I love having a good side hustle.
It is an empowering, confidence-boosting phenomena that has completely changed how I view my life. It allows me to make choices that are positive for me.
My path to this point was launched out of despair and struggle. After a harrowing workplace bullying incident that left me without a job and depressed, I channeled my energy into building something brand new.
A year ago, I wrote about my first year of owning my own business.
The Unconventional Way I Made $30,000 With My Side Hustle
The true story of one woman’s career redemption.
A year later, I am happy to report that my business grew by approximately 30%. Yes, I realize that means I only made $9,000 in additional revenue. Some of you may find that disappointing. For me it is a victory. In addition to my business, I am also holding down a full-time 9 to 5 job, making time for my family, and trying to maintain some balance.
A few things have changed since the launch of the side hustle. As I enter the third year of this adventure, I am fine tuning my purpose and my plans. Here are the steps I took to grow my business in 2019:
The Power of No
I learned some big lessons in 2019 about trusting my instincts when it comes to client work. There were a few folks who felt that because they wanted to hire me, they could pressure me into agreeing to take on their work. In my first conversation with one of these potential clients, they said, “I need you to jump on this project tonight so you can send me a draft tomorrow.”
When I politely explained that was impossible because of other commitments, they attempted to try to help me re-arrange my schedule and plans to make their work fit. I had to cut them off and decline the work right there.
Other scenarios where harder to decide whether or not to take the work, but I finally settled on the fact that if the work did not excite me, there was no reason to take on the project. It was that simple.
For my side hustle, I never want to work on boring projects. My day job is all about boring work. Growing my own business is about adventure and stretching my wings. Having this as my guiding principal makes it easier to say no.
There are so many inspiring stories of incredible success here on Medium, where someone who is penniless goes to growing their own empire in a couple of years.
This is not one of those stories.
I get inspired when I read some of these stories, but I know me. I’m not going to invest in some groundbreaking bitcoin business. I’m not going to start raising capital. I had to hire someone to format my ebook for me. To know myself is to know my limits.
That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t push myself beyond my comfort zone and try new things. But, with all my commitments, I have to be careful not to over extend myself. Admittedly, that can limit my earning potential to some degree, but I have always taken a slow, steady approach in this life that has worked for me.
My version of realistic scaling is to never have more than 3–4 clients at one time. I don’t add a new client until I finish work for a current client. My full time job is still my number one client, and I have to ensure that I am delivering on those responsibilities, while working on the other projects appropriately.
Each person has to figure out what works for them, but keeping one foot in reality is important.
Defining My Clients
When I started this side hustle, I was happy when anyone wanted to be my client. Then I was unhappy that anyone wanted to be my client.
I started to write criteria for my ideal clients. I started to think of myself as Miles Finch, the arrogant children’s book writer in the movie Elf. It’s not that I wanted to be arrogant, but I wanted to be sought after, to feel like I was interviewing the potential clients, and that they were hoping I would take them on.
By being more selective about clients, and creating a demand for my time, it allowed me to raise my rates a bit, and to have better outcomes. This is a major part of the reason I was able to grow the business by 30% without taking on a lot of extra work.
Many of us are on a constant grind, trying to do our next big thing. Stopping is important so we can keep going. For many of us trying to constantly achieve, it’s hard, and we often forgo the breaks to keep going.
To help me feel like I was still “working,” I focused on taking inspiration breaks. I took a baking class where I learned how to make authentic Hungarian Strudel. I spent over three hours at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, engrossed in the exhibit on Auschwitz. I found a new bike path, and rode for 15 miles on a summer day. I rediscovered the joy of knitting simple scarves to give away to friends.
By turning my attention away from the grind, it gives me the space I need to let other ideas and concepts flourish. Ideas are everywhere, and it is to my detriment if I don’t take time to explore new vistas and views. On one of these inspiration breaks, I came decided to start over on a project, and it was one of the smartest decisions I made last year.
Investing in Awards
Throughout my career, I have won various awards for my work. When I started my side hustle, I wasn’t focused on writing for the sake of winning. I just tried to deliver on client expectations.
