My 3 Year Journey of Side-Hustle to Full-Time
Back when I started this whole online business journey, I was convinced that I could get a website up and running and in a matter of months quit my day job. Boy was I wrong. Not only did it take YEARS, but it took so much more time, commitment and patience than I ever thought before.
My side-hustle journey to full-time entrepreneurship has been a long, awkward, and at times painfully slow experience from starting my business from scratch to growing it to where it can support me full-time. I want to share my story for anyone who is struggling to make their dream a reality; sometimes the process is slow and long but hopefully my journey will inspire and encourage you to stick with it, because you absolutely can make it happen.
The not-so dream job
So, let’s start at the beginning. I graduated college with a Bachelors in both Spanish and Graphic Design and I moved back home. I looked for a design job but when that wasn’t working out, I ended up getting a job at a printing company. While I wasn’t thrilled with the position, I hoped that it would just be a stepping-stone job to the dream job of Graphic Designer someday down the road.
But as the years went on I found myself always finding part-time jobs to fill the creative itch I had. I got a job as a painting instructor at a painting party company, as a photographer at an award-winning photography studio, and while I enjoyed these side jobs I remember coming to a breaking point where my boss at the painting party company called me, telling me of a customer complaint. There I was, taking this phone call at my day job, crying about a part-time job that was already hard for me to make work because of the hours. I was tired and frustrated with all the back and forth between jobs. I wanted ONE place where I could be creative doing work that I really loved. But I didn’t know how to get there and honestly, I didn’t even know where to start. Part of this was due to the fact that I had been “offline” since college and didn’t even have an Instagram account.
It was during this time in 2015 that I began training for a marathon. During the my long runs I would run for 2–3 hours at a time and my brother recommended that I listen to podcasts to pass the time. Specifically he recommended the “Smart Passive Income” podcast by Pat Flynn. I had never heard of podcasts, and I definitely wasn’t interested in starting my own business, but I loved listening to people’s stories of bravery, how they overcame the obstacles and established their own businesses to provide for their families and replace their day job salaries.
the world of online business
From that time on, I began listening to more and more business podcasts and started searching for people online who were doing what I wanted to do.
Fast forward about 6 months and I had found 2 girls online around my age who, not only had their own online businesses as brand designers but were making great money and working from home doing what they loved. I remember scouring their websites for hours, admiring their work, and pinning designs I loved from Pinterest.
I remember going to my day job and I would start my day with reading daily blog posts about design, entrepreneurship, and business. I was hooked and it finally hit me that maybe I could do this too.
from onlooker to jumping in
I did tons and tons of research, stayed on the sidelines and waited for the right moment to jump in. Of course, that moment never came, so I finally launched my business at a very inopportune time when my husband and I just purchased our first (fixer upper) home and began renovating it.
I had a website and I called myself a brand designer. But I felt like a lier. Like a fraud. Like I had no business calling myself a designer or business owner. I had my bachelor’s in graphic design, but still, I had no experience creating a brand for someone and I felt like I wanted to stay in the shadows until I could get some confidence up in this mug.
So what happened for the first 9 months of my business was just that. I awkwardly mumbled I was a designer, I created a Facebook page and Instagram account to share the news that I was now open for business with my design work but my lack of confidence and “fake it til you make it” gene was nonexistent so my marketing was also nonexistent.
I felt shy, I worried what other people would think of me and I felt majorly incompetent. Needless to say, I didn’t get any branding clients in the beginning. I didn’t market myself and I honestly, didn’t even know how.
But even with all the lack of confidence and experience, I made baby steps of progress. I formed my LLC, I found some of my first online friends from Instagram, joined popular Facebook groups, started blogging consistently, and created some of my first logo designs for people for $150. I was doing this work in the evenings and weekends and even though I felt like I was treading water I also felt like it was a start and that the work I was doing would pay off someday.
