adjust as necessary.
“It’s start fast, fail fast,” Wright says. “You’ll find out if it doesn’t work and you can redirect if you need to.”
5. Stake your ground
Your unique selling proposition is the one feature of your product or service that hasn’t been done by anyone else. A prime example, Wright says, is the Ember Mug, which allows you to adjust the temperature of your drink through an app on your smartphone. For Wright, a mother of three who reheats her coffee 50 times before lunch, this was groundbreaking. But what if you don’t have an idea that hasn’t been done before?
That’s when your unique selling proposition becomes the one quality of your product or service that you choose to highlight.
“A lot of what makes Business Boutique unique is me,” Wright says. “There are a bazillion business coaches, but people come to me for the way I teach it.”
When you’re considering what makes your solo venture marketable, don’t let the thought of creating the first or even the best version of your product or service intimidate you. Just focus on what makes it unique.
6. Dream big, start small and work tirelessly
Wright began working for Ramsey, the bestselling money whisperer and radio personality, in 2008. She started as a product developer before becoming a speaker, and with his mentorship, became a business coach in her own entrepreneurial venture.
Wright had long dreamed of working to inspire women in business as her mom once did by example, but she also took calculated risks, exercised patience and adopted a student mindset. As much as she believes that we should feed the dreamer within ourselves, Wright cautions against putting you or your family’s financial security at risk.
“I’m always, always going to teach the safe route,” Wright says. “I never teach people to have the Jerry Maguire moment where you grab the goldfish and say, ‘Who is with me?’”
If your YouEconomy business is new, this is probably not the time to quit your 9-to-5, Wright says. Be patient, and create time in the fringes of your schedule to build up your business to whatever size feels right for your situation. When you place all of your metaphorical eggs in the side gig basket, you run the risk of sacrificing your financial security and operating your business from a place of desperation.
“I guarantee you this,” Wright says. “If you are desperate for sales, desperate for money, desperate for personal income, your customers will feel it.”
7. Make time, not excuses to start your side hustle
How many times this week, this month or this year have you told someone that you’d love to start a side hustle, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day? The problem, Wright says, is that we aren’t purposefully choosing how we spend our time.
“I am very aware that my time is finite and I can do anything; but I can’t do everything… I’m OK saying no,” she says.
If you often go to bed wondering where your day went, and you feel guilty for not accomplishing everything on your to-do list, it might be time for a schedule audit. For one week, write down every single thing you do and how long it takes. If you were sucked into an Instagram scroll session for 25 minutes, write that down. If you binged TV shows for three hours every night, don’t downplay it. At the end of the week, calculate how much time was spent doing time-sucking activities versus ones that promote self-care and help you work toward your goals.
Wright’s mother taught her from an early age that letting your dreams take a backseat is not a viable option. Whether you’re swallowing a wish to start a side hustle or you’re already in the planning stages, identifying your ‘why’ can provide the extra motivation you need to make your dreams and goals a priority. Just remember that your ‘why’ doesn’t need to be grandiose; it can be as simple as wanting to make a little extra money.
“You stay-at-home mom, you person who has fears and doubts,” Wright says, “you know that you can do it, too.”
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine and has been updated. Photo courtesy of Business Boutique.