Hi, it’s Ariel, Michelle’s editor. Over the past couple of years you’ve seen me here on Making Sense of Cents talking about real life frugality, living in a small house, and writing and editing strategies. Part of being here is that I work as a freelance editor for her, and I recently turned that side business into my full-time job.
Even though I started side hustling as a freelance editor three years ago for Michelle, it wasn’t until about six months ago that I took the plunge and decided to go full time with it. That’s actually what I’m going to talk about today – the very honest truth about turning my side hustle into a full-time job.
For full disclosure, I know Michelle on more than just a professional level. She’s my sister-in-law, and we’ve known each other for nearly 15 years. She and Wes actually rented a room from us years ago, where she spent hours every night working on side hustles, while Wes and I stayed up way too late watching Lost on Netflix.
That last statement says a lot about her work ethic, which is something I’ve come to admire more and more as we’ve become closer as friends.
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Even though I had one, I didn’t really get the whole “side hustle” thing.
Reading personal finance blogs wasn’t something I was doing before working for Michelle, but to get a feel for the genre, I started consuming more and more of them on a regular basis. Beyond basic personal finance advice, I noticed one glaring similarity – many of them were talking about side hustles being this thing that could bring us all a little financial flexibility.
However, I took issue with the term “side hustle.”
I had always worked a bunch of part-time jobs, from two to four at any given time. My husband, who works as a special education teacher, even had part-time jobs on the side. None of our part-time jobs paid much more than minimum wage; they had set hours and there was very little room for growth.
I’ve come to understand that as the real difference between a part-time job and a side hustle, with the “hustle” part not as negative as it might sound. I think of it now more in terms of working really hard for something.
Calling your work a “side hustle” isn’t just rebranding your part-time job to make it sound sexier either, there is a real difference – a side hustle is something you can grow, control (for the most part), and maybe one day turn it into a full-time income.
I still didn’t realize this, or how it would actually work, until this past summer.
Stop, rewind a little bit, and let’s go back to when I started side hustling.
My husband and I desperately needed that extra income when I started working for Michelle, something I don’t think she knew at the time. We had been making some pretty poor financial decisions for the first part of our marriage – maxing out credit cards and buying a house when we probably couldn’t afford one.
Before I started side hustling, we were working on paying off those credit cards and our finances were stretched very thin. If there were just one or two extra expenses in a month, and there usually were, credit cards seemed like the only way to manage those expenses, and we were seriously trying to eliminate that debt.
When I started working for Michelle I was probably earning an extra $300 a month, which may not sound like a ton, but it was huge for us. That extra income saved us from adding to our debt and made it possible for us to finally pay off our credit cards.
This is part of the financial freedom those personal finance bloggers are selling you, but it isn’t easy work.
If you are already working, have a family, or any other major commitments, then you have a pretty limited amount of time to find and pursue extra work. Many side hustles, mine included, are ones you can work outside of your other obligations. Still, that can be a hard fit for many of us.
On top of starting my side hustle, I was also back in school to finally finish my bachelor’s degree, so between school and my jobs, I was working around 80-90 hours a week. It was painfully exhausting, and my husband and I hardly ever spent any real time with one another. We prioritized time with our three children as much as possible, and our date nights often consisted of us sitting next to each other on the sofa working.
Oh yeah, he was also back in school for his graduate degree.
As graduation neared, I had to make a decision.
My husband and I were actually graduating just a week apart from one another. He would be earning more because of his graduate degree, but I had to decide what to do because we had accrued over $100,000 in student loan debt between our three degrees.
We knew that going in, and the plan had always been for me to get a real job. By “real job” I mean full-time employment.
The thing is, and this is going to sound a little whiny, I didn’t really want to get a full-time job. I knew it would mean that I wouldn’t be as available for my kids, plus I’d be entering the workforce 10+ years after most of my peers.
I wanted to still spend the summers with my family and just be there for them as much as possible. I seriously considered just trying to cobble together several part-time jobs to make that lifestyle a reality, but that didn’t feel right either. I wanted to start making a real financial contribution to our family’s future.
Then, something big happened – my Dad passed away.
