A photo to accompany a story about side hustles
Elisa Faye

This Is the Best Skill for Starting a Side Hustle, According to 281 Entrepreneurs We Surveyed

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For many Americans, a side hustle is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have to deal with inflation and other financial challenges.

A recent survey from Bankrate found that 41% of those who have a side hustle say they need the money for living expenses, an increase of 10 percentage points from 2019. With whispers of a forthcoming recession getting louder every day, many people who have their eye on attaining financial independence are leaning into an additional stream of income that has low startup costs, such as a side hustle or small business, to make it all work.

Related: My Side Hustle Pays Me $4,300 a Month, But I’m Not Putting a Penny of It Towards My $208,000 Student Loan Debt. Here’s Why

We asked hundreds of entrepreneurs what they think the most important priorities are for starting a new side hustle or scaling up an existing one in 2022. Here’s what they had to say.

Network and Mindset Are Your Most Valuable Assets in 2022

In an exclusive survey conducted by NextAdvisor of 281 established entrepreneurs, cultivating win/win relationships (23.1% of respondents) and a quality mindset (22.4% of respondents) emerged as the two most popular recommendations of 2022. “Selling and closing clients” and “growing your audience via communication and influence” came in third and fourth, receiving the vote of 13.2% and 12.5% of respondents respectively.

Responses to the question: “In your opinion, what is the number one skill aspiring entrepreneurs and side hustlers need to focus on the most in 2022?” (Illustration: Elisa Faye)

Our entrepreneurs felt that mindset and network were important not only for existing business owners in 2022, but also critical for anyone getting started with a side hustle or other passive income pursuit. In a similar question that asked how these priorities should differ for those new to entrepreneurship, over half of respondents said mindset was the number one factor, with another 24.2% saying your network should be your top priority.

Responses to the question: “In your opinion, what’s the #1 most valuable business owner asset in 2022 that should be a top priority for new entrepreneurs from day one?” (Illustration: Elisa Faye)

This survey was conducted from April 22-29. Questions were formatted as multiple choice, with respondents being given the option to expand on their choice in writing. Some respondents were then contacted based on their answers for phone and video interviews to expand on their commentary.

Related: We Asked 281 Entrepreneurs What the Best Social Media App for Making Money Is. Here’s What They Said

Your Network: An Asset That Will Appreciate for Years to Come

The next huge breakthrough in your side hustle could be a phone call or text message away. For this to happen, however, you need to build up your network. Creating win/win relationships with longevity in mind is an ideal way to both grow your business and become a trusted referral in your industry. 

“As a physical therapist, part of my entrepreneurial strategy goes beyond patient care and includes cultivating relationships with trusted brands,” says Dr. Karen Litzy, a Manhattan-based physical therapist and host of the podcast Healthy, Wealthy, and Smart. Litzy has been recording and publishing her podcast for years; by investing time and energy into strategic partnerships along the way, her efforts paid off with a paid brand sponsorship deal.

“Over the past few years I have been able to maintain a win/win relationship with an international brand by providing my expertise, making vital connections, and creating content to enhance the brand’s objectives,” she says. “In return, I secured a five-figure [brand] deal and became known as an expert in my field. It was a total win/win.”

Unlike other skills, which can be learned and developed on your own time, building a network requires that you be present and truly care about day-to-day interactions, says Shannon Conway, a graphic designer based in Chicago.

“You can have impeccable skills, but if you treat people poorly, that is what they are going to remember,” she says. “You can always learn new skills, but you can’t redo experiences and moments with others. Help others and both the network and the cash will follow.”

Pro Tip

Look for opportunities to surround yourself with other like-minded entrepreneurs. Facebook groups, online forums, or interest-based groups on Discord are great free options.

Your Mindset: A Prized Asset for Bringing Your Side Hustle to Life

Existing entrepreneurs say that mindset is disproportionately important when you’re getting started. As you test out different side hustle ideas, your learning curve will be steep, and you’ll probably fail often; the attitude and resilience you maintain while on your journey can be the difference between fleeting idea and viable passive income stream.

“The most important reason to get your mindset right first before you embark in business, or before you attempt to grow or scale your business, is that you cannot act out of alignment with how you view yourself,” says Natalie Bullen, a money mindset coach for female entrepreneurs. “This means you will price [your side hustle or business services] at the level you feel you deserve, and you will only enforce boundaries that you feel confident in implementing, based on your viewpoint.” Both part-time and full-time entrepreneurs undercharge when they’re getting started, Bullen says, which can lead to overwork and burnout.

“If you do not first see yourself as successful, you will run your business into the ground, and that is why you must have your mindset correct first,” she says. “Before I understood the power of my own mindset, things were very chaotic.”

