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Episode 030: How to Make Your Side Hustle Your Main Hustle

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If you’re currently doing something on the side that you’re passionate about, let’s be real for a second. It would be amazing if you could quit your 9-5 job tomorrow, go out on your own, and make money doing whatever it is that you love.

However, for most of us, quitting a steady job tomorrow isn’t wise, and it will take time, work, strategy, and patience to make your side hustle your main hustle.

I spent a little more than two years building my photography business while also working a 9-5 job before I was ready to go out on my own. And, in case you’re dreaming of doing what you love full time, in this episode of Priority Pursuit, we’re discussing how to make your side hustle your main hustle in 11 steps.

1. Master your craft.

Before you can turn your creative side hustle into a full-time job, you have to be good (not necessarily perfect or even great) at what you do!

It’s absolutely fine to have never picked up a camera before and have aspirations of being a wedding photographer, but before you leave the comfort of your salary, you have to master your craft, which can only be accomplished through practice and education.

Now, depending on what you do, education will look a little different, but for photographers, I highly recommend gaining experience by either shadowing or second shooting for other photographers and learning through mentorships or online courses. For example, when I started, I took several courses through Amy and Jordan Demos and Katelyn James.

Your work doesn’t have to be perfect to go full time, but you do need to be proficient for the sake of being able to serve your clients well and produce work consistently and efficiently.

2. Do the math.

Before you can leave the safety of your salary and turn your side hustle into your main hustle, you also have to determine if your goal is financially feasible for you and your family (if applicable).

To do this, you need to answer the following questions:

  1. How much do you currently make?
  2. How much do you/your family actually need?
  3. How much will it take to replace your benefits (health insurance, retirement contributions. ect.)?
  4. What would you need to make to pay for your/your family’s current expenses AND save for the future?
  5. Do you want to keep your lifestyle as is, or could you cut back?
  6. How much do you want to pay yourself per hour and per year?

Once you have answers to these questions, determine how many sales you need to make to meet this goal. For instance, when I left my full-time job in 2018, I knew I needed to book 14 weddings and 100 sessions. (I’ve since changed my numbers pretty drastically and now just need to book 15 weddings per year but aim for 20.)

Then, look at your business’s current financial state to determine if your goal is realistic. I decided that mine was for a few reasons:

  1. In 2017, my business’s income was matching 76% of my full-time job’s salary, and we weren’t depending on photography money to pay bills.
  2. In 2017, I shot six weddings and 80+ other sessions while working my full-time job.
  3. I was having to turn shoots away because of lack of time, so I knew there was still demand for my services.
  4. I wasn’t really marketing myself because I physically couldn’t take on anymore work.
  5. Our insurance was through my husband’s job, so I didn’t need to worry about losing that benefit.

As a creative, you might not love this step, but if you want your business to thrive, you have to do the math!

3. Have an expert double check your math.

I have no trouble admitting that math isn’t my strong suite, so before I made the leap, I met with Jeff Gasaway of BlueSafe Financial, our financial advisor, to make sure the numbers I had were realistic.

Jeff looked over my goals, the budget I had in mind for the business, and our personal budget. He made a few suggestions and told me we’d be just fine!

Unless you’re an accountant or a financial planner or advisor, I highly recommend meeting with a professional to run your numbers. Meeting with Jeff eased my nerves, as well as Zach’s.

4. Determine when you can realistically go full-time & patiently hustle in the meantime.

When I started my photography business, I didn’t plan for my side hustle to become my main hustle. But, for two and a half years, I worked all day to come home to sit behind my computer and edit photos until the AM hours. My weekends were spent shooting sessions and weddings, editing every second that I could, taking online courses, meeting with brides, and spending very little time with my friends and family.

I was exhausted and burnt out, and I knew that something had to change. I loved photography too much to give it up, so I ultimately decided that I’d rather pursue photography full time than stay at my 9-5.

