When I started my internship in 2000 at one of the country’s biggest investment banks, I was excited to have the company’s name on my résumé. The woman who hired me (for no pay, by the way) was extremely forthcoming. She made it clear that my duties would be more about getting coffee, running errands and punching numbers into spreadsheets than learning (or doing) anything truly educational.

I didn’t care. My reply was an enthusiastic, “No problem, just happy to be part of the team!” I thought it would be valuable regardless. But I was wrong. Dead wrong.

It wasn’t until I got my first sales job that I realized not to trade my time for silly résumé bullets. I learned actual skills that could be transferred into a future career. I had no idea what that career would be at the time, but people skills are useful everywhere. Working in sales, I learned that it’s not about the hours in the day, it’s about the work I can do in each hour. I learned that my performance has value and that giving it away for free was devaluing my potential.

Working in sales as a side hustle can be educational for you, too, no matter how many hours you dedicate to it. If you can achieve some sales success in five or 10 hours a week, then you can make it your most profitable side hustle. And as an entrepreneur, sales can be key to getting your startup off the ground without sacrificing your income.

Using sales to boost your entrepreneurship

I’ll never forget the first time I walked away from a sale with an $800 order. I went to my car and calculated my commission. In 50 minutes, I had earned more than I would have earned in 10 hours of stocking shelves or washing dishes. It was a powerful lesson in being paid what you’re worth.

That’s why I made it my full-time career, but that’s also why it’s the perfect side hustle. You don’t need to put in full-time hours to make close to full-time income. Imagine what you could do with an extra $1,000 for working just a few hours a month. The stereotype of the couch-surfing, dry-noodle-consuming startup founder is cool for some, but it doesn’t have to be you.

This flexibility of a sales job also allows you to take time off when your startup needs all of your attention. When you hit a snag, you can take a hiatus from selling much easier than you could in any other job. When you’re ready to walk away and launch your startup, you can do it instantly, no strings attached.

Most importantly, you’ll do so with a unique wealth of experience. Through sales, you learn to care for clients, manage communication, deal with adversity, ask questions, discover needs, build rapport, understand new industries and much more — all qualities you’ll need in order to build and scale your own company. Plus, every startup business begins with a customer making a purchase. Knowing how to facilitate that purchase puts you ahead of the pack.

How to make the sale while building your startup

To reach your highest potential, you’ll have to strike the right balance between sales and your startup. You can more easily sustain that balance and excel at both by implementing these four tips:

  1. Learn from seasoned pros

Don’t be shy about your sales ambitions. Talk with your friends and family who are in sales or to the salespeople you encounter while making your own purchases. If you don’t know many people in sales, visit online forums instead. Listen to the conversation, ask questions and take notes on every piece of advice you receive. Not every forum or everyone in one will benefit you, but you can learn plenty of tricks of the trade when you come across a valuable thread.

  1. Read “The Little Red Book of Selling”

Any company you sell for will train you on what to say and how to say it. But no matter how well they train you, reading business speaker and author Jeffrey Gitomer’s “Little Red Book of Selling” will make you even better. The Wall Street Journal business best-seller delves deep into why sales happen and gives you a dozen principles that will help harness those elements to become a great salesperson.

  1. Communicate your plan clearly

The more you learn about sales, the more clearly you can define your immediate and long-term goals, as well as the plans to achieve them. For example, if you have a business partner, your partner needs to know that you’ll be unavailable for a few hours each week. Your sales manager must clearly understand that you plan to be the best salesperson in history, but that your startup is where your heart (and attention) lies.

  1. Write down your goals and keep them close

Detailing your plans for every goal gives you a map to achieving them, but to stay motivated, you have to remember why you’re working and hustling so hard in the first place. In his TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” Simon Sinek points out that history’s greatest innovators all had one thing in common: they understood why they did what they did. Write down the goal, purpose or vision that drives you, and remind yourself of it every day.

No matter the industry you’re entering with your startup, you’ll need to sell your product or service and your brand in order to make it successful. Making sales your side hustle will give you the skills you need to succeed in the future and will prevent you from starving in the present.


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