I've personally helped over 100 people start successful side hustles. Here's how I can quickly tell if they'll become full-time dream jobs or remain expensive hobbies.

  • In just a few years, Leah Gervais turned her side hustle as an online business coach into a six-figure business. 
  • She shares with Business Insider that she can tell within minutes if a side hustle is a lucrative opportunity or simply an expensive hobby.
  • It's not a good idea to leave your primary job while pursuing a side gig, so she suggests setting an official "quit date" and ramping up efforts to earn money through your passion project. 
  • In that time, focus on digital offerings, email marketing, and pricing strategies.
  • Be explicit about the services or products you're selling to start gaining consistent revenue each month. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Side hustling, and the side hustlers behind them, will forever have a soft spot in my heart.

My now-thriving coaching business started as a side hustle around my paralegal job at a Manhattan real estate law firm when I was 24. I was making an entry-level salary in the most expensive city in the world and was ready to take control of my finances.

In addition to the financial benefits, I started my side hustle to find what was lacking in my career path. Though I was a paralegal and though I had been recently admitted into law school, I was starting to accept what I had been denying for months: I did not want to go to law school.

That side hustle, searching for financial stability and career clarity, turned out to create my career path, and even employs my team of five today.

Knowing the power of side hustles, I have since helped over 100 people start successful side hustles, scale them, and leave their 9-5 jobs, primarily through my group coaching program called Scale Your Side Hustle.

As such, I have the unique privilege of knowing what it actually takes to transform a side hustle into a full-time gig, not just an expensive hobby. Since COVID-19, I've received more questions and emails than ever before about the secret to side hustle success.

I can typically tell within the first few minutes whether or not the side hustle in question is on the path to success. Here's what I look for:

1. Is the side hustle virtual?

This was relevant before COVID-19, but is especially true today.

At a minimum, your side hustle should be marketing and selling online. Even if you're selling physical products, marketing them online will expand your reach by the millions — literally. Online paid ads are also much more powerful than old school forms of advertising, like television and newspapers, because of sophisticated targeting.

At best, you'll even have offerings that are entirely digital, not physical. This could be consulting services done via Zoom, an e-course, affiliate links in your blog post, or group services using WhatsApp.

Having a virtual side hustle dramatically cuts your overhead costs, which are often entirely on you, the side hustler, in the beginning. Having your side hustle be virtual elevates your scalability through the roof.

2. Are you frequently selling?

It might sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many side hustlers aren't actually selling.

For instance, an Instagram account, no matter how well meaning, is not a business on its own. Neither is a blog or a Facebook page. These platforms can advertise, but the business needs to be selling products and services on a frequent basis.

Oftentimes, in my Scale Your Side Hustle program, aspiring side hustlers join and are frustrated with their ratio of effort to sales. It doesn't feel good to work so hard for nothing in return!

I help my clients see how imperative it is that the sales opportunity is obvious to their audience. Look at your last few emails or social media posts and be honest with yourself: do they explicitly say what you're selling and give clear, simple directions on how to purchase? Are you frequently and proudly talking about your products or services?

Your products and services won't sell themselves. It's up to you.

3. Do you have an email list?

When I started my side hustle, I was overwhelmed with all the different ways to market. Emails, social media, my website, YouTube … the list seemed never ending.

What I didn't understand is that all marketing should lead to the email list, which is the backbone of any online business. Social media is a valuable tool, but it's a platform that you "rent," so to speak, as it's not yours. Your email list is what you own.

Email marketing is particularly helpful for side hustlers. Through email funnels and sequences, you can set your side hustle up to make sales for you while you're in a meeting at your 9-5 job. (Or, while you're sleeping, at happy hour, or anything else, for that matter!)

4. Does your price to audience ratio make sense?

If you want to make your side hustle your full-time gig, you'll need it to be generating a liveable salary before resigning. So make sure your offerings can get you there.

One of my clients had just started creating Ebooks and digital workbooks for her side hustle when we started working together. We looked at the numbers. Roughly 2% of your email list will buy your product or service.

So if you have 500 people on your list and are selling an Ebook for $25, you can expect to make $250. This is hardly a liveable salary. 

Seeing this, we created a service valued at $3,500, and was able to leave her 9-5 job from there. Be honest with yourself: Am I going to make enough money selling what I'm selling to reach my goals? If not, where can I add more value to increase my pricing?   

5. Do you have a "quit date"?

For the first year or so of my side hustle, the word "hopefully" was the most common word in my vocabulary. Everything about my side hustle, my success, my deadlines… was hopefully going to happen.

Hopefully is not a game plan. It's a disempowering word that allows you to frame your fate in the hands of something else.

I finally set my official quit date after I experienced the tragic and unexpected passing of my father, which put into perspective how short and precious life is.

When I set that date, I wasn't making near enough money to sustain myself on my own. I didn't see growth in my business overnight.

But this transformed my frame of mind. Success became the only choice.

Within months, I was making more from my side hustle than I was at my 9-5 job. On my quit day, I confidently handed in my resignation, and never looked back.

When side hustlers don't have a quit date, their success is not yet a "must" for them, it's still just hopefully going to happen. This inconsistent style of working gets them inconsistent results, which rarely results in it becoming their full-time gig.

Remember, most businesses that you admire today likely started as a side hustle in some form or another.

Most of the founders that you look up today weren't born inherently knowing what it takes to create a business. But they hustled, and so can you. They learned, and so can you. There's a whole world waiting for you on the other side of the cubicle.

Leah Gervais is a leading online business coach whose work has been featured on in the Associated Press, CNBC, and more.

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