7 surefire tips on improving hard skills by starting a side hustle

7 Surefire Tips to Sharpen Your Hard Skills With a Side Hustle

When it comes to hard skills development, successful remote jobseekers know that schooling is not the only way to attain them. In this guest post, Tyler Tafelsky of The Gray Dot Company shares seven steps to help you sharpen your hard skills by starting a side hustle.

For businesses looking to recruit talent — whether as new employees or freelance contractors — skills and experience often speak louder than degrees and credentials. In simple terms, what you’ve done and what you can bring to the table are the factors that will set you apart from the competition.

While the topic of soft skills typically gets all the attention, the hard skills learned from your experiences are what ultimately reflect your value. But for many blooming professionals, hands-on work experience may be the one thing that’s lacking. You may have the personality, drive, and willingness to learn, but what you may not have is the résumé bullet points that pique a hiring manager’s interest.

Fill Your Skills Gap With a Side Hustle

Starting a side hustle can help fill gaps in your skill set by providing a means to learn relevant hard skills that align with your professional development goals and future career aspirations. Regardless of how successful it becomes, the hustle can provide an honest display of your capabilities as well as your motivation to make things happen. Side hustles can also help you accumulate tangible work examples and build your portfolio, which are valuable assets in landing big opportunities. 

As a marketing professional who’s been in the digital workforce for well over a decade, I’ve started several side hustles, all while working full-time jobs. A couple of these projects have become successful online businesses. But perhaps equally valuable about these side hustles is that they’ve become powerful testaments of the hard skills that I can deliver. Here are some takeaways from what I learned throughout my journey as a perpetual side hustler. 

1. Self-Reflect on Where You Want to Grow

It can be hard to think 5 to 10 years down the road, let alone just three. But having an idea of what hard skills you’ll need to sharpen is crucial in shaping your side hustle. 

This can be as specific as learning coding skills and how to use structured data markup. Or it can be as broad as becoming a better content writer. Narrowing it down to a certain set of skills can help set your side hustle on the right path.

Out of college, I immediately landed a job in search engine optimization (SEO) and knew that it was going to be a high-demand career path that offered a lot of opportunities. Knowing with confidence that I wanted to explore the content marketing side of SEO, I knew that I had to become good at writing, researching, and coming up with ideas.

2. Invest in Training Courses to Master Specific Skills

The world of online training courses has grown tremendously over the last decade. Now, you can find highly-specialized training programs at various stages of competency, ranging from beginner to advanced. These offerings can provide substantial ROI in growing useful hard skills that you can apply to your side hustle and beyond.

For example, if your side hustle involves developing your own website, you can explore various training courses and bootcamps focused on specific coding languages, like JavaScript, Python, or Ruby. Mastering certain trades and technical skills will not only help grow your side hustle, but they’ll also stand out on a résumé. 

The opportunities for online learning are virtually endless. You can find courses available through boutique providers like Thinkful and BloomTech that offer various types of coding bootcamps or through colleges and universities that have online learning programs available. There’s also an abundance of online education platforms that offer free courses.  

Before diving head first into my career, I joined a couple of advertising-related webinars and enrolled in an online course that taught Google Ads (at the time it was called AdWords). Although the course was not cheap, it provided valuable knowledge that I still use today as a marketing professional. The experience also equipped me with tools that I still leverage in researching new ideas and topics for my blog.

3. Carve a Niche within a Niche

You’ve probably heard about the importance of “carving a niche,” especially when it comes to building things online. This translates to choosing very specific audiences, topics, or subject matters to position your side hustle around. 

Carving a niche can involve targeting specific industries (like technology, medicine, or finance) as well as certain markets (like B2B, B2C, or D2C). But oftentimes, that alone is not enough. Consider focusing your niche even more granularly, or carve a niche within a niche. The two side hustles that really took off for me were prime examples of hyper-focused niche targeting. 