After looking at the numbers and knowing that winter would be slow for photography, Zach and I decided that I needed to stay at my full-time marketing job for six more months. This was in September 2017, and I left my job in March 2018.

In the grand scheme of things, being ready to make a switch like this after being in business for just two and a half years is pretty fast. When I’ve talked to others about how they’ve made their side hustles into their main hustles, most say that they spent three to five years buildings their businesses.

And, looking back, my best advice is not to be in too much of a hurry. Don’t neglect your family and friends in pursuit of your end goal. Instead, make a realistic timeline that includes deadlines for goals (upgrading equipment, adding a new service, raising prices, etc.). And, if you have to change your timeline, don’t sweat it.

It’s better to stay at your full-time job a little bit longer than to go out on your own and realize a few months later that you made the jump too soon and have to look for another job.

5. Build TWO emergency funds.

While most people think of Dave Ramsey as someone who offers personal financial advice, his framework is also very helpful within business (in my opinion). And, when you decide to make your side hustle your full-time job, I highly recommend taking Dave’s advice and establishing an emergency fund.

Before I became a full-time photographer, we built two emergency funds:

  1. A personal emergency fund. Dave recommends putting three to six months worth of expenses into an emergency fund. When I left my full-time job, we had three months worth of expenses saved.
  2. A business emergency fund. I didn’t want to have to use our personal emergency fund if I could help it, so I also built a tiny business emergency fund with enough to pay myself and my expenses for two months.

And, I would highly recommend that you do the same (or save even more)! Hopefully, all will go well, and you’ll never need to touch either of these funds, but you’ll have peace knowing that you’re prepared if something unexpected happens or if sales are down for whatever reason.

6. Develop a strong online presence so your ideal clients can find you easily.

Did you know that 82% of people conduct online research before making a purchase? This means that if your business can’t easily be found online, you’re missing out on sales!

But, where should people be able to find you online? This answer depends on where your target audience is hanging out on the internet. For me, as a wedding photographer, the best way to reach my ideal clients is through Instagram and my website.

Before you make the leap to full time, I highly recommend (1) building a strategic website and (2) establishing a consistent social media strategy and presence.

7. Foster genuine relationships with others in your industry.

This is a big one and a fun one. The connections I’ve made with other photographers, wedding vendors, and business owners have been invaluable to my business. I highly recommend attending workshops, joining groups (in reality, not just on Facebook), and even sending direct messages to pros you’d like to meet to invite them out for coffee.

Having connections with others photographers and vendors brings several benefits:

  1. You’ll have a community who understands your goals and frustrations. Chances are, you won’t have too many friends or family members who truly understand your struggles, so finding a community who understands and can offer advice based on experience is very helpful.
  2. You’ll naturally have a referral network. This means people will refer jobs to you and you can return the favor (I’ve received great reviews for taking the time to help inquiries I can’t serve—I might be unavailable or not the best fit—find photographers who can serve them well.).
  3. You won’t be alone. A lot of creatives work from home. It’s easy to get lonely, but if you have a great network of professionals, you can plan editing dates, grab coffee, or just be in community together.

For both your mental health and your business’s success, community is important.

Need help building industry relationships? Tune into “Episode 006: Building Your Business Through Vendor Relationships with Arielle Peters”!

8. Purchase the equipment you need while you still have a steady income.

When I started my side hustle, one thing I definitely did not want to do was go into debt. So, over the years, I’ve paid for all of my equipment with cash (meaning I had the cash to back up the purchases).

I bought my first camera and lens with savings bonds my PawPaw (my grandpa) gave me for my birthdays growing up. I spent about $300 on the camera and lens. I used that camera and lens to get started and upgraded and added more equipment as I could afford it with cash.

This is probably the best business decision I’ve made. With the exception of my first camera and my laptop, all of my equipment has been purchased with money my business has made.

