Kimberly Palmer on Why and How to Start a Side Gig

Kimberly Palmer is a successful author and personal-finance writer for U.S. News and World Report. But that didn’t stop her from becoming an entrepreneur as well. Looking to increase her family’s income and financial security, she launched a side business in 2011.

Palmer’s “a-ha moment” occurred when, while preparing to interview a source, she began browsing the website Etsy, a site that allows craftspeople to sell their handmade items online. She thought her expertise could translate into a product that people would pay for.

“I discovered this whole section of paper products and planners,” Palmer says. “It was like a light bulb. I realized I belong here.”

A Business Is Born

Palmer (pictured) started designing a series of financial planners and hired a professional artist to illustrate them. She opened an Etsy shop, and Palmers Planners was born. The shop sells PDF workbooks that help people plan for various financial tasks and goals, such as getting ready for a baby, paying off debt, running a business, managing a budget, and tracking net worth.

Palmer faced a steep learning curve where marketing was concerned, but she soon figured out that guest blogging and offering giveaways on appropriate blogs were effective strategies. She also wrote a book about creating and running a side business, The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life.

The book, published in January, describes 100 successful “side-giggers,” including herself, and lists nine habits that have helped them thrive. These include overcoming obstacles, keeping costs very low, and connecting with your “online tribe.”

Side-giggers push past initial failure, she notes. “Either your product doesn’t sell or you get negative feedback. The people who excel push past that.”

Keeping costs low is easy these days due to the proliferation of accessible e-commerce sites like Etsy. “You can just jump on one of these platforms,” she says. “You can get started this weekend.”

Connecting with an audience online can be best accomplished through blogs and other social media. People already working in the space you’re trying to enter may well be more generous with their expertise than you’d expect. “People share for free so much information online because they’re building their own fan base and network,” Palmer says.

Advice From the Trenches

Palmer’s biggest advice for people who are considering a side gig is to just get started.

“What people do by mistake is they wait until they have the perfect idea and the perfect website,” she says. “My advice is to just try something out. If you are good at writing wedding speeches, just get out there and say, ‘Hey, I can write your wedding speech.’ Once you have your first customers, you can start tweaking stuff.”

As for established side-giggers who want to grow their business, Palmer advises listening closely to customers.

“Take a close look at how people are shopping, how they get to you, what they buy,” she says. “You might be able to double your income base on that info. In my shop, people were buying things in bundles, so I created these themed bundles and that increased my sales immediately.”

Beyond extra income, Palmer says her side gig brings other benefits. “I started out motivated by money,” she says. “But I discovered that a side business can be so creatively satisfying.”

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