Your Growing Side Business Needs These 16 Things to Thrive in 2021

Hear that? It’s the sound of the holidays approaching, with the start of a new year right behind them. Yeah, time flies when you’re having fun. 

The turning of the calendar won’t turn the page on the unprecedented events of this year, to be sure, but it does provide an opportunity to take stock of what your side business (or full-time enterprise!) has done well this year and what work remains to be improved. 

If you aim to grow that side business in 2021 and beyond, you’ll need to attend to some important action items before long. Start with these 16 and let’s talk again as 2022 approaches.

1. Comprehensive Cloud Based Disaster Recovery Capabilities

Do you know what would happen to your business after a natural or manmade disaster that temporarily takes it offline and threatens its data? What about a fat-finger “oopsie” that, while not apparently catastrophic, has the same net effect as a true disaster?

It’s not a great sign that you’re not sure how to answer this question, in all honesty. The silver lining is that there’s something you can do to change that right now: Invest in comprehensive cloud based disaster recovery capabilities designed to minimize downtime and data loss while protecting what matters most to you — your ability to continue earning (and growing) income from your side business.

Your cloud based disaster recovery solution should have the following attributes:

  • Simplicity, in that it doesn’t require an IT expert or programming knowledge to set up
  • Non-disruptive testing processes that don’t interfere with your workflows
  • Execution monitoring insights that ensure your solution works properly when it needs to
  • All-in-one solution-making that needs no additional components or moving parts

Choose wisely. The future of your side business could depend on its ability to recover from a disaster that’s no fault of your own.

2. A Scalable Bookkeeping Process

Until your side business is a full-time enterprise with several full-time employees, you probably won’t be able to afford a full-time bookkeeper.

That’s okay. Honestly, you might not even need one then. But you will need a scalable bookkeeping process that can grow along with your business.

Scratch that. You need a scalable bookkeeping process right now. Whether it relies on a cloud based software or “old-fashioned” desktop products like Quicken, you need to be confident that your finances are in order today, tomorrow, and as far down the road as you can see.

3. Cloud Based Invoicing and Accounting Capabilities

On the subject of keeping your finances in order, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A bookkeeping solution does little good without a reliable way to get paid.

For that, you need a scalable invoicing solution. There are just as many cloud based small business invoicing solutions as bookkeeping solutions, if not more, and many exist in the same package. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll have your pick of the litter. But don’t delay — the clients you want to keep won’t tolerate amateur-hour measures like emailed invoices.

4. A Legit (Paid) Virtual Private Network

Let’s turn to another matter that’s absolutely crucial for any small business owner or side gig operator to consider: computer security. Like cloud based disaster recovery capabilities, adequate network and device security is mandatory for any business that’s serious about growing and thriving today. 

Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of assuming your business isn’t big enough or important enough for the bad guys to notice. That would be a grave error. The bad guys like to target the little guys precisely because the little guys think they don’t have to worry about digital security. This makes them easy targets for mischief (and worse).

A virtual private network is an important line of defense against digital actors who wish you harm. By itself, it won’t keep your device and network free from malware, but it can deter attackers looking to steal sensitive information and can even mask the source of your network traffic, improving your anonymity (if that’s important to you). 

Choose a paid virtual private network over a free one. It’s worth paying more for a quality product. 

5. Anti-Malware Protection That Doesn’t Quit on You

Anti-malware protection is also vital for your side business (and your devices and network in general). 

While it can be tempting to use the anti-malware solution that came pre-installed on your laptop or desktop computer, you shouldn’t do so without careful research. If the product is really best-in-class, that’s fine — you can keep it. Otherwise, look for a solution that’s sure to keep your device safe and not quit on you when it’s needed most.

6. A Comfortable Home Office Free From Distractions

Enough with gloomy talk about network security and malware. Let’s move onto something everyone can enjoy: home office decor. (Well, sort of.)

You don’t need to be told that you’ve been spending a lot of time in your home office this year. Maybe that was true already, but the whole pandemic thing has really turned up the volume dial on working from home. It’s what we do now.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to have a workspace you actually enjoy spending time in. Oh, and one that actually helps you get work done. Call it “a comfortable home office free from distractions.”

Whole books have been written on optimal home office design, so there’s no need to cover the same ground. Let’s leave it at this: It’s time to take an unsparing look at your home workspace, remove anything that keeps you from getting work done, and add touches (plants, artwork, nice curtains — your call) that both improve your mood and enhance your productivity.

7. A Flexible Workstation

The centerpiece of your home office is your workstation. We don’t need to belabor this point.

What does deserve highlighting, and what you may not have considered up until now, is that your workstation can act either as an engine for or drag on your productivity. If it’s not optimized to help you produce the best possible work in the most efficient manner imaginable, it’s not doing its job.