Thinking about the types of clients that I want to work with, I decided to enter a few of my projects for different industry awards. This was a hard decision because award entries are not free, and I wanted to only participate with reputable organizations where the awards have a certain level of significance. I set aside $1,000 of my operating budget to do this, knowing there was no guarantee I would be a winner.
The good news is that I did win some awards, including a couple of first place honors. Having recent accolades became a talking point for clients, especially for helping clients to feel confident they are working with a competent professional. I am planning to once again set aside money for an awards fund.
Letting Failures Grow
I had my share of failures last year too.
- A client who was never happy with my work, and honestly, they had some good points.
- My ebook never really took off, so I need to re-evaluate.
- I missed some promising opportunities because I felt scared and overwhelmed.
Often when we fail, we are told to let it go. I think we need to stop having that mindset.
Failures can be reborn as something completely new. Take it from someone who lost their job and had to find a new path. We need to let our failures grow into something new and different. Failures are hard, but when they happen, they also save us from a longer period of misery of trying to make something work that just isn’t working.
Right now, I’m working on my ebook failure. I like my ebook, and the few strangers who actually read it gave me good feedback. What could that ebook look like revised and relaunched? I can’t wait to find out.
I ended up writing my unhappy client a thank you note for the good feedback, and how it helped me. It was sincere. I understand if they don’t want to work with me again, but instead of just brushing me off, they had the courage to tell me what I was doing wrong.
Failures teach us we can’t be in business if we’re not in business to grow as people, not just grow our profits.
Writing and Drawing in My Journal
I have journaled for years. Sometimes the journaling is a list of things, sometimes it is a venting process. Lately, I have started to draw my feelings. It has taken my creativity to a new abstract level, and honestly, I feel like a kid again. In my journal I can draw in any random way I want. It is a release.
Sometimes my doodling leads to sketching out a new design or story arc. I draw the characters, the buildings, they symbols that all relate to my idea. I have my own language in my journal and in this private world there are no rules, no clients, no one telling me. It is the easiest way I get into a state of flow.
I believe that the writing and drawing combination helps me to tap into my subconscious in ways that I can’t do when I’m under pressure and working. Whenever the mood hits me to go deep, I grab my journal and disappear into it, emerging with new ideas and energy to get the job done.
Every now and then, there is a cause or client that tugs at my heart and I do free work. My motive is that I need to give back in some ways to the community or people who have helped myself or others. It’s the right thing to do.
I have volunteered my work for political causes and campaigns, for the local animal shelter, and for organizations that support people with disabilities or cancer. I am happy to donate something of value that makes the world a better place for all of us. And in practical terms, it grows my work experience so I have more examples for potential clients.
Keeping Costs Low
I am maintaining my committment to keep all my costs low. I will never have employees when I can collaborate with others. Paying rent for an office space doesn’t make sense when I can set up shop anywhere with my Macbook. I spent about $50 on business cards, but I only give those out when I absolutely need to, preferring to connect with people online. My only other direct business expenses are a simple website, mileage for traveling to meet with prospective clients, and a few office supplies.
Keeping costs low gives me more money and more freedom. I have the power to make choices that make sense for my business because I’m not in debt.
Supporting Other Hustlers
Collaboration is key to all of my success. The ideas are better, the results are richer, and the knowledge I gain from learning from others is invaluable.
Whenever I can, I connect clients and potential clients with other people who do solid, creative work. My fellow hustlers are important to the work I do, and I rarely work alone. I want Side Hustler Nation to win, because so many of these folks struggle to make ends meet. We are all stronger together when we support one another and cheer each other on.
Some would call it networking. I prefer the term human decency.
My Bottom Line
I did not grow my side hustle dramatically last year. I grew it intentionally. I didn’t just make money, I made time for things in my life that make it worth living.
I refuse to be a slave to a job. In this short life span, I want to create to the common good and to live debt free. I know I am lucky. For me, slow and steady growth is the key to my success.
I am not wealthy. I am free.