He had been sick for about a year, and his illness and passing solidified my feelings about being around as much as possible for my family. His death also meant that I would take control of his assets, which meant selling his home.
I hate talking about my Dad’s death this way, but selling his house was one of the biggest contributing factors to our current financial situation and being able to go full time with my side hustle. We used the money from the sale of his home to pay off our house and bulk up our emergency fund.
I don’t want to spend much time here because it can be a hard thing to talk about, but again, it’s an important thing to realize when you hear stories like this. I wish I could say that I hustled harder than anyone else and made it here all on my own, but that’s not my truth.
That turning point was everything.
My husband and I had many long conversations about what I might do job wise, and knowing that we had eliminated all of our debt, excluding our student loans, meant that there was some flexibility during our student loan grace period.
In addition to working for Michelle, I was working two other part-time jobs, but that only made up about 20 hours per week. My editing work had picked up a little bit, and with school being finished, I decided to spend that extra time during the summer to see if I could turn my editing thing into a “real” job, meaning a full-time income.
If it didn’t work, then I would find something else. Honestly, I’d probably still edit for Michelle on the side, but I really did need to start earning more.
To my surprise, and with some work, my business grew.
Through my website and word of mouth, I picked up several other clients, and because I now had the time, I threw my name in for every type of editing or writing job that came my way – from editing an eBook for a ghostwriter, to putting together a book of poetry for a nonprofit, and to picking up a few writing gigs of my own.
Most of those were one time jobs, but they helped me realize that I could actually grow my business into something more. I eventually landed two big clients who needed some help on a regular basis – Millennial Money Man and Laptop Empires (hi Bobby and Mike!) – and that’s when my income really started to increase.
Despite a little more stability with those larger clients, this is all freelance work. If I want to take a vacation or if a kid is sick, I lose income. I also have more expenses now, even hiring an editor to occasionally go through my writing.
From starting at around $300 a month, I’m now grossing a pretty regular $4,000 a month – I recently had my first $5,000+ month! It was an insanely busy month with incredibly gratifying results. I feel like I can go ahead and call this full-time income status.
About those two part-time jobs.
Until the end of 2018 I still worked both of those part-time jobs. I still have one of them because I love it, especially the little bit of stability it brings me as I keep growing my business. Owning your own business is a little terrifying at times, so I’m not sure when and if I will leave that other job for good.
I waver on it a lot right now because I’ve seen an increase in my income since leaving the other one. And because I often work on a per hour basis, I can quantify the difference in pay, knowing that putting that time into my business will likely lead to another income boost.
So, can anyone do the whole side hustle to full-time job thing?
Here’s the thing, there’s not a magic pill you can take to start a successful side hustle, so don’t listen to anyone who says, “This is the one side hustle you’ll get rich from!”
Making a promise like that is just plain dishonesty.
Still, there is a lot of room out there. Just this past week I talked to someone who is actually making an MLM work as a side hustle, someone who is squirreling money away for retirement with Taskrabbit, and someone who quit her job after starting a successful Etsy shop on a whim.
Personal finance bloggers like Michelle aren’t selling you dreams; they’re telling you about a reality that takes extra work to attain. And, they talk about it so much because many of them started their businesses in a similar way to how I began – just something on the side to make a little extra cash.
My financial future, my side hustle, and privilege.
With no mortgage, credit card debt, or car payments, we are actually able to cover pretty much all of our bills and savings with my husband’s income, so we plan on allocating as much of my new income towards paying off our student loans. Not going to lie here, we’re also taking a couple more family vacations.
I know I said I didn’t want to spend much time on stuff with my Dad, but I do want to circle back around to that because I have big, complicated feelings about it all.
What happened moneywise after my Dad passed away is not something everyone will experience. That’s a privilege that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s also the difference in how some people get ahead while others don’t.
I think if I had left out the part about my Dad, this story would have a completely different vibe. I feel very strongly, though, about honoring him by making sure we don’t squander the benefit he’s allowed our family. He was never very good with money, and I know he’d like to know that I’m making the most out of what he’s given us.
While I really do love what I do, I honestly feel an even greater sense of responsibility because of his contribution.
Do you have a side hustle? Do you want to turn it into your full-time income? Have you already made the transition? Share in the comments below!