Everyone works a little differently, so let’s be careful about making sweeping generalizations about what kind of workstation is best in any given situation. It’s enough to say that your workstation should be flexible enough to manage your different working styles, modes, and moods. 

What does that mean? Well, if you want to stand at your desk, you should be able to stand at your desk. If and when you want to sit, you should be able to do that too. You should have the option to move to another corner of your office if you want to look out the window (or not). And so on. Design and buy accordingly.

8. A Dual-Monitor Desktop Setup

The whole two-monitor thing is a little intimidating for people who’ve never tried it, but take it from the pros: It really works, and once you try it, it’s difficult to go back.

Some serious side business owners use more than two monitors, to be sure, but the dual-monitor setup is a good first step. If you haven’t purchased one in a while, you’ll be relieved to learn that monitors are much cheaper than you’d think, too, so making this productivity-enhancing modification to your workspace won’t set you back.

9. A Functional Laptop for On-the-Go Work

You’re probably doing most of your side business work at home these days. Perhaps this was always the case if you’re a homebody or busy parent with no time for “third place” work sessions at the coffee shop or wine bar. But perhaps you’re chomping at the bit to get back out and get some serious laptop work done in the company of your fellow hustlers.

Now might not be the time, but normalcy will slowly return, whether we like it or not. When it does — when it’s once again safe to spend unguarded hours in crowded “third places” — you’ll want to be ready with a functional laptop that’s ideal for on-the-go work. Unless your side business requires a lot of computing power, there’s no need for this device to be top-of-the-line. You’ve got a bottom line to worry about, after all. But it definitely needs to be powerful enough and capable enough to get the job done.

10. A Comprehensive Content Marketing Plan

Yes, your side business really does need to market itself. And that means developing a content marketing plan covering every channel in your marketing lineup: social media, your blog, your LinkedIn (really a separate category for side business marketing), email, and whatever else. Planning makes perfect, as they say.

11. A Blog That You Actually Update Every Week (Or More)

Speaking of blogging: Don’t slack on it. The best blogs are updated at least once per week, and there’s no harm in going for more if time allows. As resources allow, consider hiring a ghostwriter or virtual assistant to reduce your workload and reclaim more of your time. And don’t forget to create an account on Medium, where you can repost blog content (or publish original content) for a wider audience.

12. An Active LinkedIn Presence

Your LinkedIn profile should be a font of inspiration and wisdom for fellow professionals. Seriously — this is your digital calling card and you need to knock it out of the park. Devote two or three hours per week to drafting and publishing LinkedIn updates, following and communicating with influencers, and forging new professional connections.

13. A Concise Value Proposition for Your Audience

Why should anyone care about your side business? 

Really, why? Answer this question and you’ve got your value proposition on a silver platter. Make sure the whole world knows it, too.

14. A Clear Brand Built Around That Value Proposition

A value proposition is enough to pique your audience’s interest, but it doesn’t by itself sell…whatever it is that you sell. For that, a more comprehensive (but crystal-clear) brand is required. Your brand should be authentic, relatable, and valuable on its face.

15. An Active Social Media Presence (And the Sophistication to Use It Wisely)

LinkedIn is the most important social platform for side business owners, but don’t discount the power of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and their ilk. Millions of potential customers spend a lot of time (probably more than some of them should) in these digital spaces.

16. A Hobby or Two

A hobby? Really? Why would what you do in your free time matter at all to the success or failure of your growing business?

Simple. Having a side pursuit that you actually enjoy is perhaps the most effective way to prevent burnout when you’re burning the candle at both ends. Which, let us be clear, is what anyone with a growing side business is doing.

We’re defining “hobby” loosely here. Anything that you do in your spare time that doesn’t directly relate to your principal occupation or side business or family obligations qualifies as a “hobby,” even activities as basic as regular exercise or journaling. The important thing is that you’re regularly able to unplug from your professional activities and do something else for a while. Variety is the spice of life.

Look at it this way: You can certainly allow your personal brand to be defined by your work. But you can’t allow your work to define who you are as a person, in totality. For your own sake, you need something more. What that is is up to you.

Is Your Side Business Set Up for Success in the New Year?

Admittedly, this is quite a list. Although you’ve probably taken care of some of these action items already or have at least considered doing so, the coming of a new year might just be the inspiration you need to get started on the rest of them.

No one likes professional housekeeping chores that don’t result in new billings or income. On the other hand, how can you be so sure these action items qualify as “professional housekeeping”? They might not generate invoices or payments, but they surely put your side business in a better position to grow and thrive in the new normal.

You know what you have to do. You have the means to do it. All that’s needed is the will to get it done. Here’s to a more productive, prosperous 2021, courtesy of a side business that’s truly set up to succeed.

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