Is this the age of the side hustle?

As the world re-opens, side-hustles and startups that began in lockdown need to ask if they are going to become serious concerns. Could this be the beginning of a boom?

Is this the age of the side hustle?

As the world re-opens, side-hustles and startups that began in lockdown need to ask if they are going to become serious concerns. Could this be the beginning of a boom?

For the last few weeks, I have been erasing the question marks next to the live events that have been in my diary. There is a lot more confidence that such-and-such an event, cancelled last minute last year, really will be happening in 2021 and meeting people in real life suddenly feels like a treat. 

Wandering around the stands at a trade exhibition recently, I struck up conversations with all kinds of people handing out branded pens and leaflets and talking about whatever was written on the banner behind them. So far, so much I could’ve learned on a Zoom call. 

When the conversation shifted to discussing the last couple of years, discussions took a very different turn and perhaps because of the nature of what Swoop does, we stopped talking about the product being sold and started talking about all these sideline businesses that people had set up to run alongside their main job: from skincare products for children, to a printer putting personal messages on his wife’s home-baked brownies to a venue reinventing itself as a location for weddings that it had previously been ‘too small’ to accommodate.  

Many side hustles were at the stage of a website and an Etsy shop and getting their owners to talk about them took some digging (they were, after all, at the exhibition to talk about something else). But a handful of the stands I visited were from companies that had set up since the pandemic hit and were using the exhibition as their first big investment in going out to meet buyers in the flesh. 

The impression I got was that we are entering an age in which side hustles are going to become part of business culture. The driving factors have only been sped up through the pandemic: 

  • People want to work for themselves and have control over their own time. Furlough has given many people time and enough money to try something new. 
  • Being in lockdown has forced many couples to reevaluate their relationship, leading some to consider how their skills can be combined to make a viable product or service. 
  • While legacy businesses have been looking at paying big money to open an online store, at the start-up end of the market, such exposure might be zero cost or at least, at the sort of price that can be paid out of salary from a ‘regular’ job. 
  • Automation has also made the startup world more appealing, with apps doing the heavy lifting of tasks such as book keeping and bill-paying that would once have kept entrepreneurs up late at night. 

In short, the stage is set for people to have a side hustle without it becoming a hassle – and maintain their work-life balance into the bargain. 

Will they all turn from a hobby that pays into a full-time business? Perhaps not, but I have seen a flourishing of SME saplings growing out of these fresh-planted acorns. Among them will be tomorrow’s big players – if they get serious. 

£25,000 is a serious number. That’s the maximum lending amount per director of a start-up loan and I recommend to start-ups that they do a simple check on Swoop to see how much they could borrow – just to see how they feel about it. Would that loan be a burden or an opportunity? Could that money buy some time to grow the business? Could it buy some online marketing, a new computer, a run of products? Would it be enough to be able to hand in your notice and make your side hustle into your main source of income?

When I started Swoop, I took out a startup loan. That was the moment I know that I was serious about making my idea a reality. 

The allure of the SME world is that every business is an expression of the owner: some will always be holiday money and rainy day savings. But some, currently on a kitchen table or being talked about in coffee breaks at trade shows for other things, will be tomorrow’s big name. 

I for one am looking forward to seeing this new bloom of businesses growing into the most exciting SMEs of 2022. 

Andrea Reynolds
Andrea Reynolds

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