How to test your side hustle idea for next to nothing

There’s no way to tell definitively if that side hustle you’ve been planning will take off or not, but you can get a pretty good indication by testing it. If you’re clever, you don’t need to cough up hefty sums for the process, either. 

Testing out your side hustle idea will give you some important data that will inform if and how you move forward.

Running tests will help you to determine, among other things:

  • If your product or service solves the problem you think it does
  • Whether there is enough demand for it 
  • How financially and logistically viable your side hustle is

Most side hustles start either to provide supplementary income or to allow for a gradual transition into full-time entrepreneur. Either way, it’s likely you don’t want to spend a large amount of cash on tests before you even get off the ground.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways that you can gauge potential interest and viability for little or no cost. Here’s where to start.


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Collect insights from your target audience 

The foundation of business ideas are often based on assumptions – assumed needs or desires for certain products or services. 

One of the most important steps you can take towards launching your side hustle is to check that your assumptions are correct. This process will also help you to refine your idea and tailor your output to the right audience.

Start by defining your target market for your side hustle. Think about the type of person your business will resonate with:

  • Who is your target customer? (Consider demographics like gender, age, location, job and income bracket)
  • What are their goals and challenges?
  • Where does your target customer spend time? (Statista has a good breakdown of social media platforms by demographic)
  • How could your product or service help them?

Once you’ve created some basic personas, decide how you will go about reaching them and getting their insights. Some of the most popular and cost-effective methods are online surveys,  interviews and pop-up stalls. 

Try to avoid bias in answers

It’s worth remembering that most people will be polite by default. If you’re face to face, they’re likely to say what they think you want to hear, rather than share their honest opinions. 

You can get around this issue by asking them about themselves and their needs as consumers, rather than asking directly about your product. If you’re struggling, Rob Fitzpatrick’s The Mom Test is the go-to book.

Alternatively, focus on online channels first. We’re more likely to speak our minds online, so anonymous surveys are a good route for getting unbiased opinions. It’s also free to create surveys on sites like Jotform or SurveyMonkey, so you can collect views at scale.

Once you’ve collected a range of feedback, you can then set up face-to-face interviews to dig deeper into your target customers’ needs.

Assess the competition

Whatever your side hustle idea, the chances are there are similar concepts already out there. Use that to your advantage and gather as much information on competitors as you can. 

  • Look at their best-selling products or services
  • Check their pricing
  • Browse social media pages to see what draws engagement
  • Read online reviews from customers
  • Think about what you can learn from their mistakes (and triumphs)

This is also the point where you can establish your unique selling point (USP). 

Compare your side hustle idea with your potential competitors, and think carefully about what would make customers pick you over them. If you’re stumped for answers, then how will you survive in a crowded marketplace? 

Test customer demand online 

Market research will only get you so far. At some point, you need to see if your target customers are actually willing to part with their hard-earned cash.

Setting up a virtual shop front is one of the easiest ways to do this. It’s cheap to do – listing an item on Etsy costs less than 20p, then you’ll pay a small transaction and payment fee when you make a sale. You can also keep inventory minimal while you test the waters, so there’s no pressure to invest in a fully stocked store.

This process should give you a good idea of whether your side hustle idea is financially viable. Is it something that could actually make you money?

You can read more about organising your side hustle finances in this free guide.

Creating an online presence on a budget

When it comes to getting started online, there’s certainly no need to hire a developer and build out a full ecommerce offering.

For visual businesses like beauty or food and drink, set up a simple Instagram page where you post your products or ideas. For craft, homeware and other retail, Etsy is the best place.

It’s also easy to set up a very basic website landing page with your side hustle’s name, a brief intro and a form for people to sign up for email updates. 

Squarespace has dozens of different website templates, and its drag-and-drop system means you don’t need any coding skills. Prices start from around £10 a month.

Once you have your website or online store set up, promote it as much as your budget or capabilities allow. Don’t just keep your fingers crossed people will stumble across your business online.

Try paid social media ads or boosted posts – this is an effective way to target the right demographics for your side hustle while keeping a grip on your budget.

Release a minimum viable product

If you’re working on an app or software idea, testing an idea on a budget is a little trickier.

You’ll want to create a minimum viable product (MVP), which is the simplest version of your startup’s offering. An MVP is good enough to be useful for your customers, but basic enough that you’ve not had to put copious amounts of time and money into it. 

Getting this product to market is one of the most powerful ways to test your idea. Not only will you gauge interest and demand, but it will help you:

  • Learn how customers use your product
  • See if people will actually pay for it
  • Decide what functionalities you need to offer – and what you should lose 
  • Narrow down your target market
  • Define your priorities for your product’s next iteration

Developing an MVP is a great opportunity to see what people think of what you’ve produced, so make sure you have channels set up for easy communication and collecting feedback.


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