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How to Use Side Businesses to Grow Your Brand: Case Studies

Tagg Martensen is a self-employed entrepreneur. He specializes in non-web based business opportunities such as retail and services.

Read some stories of how individuals have tried to use side businesses to grow their brand, and discover what really works.

Read some stories of how individuals have tried to use side businesses to grow their brand, and discover what really works.

Case Study 1: The Doughnut Accountant

I used to work in a corporate finance office. One of my colleagues, a CPA and tax manager, was getting fed up with his job. All day long we managed the tax program for this big company, and he was inspired by the many different revenue streams that came into the place.

Our company made billions of dollars because almost everything we did could be monetized. Products on shelves were only a fraction of our revenue sources. So this friend, let's call him Adam, decided it was time to branch out.

One of Adam's hobbies was making doughnuts. Every weekend, he would make doughnuts for the social hour at his church. Everyone loved his doughnuts, and he understood the basics of business, so why not start a doughnut business on the side?

Adam created his pop-up doughnut shop to mixed success. You'd see him at festivals, flea markets, craft shows—anywhere there were large groups of people and vendors, Adam had a table set up to sell his fresh doughnuts.

This was great! Adam had additional income and decided that he wanted to try out online reselling as well. As he had heard me talking about it before, we sat down and talked about the mechanics. I raised a concern, though: "Aren't you stretching yourself a little thin?" Adam waved off that concern. He had fun making money, he said. The businesses are the hobby. I know the feeling!

Unfortunately, Adam wrote a verbal check that he just couldn't cash. The doughnut business killed his favorite hobby. His favorite hobby was now work and brought him much less enjoyment. Worse, he was now distracted at work. All day, he would try to source cheaper ingredients for his doughnuts or find cheaper ways to dispose of the oil he was using or try to buy commercial-sized fryers to outfit his expanding operation. Adding the resell business made his non-work internet usage (at work) skyrocket. Productivity took a dive, and Adam was less happy than he was at the start.

Case Study 2: The Teaching Accountant

Sitting one office away from Adam was another CPA whom we will call Terry. Terry also had multiple revenue streams. He taught as an adjunct at a local university in their accounting program. He also taught night classes at a technical college in their accounting technician certificate program. He also wrote a blog about breaking into the accounting field and about ways people could transition into accounting mid-career or how new accounting grads could hit the ground running. Lastly, he periodically wrote eBooks to update newly minted accountants with industry trends and career tips.

He wasn't making doughnut money, but Terry's additional revenue streams were so successful because they all fed off of one another and worked toward a common goal.

Terry made a modest salary from teaching. But he was also a highly skilled public speaker. His students would invariably Google him after the first class. He tracked his web traffic and could tell how well his class went based on spikes in his website traffic after the first day.

Traffic to his blog drove up ad revenue and eBook sales. The more eBooks he sold, the more reviews he received, which drove up his eBook sales on Amazon even further.

Case Study 3: The Factory Pastor

One of the best examples of personal branding I encountered at the same job where I met Terry and Adam was with a factory foreman. There was a pretty distinct line between the blue collar and the white collar workers. While everyone generally respected the other, there was very little socialization.

I met this foreman, let's call him Ken, in a project management course put on by our HR department. Ken and I got talking about brands. He then gave me his card, which was made of heavy gauge aluminum with the information laser-etched into it. I had to check him out.

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Ken had built an entire online brand around his religious ministry. He didn't even mention his "tent-making job" in the factory. To look at his LinkedIn or any other social media account, you would assume that he was not only a full-time minister but a prominent one as well.

Ken wasn't just lining his pockets, though; he was using the revenue to fund his ministry activities, which involved working with prisoners. Much like Terry, everything he did outside of work drove toward a common goal. Teaching, blogging, and eBooks all pointed toward this one focus. Unlike Terry, Ken didn't use his side gigs to promote his career or vice versa.

What Can We Learn?

So, what can we learn from these three case studies?

1. Cohesive Packages Sell Better

Think about it. If you went to a doctor who proudly told you about his or her snow cone business they ran on the side or how they also sell tea pots or lunch boxes or whatever on eBay whenever they aren't practicing medicine, how much confidence do you have that your doctor is all-in?

Meanwhile, if you go to your doctor and their entire life seemingly revolves around medicine or their specialized area through teaching, writing, research as well as practice, how do you feel about their abilities?

Cohesive packages sell. The mixed bag can be fun. And if you just have a "job" during the day that pays the bills that you don't consider your career, then maybe that one direction you take your personal branding in will veer off.

The point is that you should create a cohesive and positive image. You'll make more in the long run if you establish yourself as an authority in one area instead of a jack of all trades in many unrelated areas.

2. Before Starting New Ventures, Pause and Ask

It can be exciting to break into a new industry. Before you do anything, however, ask yourself how this will fit into your current portfolio and what that will ultimately say about your brand.

If you own, say, a private investigation firm and then want to break into computer forensics that can make your brand look very forward thinking and relevant. If you own that same private investigation firm and then want to expand your business into landscaping to cover expenses during slow periods that is more likely to make it look like you just can't make enough money off of one thing. That isn't an attractive look to prospective customers.

Complementary services also allow you to use one stream to feed another. Teaching and speaking at conferences can drive eBook sales, blog traffic and draw attention to your consulting work. All of those things can then help get you invites to more conferences. The idea is to build an ecosystem where there is minimal waste of resources, including time, and where one part of the system is helping to feed another part.

3. The Ecosystem Can Sustain You If You Let It

Once your ecosystem is established you can tweak as necessary. Focus on the areas which come easily. Maybe you're already presenting at conferences or conventions. Maybe you're already writing eBooks. Look at ways to branch out from there and create traffic to other areas of your new ecosystem.

This will enable you not just to create a strong brand but a sustainable business model with healthy revenue streams, both passive and active.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Tagg Martensen

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