The first was a blog centered on reviewing protein powder supplements. But because I am interested in plant-based nutrition, I carved an even finer niche by focusing my blog on vegan protein powder. My other successful blog covers various endurance sports, but in a niche focused on the sport of triathlon. Fast forward eight years, and that website has become one the most popular triathlon blogs on the web and a modestly profitable side hustle.

4. Collaborate With Others In Your Space

According to a survey of over 280 existing entrepreneurs, cultivating win/win relationships was the most valued asset in pursuing a side hustle. In other words, building your network was considered the greatest asset, next to getting your mindset right.

The effort put forth in collaborating with others helps exercise both your hard skills and soft skills. Not only does it require you to sharpen your interpersonal intelligence, such as your ability to communicate effectively, work together, and make decisions, but you’ll also put your hard skills to the test by adding a layer of accountability.

A big part of growing my blogs was conducting outreach to other bloggers in my niche who already had sizable audiences. The idea was to collaborate with these bloggers to contribute my content on their platforms in an effort to help build exposure for my own brand. Not only was I forced to refine my soft skills in grabbing their attention and drawing interest in my pitch, but I also had to hone technical writing skills to meet their strict editorial standards to actually get my work published. 

5. Let Your Personality Shine Through

One of the most important aspects of investing your time and energy into a side hustle is making sure that you’re doing it for yourself. Once your decision-making starts to become swayed by outside interests (like doing things a certain way to meet the approval of others), it’s easy to start losing steam to keep your momentum going. 

To solidify your ownership over your side hustle, start by baking your personality type into whatever it is you create. Some side hustles are inherently personal, like a freelance website or skilled craft you offer. But in some projects that you brand for the world, like a blog, YouTube channel, or social media page, you have the authority to make it what you want.  

The underlying driving force behind my side hustles is having something that I can call my own. I don’t have an employer or boss to tell me what to do, or brand policies in place to dictate the blog’s editorial requirements. I can do whatever I want and I can add my own personality to doing it. To me, this level of independence and freedom is irreplaceable. 

6. Rethink Best Practices

You don’t need a ton of experience to be an innovator and out-of-the-box thinker. You just need to have a unique perspective and mindset. As you start growing your side hustle and begin to learn new skills, stay curious and open-minded about how you can do things differently or even better than the status quo.

Younger professionals have yet to adopt the systematic rigidity that comes with many hard skills. This is especially the case when learning new software or technical platforms. Curiosity and creativity can be major assets here, as you can evolve and elevate certain standards to a new level. 

7. Document Your Successes

Whether it’s your best-performing work, a compelling case study, or a certain strategy that worked well, you’ll want to keep tabs on your successes. 

Examples of your side hustle work are typically the first ideas that come to mind. But successes could also be defined as winning templates or formulas. For instance, maybe you’ve figured out a few social media hacks to reach targeted audiences on Instagram or Facebook. Or perhaps you’ve uncovered some lesser-known features using a certain software program.    

In my case, documenting a few of my highest-performing blog posts was key to building my writing portfolio. But I also became very efficient in templating responses to common inquiries my blog would regularly receive. These boilerplate email responders were definitely worth documenting just for efficiency’s sake and saving loads of time wrangling my inbox. 

Side Hustles are Worth More Than Just Money

While most people explore side hustles as a means to supplement their income, the investment can provide valuable returns in many ways. In addition to building hard skills that you can use in many areas of your professional life, you’ll soon accumulate tangible examples of what you’re capable of. You can also grow your network and discover new opportunities that the rest of the talent pool may not have access to.

And who knows, perhaps your side hustle will grow into a thriving business that you can call your own.

Author Bio

Tyler Tafelsky is Director of Content Strategy & Copywriting at The Gray Dot Company, a senior-level SEO consulting firm staffed by an international, remote-working team of professionals. Having started his digital marketing career in 2009, Tyler has been working remotely for over a decade in a content strategy role. During that time, he’s developed many practices and hacks to maintain a healthy work-life balance, especially for those who work from home. In addition to marketing, Tyler is a sports blogger and athletic coach at Better Triathlete, a blog dedicated to endurance sports like swimming, cycling, and running.

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