Fancy a little bit on the side? (The easier way to start a business)

Last week I asked Screw Work readers a question: “What do you most need help with now in your journey to get paid to do what you love?”. I received hundreds of responses that fell into a number of clear categories – from “I don’t yet have an idea to start” to “I have several ideas but can’t choose” to “I’m making my main income from my own idea, how do I make even more?”

Over the next few weeks I want to answer the biggest and most common questions here on the blog. I’m sure wherever you are, I’ll be able to help.

So let’s start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start apparently).

What if you don’t have an idea yet?

If you want to escape the world of jobs and make a living doing what you love you’ll need to choose something to do. That might be freelancing, consulting, advising, blogging, writing books, speaking, an online shop, creating app, running events, or any number of things that you can start without sinking a lot of money into it.

But what if you don’t have an idea for anything to start?

Well you’re certainly not alone for a start. In the survey, Tara in London said that what she most needed help with was, “Working out what I would enjoy doing for a living” and Anne in Australia said, “Deciding what I want to do with the rest of my life…no biggie” (Ha!). Rick on the south coast of England said his concern was “Breaking away from current role without the fear of risking family security”.

And there were many others in a similar position.

To address these issues we need to tackle two deeply embedded myths drummed into you by school, careers counsellors, employers and many others.

#1: The Career Myth

You’ve been taught from a young age to think in terms of careers – a full-time vocation that you are dedicated to long term. But the career is a concept from the last century.

It’s time to let it go.

Almost no one has a job for life any more and very few stay in one field for their whole working life. And starting something of your own is even more flexible. So you’re not choosing for life – or even for a year. You’re just choosing for right now.

It is however worth building skills and knowledge that you can use in other projects even if you change direction. Developing skills in an area like writing, speaking, managing projects, handling finances, marketing, using online systems, or working with others will stand you in good stead wherever life takes you.

#2: The Big Leap Myth

Because our model of work is based on jobs and careers we think starting something of our own works the same way – quit your job, dive head first into something new and pray that it works.


If you want to start a traditional business that requires funding, premises and staff that might be true but there are so many easier ways to make a living – and they’re safer too.

Here’s a better way to approach it.

Start a little something on the side

Write down everything you think you might enjoy doing and have some ability for (even if it’s a bit of a guess).

Choose your favourite based on 3 things: it excites you, you bring some skills, knowledge, talents or other assets to it, and you think it might be interesting or useful to others. As for making money, if other people are making a successful living out of something very similar then that means people are willing to pay.

Then find a way to start experimenting with it on the side.

Don’t quit your job, or wait until you know what you want to do with the rest of your life. If it turns out it’s a bad fit for you change it and try something else. If it’s working for you you can scale it up and try to make your first money from it.

Even if you change your mind completely starting something on the side is almost never a complete waste of time. You’ll be flexing your entrepreneurial muscles and practicing putting yourself out in the world and those are skills that will benefit pretty much any project you pursue next – even if later you decide you want to create a much bigger business like a tech startup.

So what are you going to start on the side? Or what have you already started?

Leave a comment and let me know…

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  • Richard Roberts

    Writing down what I am going to do for 2015

    •Property development (full time & paid)
    •Project Management (full time & paid)
    •Doing IT work
    … I am going to do it!

  • John N

    I am going to be a freelance scientist.

    Is there such a thing? There will be soon.

    I shall earn some money by tutoring science (which I already do as a side-hustle, but am increasing), some by lecturing, and some from writing. I shall live on less than I do now and I shall work more on the projects that really attract me. And I shall collaborate with several international researchers.

    I am not sure about the rest, but I start on 1st March…

  • Deborah Seeley

    Since the June 2014 30 Day Challenge I’ve been working ‘on the side’ in creative production – first big event happening August 2015 with the team I built on the 30DC – Cheers John! 🙂

  • johnsw

    Wow, that’s fantastic Deborah! What kind of production are you working in?

  • johnsw

    That’s great, John! I’m sure there are people who have made money from all these separate things, perhaps it’s just your mix that will be unique.

  • johnsw

    Great stuff, Richard!

  • Deborah Seeley

    The spaceship project lands in Wimborne, Dorset in August as part of the storytelling festival. I’m working with a propmaker, students on a modelmaking course, a theatre company, a storyteller, and a number of local venues and businesses. Funding already in place for the core project and awaiting news on funding for the entire piece (and all alongside the real job!)