Mindset isn’t just about the money; it’s also key for generating and sustaining energy as you navigate the choppy waters of entrepreneurship, says Lainey Morse, founder of Goat Yoga, a company that offers animal therapy and wellness experiences.

“The pandemic disrupted all our lives; it’s important to focus on your mental health,” she says. “We’ve all been through a traumatic experience with COVID-19 and making sure that you are in a good place to build a business is your #1 priority. My business focuses on improving the mental health of our clients. if I was not in a good place myself, it would be very hard to market or grow my business.”

Sales: Fuel That Turns a Side Hustle Into a Cash-Printing Machine

If your side hustle isn’t making money, you don’t have a business. You have a hobby. Sales are the lifeblood of any business venture, and many of the usual elements of a side hustle or business aren’t actually necessary to make your first dollar, says Irma Cedeno, a serial entrepreneur and founder of Diáfano, a language learning platform.

“As entrepreneurs, when we first start out in business we spend too much time thinking and planning,” she says. “My answer to a lot of things is ‘Be like Nike, just do it.’ You can start a business without waiting on your logo, business cards, a business plan, hiring people, market research, or getting everyone to agree on your idea. Starting a business is a wild adventure, but expecting all of your stars to align is ludicrous. Go find your clients and sell. They will let you know [through whether they buy or not] who your market is, what your price should be, how you compare to your competitors, and where you should tweak or pivot.”

Prioritizing sales creates other benefits besides revenue. When you’re closing customers regularly, you have opportunities to improve both your offer and your future marketing efforts, says Jordan Clark, founder of Dooeys, a company that produces slip shoes and other footwear for household use.

“You need feedback and social proof on your product,” she says. “You want to know what people like and don’t like about your product to improve and iterate on it, as well as get testimonials you can use as social proof since many people will have never heard of your brand before.” Testimonials, reviews, and case studies can be valuable marketing material to scale your side hustle or business; 93% of consumers say online reviews impact their final purchasing decision, according to an infographic published by Podium, a company that helps local businesses streamline their reviews collection process from customers.

Growing Your Audience: Not as Essential, but Important for the Long Game

Communication, connecting, and influence came in fourth in our survey of the most important business skills of 2022. Respondents noted that the landscape for attracting and growing an online audience is changing dramatically; paid advertisement costs continue to rise, and consumers are more discerning than ever before about which brands or personalities they purchase from and why.

“In five years, you won’t be able to do outbound marketing with “targeting” [using paid advertisements] the way we do now,” says Jonathan Greene, a fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and consultant who offers marketing strategy consultation to executives and entrepreneurs. “Having a huge organic audience will be key to success. This is mostly due to privacy concerns; Facebook targeting is already disappearing.” Greene references recent privacy updates such as Apple’s release of iOS 14, which have stunted the effectiveness of tools like Facebook and Instagram ads as users slowly regain control over their privacy and how they are tracked.

“Emerging platforms like TikTok give entrepreneurs an opportunity to gain market share and get an “in” with the Gen Z demographic,” says Greene. “There’s also less competition on the advertising platform, so it’s cheaper. [TikTok is] disrupting Facebook’s dominance.”

Related: We Asked 281 Entrepreneurs What the Best Social Media App for Making Money Is. Here’s What They Said

Pivot When Needed to Find Success

Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to have it all perfectly figured out today. Our sample set revealed that 72.6% of established entrepreneurs had pivoted or tweaked their business models in the last 12 months.

Responses to the question: “Have you pivoted or tweaked your business model in the last 12 months?” (Illustration: Elisa Faye)

While pivots are common as you’re getting started in your side hustle or business, the arrival of COVID-19 turned many established markets upside-down, creating new opportunities and demand for new and existing entrepreneurs alike.

“I own a counseling practice, and the pandemic has been both a challenge and a blessing,” says Ellen Gigliotti, CEO of Sanctuary Christian Counseling, a marriage and family therapy practice based in Pennsylvania. “On the one hand, we have had to pivot to provide more online services, but on the other, the demand for those services has skyrocketed. We have added clinicians and support staff and had some of our best years, despite having to make great changes in our business model. We never intended to grow as much – or as rapidly – as we did, and it was a constant job tweaking our systems and organization to catch up.”

Start Pursuing Your Side Hustle Now

Markets are changing rapidly; challenge yourself to take action today and pursue the side hustle of your dreams. To recall a phrase coined by the philosopher Sun-Tzu: ‘In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity’.

“I believe our business climate in the United States is going to be in for a few bumpy years,” says Gigliotti. “But [I also believe] that ultimately we will all pivot in directions not clear to us right now that will prove to be both profitable and exciting.”