Dimity Smith was working full-time as a psychologist when she and her business partner began developing the women’s network Savvy Birds “on the side”. She now supports others to grow and scale their businesses as Community and Outreach Manager with UNE’s SMART Region Incubator (SRI).

“I enjoyed working as a psychologist but there was something missing; a passion project,” Dimity says. “We wanted to link up with amazing women in the community, assist their business development and address the lack of mentors. That’s how it all started.”

“I would finish work at 5pm, go home and work on Savvy Birds until 11pm, setting up the website and preparing all the documentation. In my lunchbreaks I’d visit the accountant or meet with potential sponsors and speakers for our events, and it was the same on weekends. I’ll be honest, it was pretty exhausting.”

Dimity and her business partner spent two years working full-time, then she dropped to four days a week to devote Fridays to Savvy Birds.

“Very few people can afford to quit their job and jump straight into their side hustle,” she says. “My co-founder and I had mortgages; she has children. You need time to develop a good business model, test your idea and build a revenue stream that you know is scale-able before making the leap. It can take years.”

Apart from the time, it’s also financially costly. “Depending on the business, there can be considerable foundation costs to wear, until you have people consistently buying your product or service,” Dimity says, “so maintaining a full-time position enables you to save, get good business advice, find a mentor and build a community of supporters.”

Savvy Birds was 12 months’ young when its founders became involved with the SRI, benefitting from its experts-in-residence, workshops and the shared experiences of other founders. However, after three years in business they realised that their business model was not scale-able and they could no longer juggle the business with their existing professional roles.

“Part of developing a side business is also recognising when it may not work,” Dimity says. “I don’t think we failed, but we learnt a lot from not taking the business forward. I didn’t know myself until I set up Savvy Birds; I’d worked for 10 years, travelled the world and had some great jobs, but I’d never done something that was wholly and solely mine. I learnt how hard I could work, how important it is to have an amazing business partner that you know and trust. I was really proud of what we achieved, even though it didn’t become a ‘unicorn’. It was the most enriching life experience I’ve ever had.”

Dimity’s Top 5 tips for how to approach the side hustle:

  • Be measured and know your strengths (and weaknesses);
  • Have an open conversation with your employer. Let them know upfront what you’re trying to achieve, and that you’re still committed to your main role. Most managers know a side hustle can mean a satisfied employee, but it is important to establish the boundaries with your employer.
  • Develop a business and financial plan with the help of a financial planner or accountant, or an organisation like an SRI and its experts-in-residence;
  • Seek advice from experts and research the business idea thoroughly, including conducting market validation; and
  • Establish a business structure that suits your business and your lifestyle.

In part 2 of our side hustle series we’ll introduce one of the business people the SRI is helping to realise their dreams.

The University of New England’s SMART Region Incubator (SRI) brings together academic business research, business mentors, corporate and community partners to help start-ups get off the ground and grow.