Before you make the leap to doing what you love full time, I highly recommend purchasing all equipment needed while you have a steady income. When photography was my side hustle, we weren’t depending on my photography income, and as a result, I was able to put what I was making back into my business and purchase all lenses, camera bodies, etc. before making the leap to full time.

In my opinion and experience, this is a great way to set your business up for financial success from the start.

9. Automate & outsource what you can.

Now, this is something I wish I would’ve started doing much sooner! As creative entrepreneurs, we tend to take pride in “doing all the things;” however, I can’t help but wonder if my business would’ve grown faster had I taken the time to invest in help.

While I did outsource things like my logo, writing contracts, and a few other odds and ends, outsourcing editing and hiring a VA sooner probably would’ve been a game changer.

Scared to build your team? Tune into “Episode 011: How to Build Your Team as a Creative Entrepreneur with Jessie Roseberry of Roseberry & Co” to learn how you can start building your team slowly & strategically!

However, I did take the time to automate a few things, including client onboarding. To this day, I use Iris Works (a CRM designed for photographers) to keep track of clients and their sessions, contracts, and payments. I set Iris Works up before leaving my 9-5 job—which was very helpful when I was busy working two jobs and is just as helpful today.

All I have to do is insert clients’ names and email addresses, push a few buttons, and Iris takes care of the rest, including sending clients automated emails with reminders, thank yous, and more. This saves so much time, and if you’ve yet to invest in a CRM, make that your next business purchase!

You are capable of doing so many things, my friend, but you can’t do everything. Sooner rather than later, I recommend determining what you can outsource and automate to free yourself up to (1) do more of what you love and (2) perform more tasks that allow you to make more money.

10. Serve your current clients well.

If you’ve listened to any other episode of Priority Pursuit, you likely already know that I believe serving your clients well is the most effective way to grow your business.

As powerful and helpful as websites, social media, and other online marketing tools are, word of mouth is still—and likely always will be—the most powerful marketing tool.

So, friend, if you want to make your side hustle your main hustle, make sure you’re offering a great client experience. Communicate well with your clients; under promise and over deliver; answer emails promptly; let your clients know exactly what they can expect when they work with you; and blow them away every step of the way.

When your clients are happy with your work and their experience with you, they’ll come back again and again and tell their friends and family all about you!

Need help creating or upleveling your client experience? Tune into “Episode 017: How to Create a Client Experience that Allows You to Book More Clients & Raise Your Prices”!

11. Love what you do!

If you want to become a full-time creative entrepreneur, chances are, you’re a very goal-oriented person. I am, so I can say from experience that goal-oriented people are usually looking ahead to what’s next and failing to enjoy where they are now.

If that’s you, remember to take a deep breath every now and then and reassess your priorities. It’s great to have goals, but if you’re getting too wrapped up in them, you’ll never take the time to enjoy where you are.

So, whether you’re years from turning your side hustle into your main hustle or are putting in your two-week notice today, remember to love what you do and to soak up this season, because your life and business will never be in this phase again.

It’ll take time to turn your side hustle into a full-time job, but if you’re committed and make wise financial decisions, the wait will be 100% worth it! Today, I’m so thankful that I get to do what I love and strive not to take that privilege for granted.

Links & Resources Mentioned in This Episode

Learn the EXACT marketing strategy we use to help small businesses grow: The Flywheel Marketing Method.

Leverage Kelly’s marketing experience, insights, and leadership to grow your business.

As the founder and chief marketing strategist at Treefrog Marketing, a co-host of the Priority Pursuit Podcast, a StoryBrand Certified Guide, and fractional chief marketing officer, Kelly Rice has spent more than two decades helping small businesses take their companies to the next level by providing trustworthy leadership and building effective marketing strategies and systems.

She has dedicated her career to helping small businesses succeed because she knows, firsthand, how hard they work to make their communities a better place. 

Still, many people undervalue the strength and ingenuity of small businesses, but not Kelly. She believes they deserve to have a marketing partner and strategy that works as hard as they do.

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