  • I’ve been reading your book, emails and blog for ages and was stuck on the same thing – all I really like doing is reading, chatting online, watching telly and eating, mucking around with websites… that makes me sound like the laziest person ever and certainly not an entrepreneur! I read your blog today and BLAM, it came to me. What do I love reading? Runner’s World. Where do I chat online? Running forums. Why do I love watching TV & eating? Because after a good run, I can 🙂 So I’m going to continue mucking around making websites ‘on the side’ and create one for people like me who’ve gone (or want to go) from overweight sofa-surfers who couldn’t walk up a hill, to healthier fun-runners or even super-fit marathoners (I’m somewhere between those so far!). I started a blog site ages ago that’s just been sitting there, I’m going to use that as a base and build on it, it’s (am I allowed to say that here?). Not sure where the making money bit comes in but I’m guessing I’ll come across a blog from you at some point that helps me with that bit too. Thank you!

  • Claire Shannon

    Make greeting cards and prints and sell them from a beautiful website. Write books: Habber Dash (ebook); personal memoir of my mother, book about punk teenage, article about family/ancestor searching (hello Daniel Radcliffe!), etc., etc. Not sure why I actually never get any of this started!?

  • johnsw

    You’ve got a great story Rachel! Really cracking (just read the bit about you on the site)
    If you can help other sofa dwellers get fit that’s interesting.
    Otherwise, what’s your work background and what useful stuff can bring to an idea?

  • johnsw

    Oh yes I remember now – that’s brilliant!

  • Thanks John, good of you to take a look at the site. I really must resurrect it and start the blogs etc., I’m doing my first full marathon in a few months.
    I have Asperger’s and ADD and my work/study history is what I like to call ‘varied and interesting’ and my mother likes to call ‘never being able to finish anything’. I’ve started 17 different college or uni courses including four degrees and so far I’ve only completed one. But I like that, it’s given me a chance to try a bit of everything. I’m pretty efficient in everything admin/accounts/secretarial; I’m a good writer; I’m good with computers and internet; I can sing and act; I’ve dissected a few dead bodies but I don’t like live ones very much so I work on my own a lot; I have an avid interest in homelessness, mental health, dogs and Tolkien. My ideal job would be looking after street pets (dogs and cats that belong to homeless people). That’s also on my ‘ideas’ list but one thing at a time. Oh, and I talk/chat/write too much, sorry.

  • gaz

    I love helping people improve their businesses and work/life balance. In my job as a public accountant over many years I have gained valuable experience and my skills are ready to use. I would love to have an Internet presence that allows business people to log on to discuss problems and get help with the big issues. Most accountants aren’t good at this or too busy. I feel I can get started and test the waters. If it becomes engaging for me I can sell my business interests and relax into doing something that fits better with who I want to be now. My big challenge is that I am struggling to build my WordPress site. Who can help me with that?

  • Longwayaround

    On the side, I’m getting ready for my side business. I’m taking courses to become a professional dog trainer. So, not making any money yet. I’ve made a WordPress website, but I’ve found that blogging is not my forte.

  • johnsw

    Great that you’ve got into action!

  • johnsw

    Hi Gaz. Sounds like a very good proposition. For a WordPress person you can check out who helps me with web stuff.
    The challenge will be to create something that you can later step away from and which is still differentiated from a normal accountancy service and has value on its own.

  • Di

    drawing, painting, writing, diet and exercise, health and wellbeing, maybe post graduate study to open up my mind again and open new doors, supporting others to build their businesses, mature model ( I was the ugly duckling) all of the above work in progress and absolutely agree that all avenues should be explored but am sooo tempted to just cut loose and temp and feel that energy of freedom and adrenaline take me in a new direction.. so good to have people who understand that play is part of the solution John, thank you

  • ag

    i am writing a poetry book n also planning to launch. a bra nd of t’shirts belts n a app plus a cologne but i really would some help in how to do these things.

  • gaz

    Yes I agree. I have already discussed the concept with a young professional who I would like to sell up to take it on when I step back. Now I just have to get it mooching. I will get onto Jason. Thanks for the reply. (O: