Taking a side hustle full-time
As someone with my own side hustle, I’m always fascinated by how other people approach them. There’s a huge amount we can learn from one another — and let’s face it, we need all the help we can get throughout that all-important initial growth phase.
But when (if ever) should you take your side hustle full-time? I thought I’d ask some other side hustle owners a selection of questions and attempt to distill all of our thoughts into a sort of checklist of things to consider before you take your side hustle full-time.
Let’s meet the hustles & hustlers
The three side hustles we’re focusing on are all very different ventures, but ultimately have similar objectives: To achieve a loyal following (or customer base), and attempt to monetize that. However, the ratio of these two differs slightly in each one.
- Chris Fitton, Sleep Cove – a podcast and Youtube Channel designed to help people get to sleep with specially designed content, including relaxing meditations, hypnosis, and stories. The episodes are generally aimed at relaxing the listener and getting them ready for sleep, but there are more specific episodes to help people with anxiety and confidence issues for example. Chris recently took Sleep Cove full time, and it’s now his main source of income.
- Jackie Dana, Story Cauldron – Jackie writes a weekly Substack newsletter about storytelling and the ingredients that go int her fiction writing. She’s also publishing her novel series on her Substack, and paying members (who subscribe in a way similar to Patreon) get to read the novels first, in serial form.
- Jamie Long (me), BuySoapOnline.com – a UK-based shop for luxury beauty products, primarily targeted at the male market (but expanding into other areas). Its primary focus is having super-low prices, fast delivery, and a great customer experience. There is also a corresponding eBay store, which is where the side hustle started out.
Do you have a ‘niche’ for your side hustle?
It’s an overused term in business as a whole, and in my experience, it’s a mistake to think it means having a ‘unique idea’ or an ‘idea destined to make a lot of money.’ It can be neither, one, or both of these things. When it comes to side hustles, objectives can differ even more.
For example, Jackie says: “I don’t write my Substack primarily for money. I do it because I enjoy writing and sharing my ideas with others. The fact that I can make some money now, and hopefully more in the future, helps to encourage me.”
By starting BuySoapOnline, I certainly wasn’t doing anything unique by reselling beauty products, but it does still generate revenue. This also doesn’t mean “profit” all the time, as the cost of sales can be high.
I think of the business ‘niche’ as several well-chosen elements working symbiotically. Picking products well, grouping postage for popular items (so customers save on shipping), and also about a hundred other small decisions all contribute to the overall premise. So a niche can also be a combination of things, or an approach if done well.
Chris and Jackie have a bigger niche as what they produce is unique to them. When speaking about how he monetized his unique expertise he said: “I started the podcast as I knew the power of hypnotherapy and guided meditations would help people sleep — I wanted to share this knowledge with a new audience.”
Side hustles work best when you love what you do
There are lots of things to consider before taking your business full-time, from finances to feasibility. But one that it’s perhaps easy to overlook (because of gaining more independence and freedom), is whether you’ll really enjoy doing it day-to-day.
Using BuySoapOnline as an example, eight to ten hours straight of packing up parcels (if I scaled things up enough to survive) would be a pretty dire exchange from my current job. There’s the old adage of people who buy restaurants because it seems like a romantic idea when the reality is it’s a tough industry with long hours.
Similarly, you might love the work but struggle with other elements. Jackie finds parts of the writing industry itself challenging. “It’s notoriously difficult to get discovered or make a decent living as a fiction writer. It can also be tough on the psyche. And for a long time, I was working alone on my projects and didn’t share things with anyone else, so it was difficult to know whether or not I had a shot at the writing life.” Being a part of NaNoWriMo (the National Novel Writing Month) has helped motivate her to push herself harder with her writing, and that led her to try the side hustle she’s currently working on.
For Chris, who’s made the switch to full-time, it was about using a skill he felt more passionate about: “I was a qualified hypnotherapist but was working full-time as a Marketing Manager. I really wanted to practice my skills and help people.” So he was able to turn his podcast side hustle into his primary income stream.
It can be about finding a balance between loving what you do and understanding if that will pay the bills. Jackie adds: “Creative fields are inherently fickle and unstable, and it’s difficult to plan ahead — you could have one success and then a series of failures.” Ultimately, some industries are less conducive to making money. As a composer and writer myself, I realized long ago that it was tough to make these industries pay, and feel it should never be looked upon as a failure not to make money from them. There simply isn’t enough to go around. But a solution like Jackie’s is very effective, gets work out there, makes some money, and also by virtue of having your work out in the open, makes it more likely to get spotted.
Keeping things fresh
Side hustles require the ability to evolve and adapt to the times.
I find the best approach is to constantly assess and question how you’re approaching every element of the business. What if you tweak just one element of a product page? What if you upsell to a similar product with text that’s placed in the most prominent place? What else could you use the call-out box for on your site? Questions like these lead to an ‘optimization mindset’ where everything is in line to be improved.
Of course, not every change you make will work, so you need to be honest with yourself, and keep track of everything so you can easily revert to things that worked best without confusion. Trying something that fails is not ‘failure’. It’s an essential part of development.
For Jackie, it’s about finding new ways to frame and convey her creative work, as well as producing the writing itself. She’s focusing on growing her Substack following and completing her current series of stories. Once that’s done, she says she may pivot or keep going with the series, depending on how successful it turns out to be.
Meanwhile, Chris has had to get to grips with a more technical mindset to ensure he stays at the cutting edge of the podcast world. He wants to redevelop the sleepcove.com website, which he built in just one day. He also says he wants to look at remastering his back catalog.
If you struggle to think of ideas to keep things fresh, and worry you will become bogged down in it, it might not be the right moment to go full time.
What if your revenue stream slows down?
As you consider taking a side hustle full-time, it’s worth asking what you would do if you suddenly stopped bringing in money. This will require taking a tough-love look at your side hustle and your personal finances.
Would a tough few months mark the end of your endeavor if you had no day job? Without wanting to sound like ‘everyone’s anxious friend’, it can be a harsh reality. Finding yourself unable to pay your rent would make your new business more difficult to sustain.
A way around this might be to assess how your side hustle performs over the course of a whole year before taking it full time. Comparing month-on-month growth can be misleading, especially towards the end of the year. BuySoapOnline could not currently sustain January through September. October through December probably accounts for around 70% of the year’s revenue. For me, this makes it unviable, but potentially, you could use this to your advantage.
For example, you could take 3 months of the year to focus full time on the side hustle, and then return to other work (freelance, or part-time/seasonal). Many people who run Christmas market stalls do this kind of thing.
Assessing whether to take your side hustle full time
Considering everything we’ve looked at so far, it’s probable that a gradual approach is the best approach. Typically, side hustles (if they’re succeeding) demand an increasing amount of attention. There could come a point where this becomes overwhelming, and you do need to leave your full-time position. However, looking at it this simplistically might be an error. For example, can you go part-time in your job, or do the seasonal strategy we mentioned earlier.
For Jackie, the time might come from left-field (like a publication deal), while her audience continues to thrive.
For nearly everyone, it will come down to whether the side hustle is generating enough money to sustain them. For Chris, this was only after the advertising became stable enough:
“The numbers had grown organically (and astronomically) and the podcast received a lot of traction. I was featured on the Apple Podcast App as well as in the media. Suddenly instead of just a ‘let’s test the waters’ idea, I had thousands of loyal listeners who were benefiting so much from the content. This growth caused me to up my production output to record one to two episodes a week, (which is more work than it sounds when you consider I am writing, recording, and editing the entire process on my own).”
The finances of other businesses may be more complex. Always be careful about gross profit vs. net. You can be turning over $100k dollars a year and still make a loss. In these cases, figure out your profit margins and fixed costs, and see how much you’d need to be turning over in order to take it full time. It might be a staggering amount of turnover. For example, with BuySoapOnline, excluding fixed costs, I would need to be taking probably half a million dollars a year just to get anywhere near a good enough salary — and that’s just with one employee, because of my cost of sales. If you want to find out more, check out this article to help you understand basic business finances.
Other ways to monetize
This leads me to my final point. Not all side hustles need to be full-time. Some people, like Jackie, enjoy having something else that speaks to their passion bringing in a bit of additional income.
As I hinted at earlier, I’d happily sell BuySoapOnline (for the right price). This would help with the expansion I desperately need, and probably can’t achieve alone without significant investment (a glass ceiling because of economies of scale). However, building up a mailing list, a customer base, and a good website profile are great ways to add tangible value to your side hustle.
Consider what your biggest assets are (website visitors/ranking, social media following, customer interaction) and work on other ways to monetize or utilize them. For example, you could sell advertising for your site to boost income — especially if it draws a lot of traffic. Similarly, affiliate schemes and partnerships with complementary services are great. Similarly, simply creating a TrustPilot profile can be a useful way to gain trust and more universal recognition.
These kinds of bigger-picture approaches can help you boost value, in case you ever do decide to sell up, or just give you more cash in the short term.
Are you inspired for your own side hustle?
In just three case studies, we’ve seen various ways to make side hustles work across industries. Hopefully, you will feel more confident about starting, or progressing, one of your own.
Namecheap is the perfect place to start your online side hustle. With Stellar Shared Hosting, you can set up low-cost cPanel-based hosting that allows for WordPress installations, that’s what I use for my website, or alternatively, EasyWP takes some of the legwork out, and allows you a site up-and-running in under 90 seconds.