Whitney Robinson, 28, graduated from Duke University in 2008 with a degree in computer science, and she spent the next three years working for high-tech and Web design companies. By 2011, though, she realized she wanted to do something more creative. She was intrigued by the fact that furniture companies in the Durham, N.C., area routinely discarded scraps of high-quality leather. “I was fascinated that leather, which has a pretty high perceived value, was being thrown away,” she says.
Robinson asked every furniture company within a 30-mile radius for scraps. She started a side business making earrings, and later moved on to wallets and purses. Her products, marketed under the name Freshly Given, are sold through her Web site, Freshlygiven.com, on Etsy.com and at local craft fairs.
Robinson would like to make Freshly Given a full-time gig, but she isn’t earning enough to give up the money she’s paid for working as a consultant to local start-ups that need help with Web design.
One big advantage millennials have over their parents is that in 2014, it doesn’t cost a lot to launch a business, whether it’s a side gig or a full-time venture. Web sites such as Etsy provide a low-cost way to sell everything from pottery to vintage clothes, and you can market professional services through sites such as Elance.com, Freelancer.com and Guru.com. By harnessing the power of the Internet, you can promote your business to thousands of potential customers, at little or no cost.
Millennials are the social media generation, so they’re comfortable taking advantage of opportunities to market their products and services. Still, if you want to make money, you need to treat your side business like, well, a business. Start by setting up a checking account for your venture. That way, you’ll be able to separate your personal expenses from your business expenses—a critical distinction when it comes time to file your taxes.
Next, work on developing your personal brand. Create a LinkedIn profile and ask people who are familiar with your work to write references. Set up a Facebook page specifically for your business. Write guest posts for popular blogs and sponsor giveaways of your products or services, says Kimberly Palmer, author of The Economy of You. You can also use Instagram and Twitter to promote your venture.
Even if you never work for yourself full-time, a business you run on the side could advance your career. “It can really set you apart in job interviews,” Palmer says.
Block joined Kiplinger in June 2012 from USA Today, where she was a reporter and personal finance columnist for more than 15 years. Prior to that, she worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. In 1993, she was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in economics and business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has a BA in communications from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.