Beginning of 2017
I had been blogging for about a year and was starting to get in the groove of marketing on Instagram (even though my visual aesthetic was very fluid, see image below).
I took on any and all projects: from styled photography shoots to logo designs, from E-book designs to websites. I also began designing on the web platform Showit as well as Squarespace cause I wanted to help more people… right? I was a designer for creatives after all and I wanted to reach all of them to get as many clients as possible. But what ended up happening was the opposite, rather than being seen as an expert, I didn’t know how to introduce myself, people weren’t sure about what I offered and my hodgepodge portfolio didn’t attract the clients I wanted to work with.
This was also the year that I learned about the importance of a professional contract. I hired a lawyer and created contracts for my services. I took courses, I kept experimenting and I was slowly beginning to call myself a designer without running away and hiding in a corner.
But this was also the time that I was getting impatient. I was a year in and these are the things I was saying to myself:
Why doesn’t my brand look more professional?
How is SHE getting all this work and I have nothing?
How come I get 1 inquiry every 3 months and she gets 3 inquires a week?
Why is this taking so long?
What am I doing wrong?
As you can see I began majorly comparing my journey to other people’s which really put me in a downward spiral. Not only did it create jealousy in me towards my friends, but I began to emulate what other brand designers were doing, rather than focusing on my own brand, my own audience and my own aesthetic. This comparison began to weaken my own brand and caused me to lose sight of my own audience.
Towards the end of 2017, as I was starting to get more work, I was also getting drained. I was working evenings, weekends and still blogging consistently. Something needed to give. Part of this was due to the fact that I never took a break and I was consuming a lot of content (which was a huge surprise to me since free content is supposed to help you). So with burnout on my doorstep and knowing I wouldn’t be able to make the transition to full-time any time soon, I approached my day job.
I asked if I could start taking Friday’s off and go down to 32 hours a week. My work agreed and suddenly, my time opened up and I was able to get a taste of what it could be like to work from home. I managed to get lots done on my Fridays and I loved every minute of it. This gave me a renewed excitement that I was making progress. Slow, but steady progress.
Beginning of 2018
I knew I needed to niche down to a more targeted audience instead of the general population of “creatives,” so I decided to narrow in to artisans and product-based business owners. Courses were a big thing, passive income was a big thing – still is– so as I played with the idea of niching down, I also created my first online course called Novice to Confident, helping product-owners learn the ins and outs of their DSLR camera so they could take their own professional product photos.
Looking back I see this first course as both a failure and a success. Failure because I hoped to have more people join the course and success in the fact that I learned so much in this process, both with how to lay out content and creating a course on Squarespace. All in all, this experience showed me that what I really love to do, is 1-1 services. Not-so-much course creation.
In the spring of 2018, as I rounded the corner to my second year of side-hustling, my husband and I took a month off work to travel to Europe, a dream of ours that we’d been talking about for years. It was an amazing time of rest and adventure and it opened my eyes to life in a bigger, fuller way. When we got back, I was determined to say goodbye to my day job once and for all.
So in the summer I did a lot of soul searching and realized that product-based business owners weren’t my jam, but actually service-based business owners instead. I had several reasons for this, but mainly after working with both a coach and a strategist that summer I realized that this was the group I wanted to serve– I loved working with them. So I began transitioning my messaging and marketing from product-based business owners to service-based business owners.
2018 was a year of investment for me, I invested in new equipment, a new computer, a business mentor, help with social media and it all paid off. In the fall I was getting swamped with work but even with all this, my mindset hadn’t changed. I was still the shy, scared, lacking confidence person that I was years earlier. I didn’t believe I could make the transition, even though I was working towards this goal, but I honestly didn’t know HOW to change that mindset even though I was reading books and saying mantras.
Your mindset will stay the same if you take no action to force you outside.
In November, I wanted and BELIEVED I could make a real go at it. For 3 months in the fall, I proved to my husband (and myself) that I could bring in a consistent income. For 3 months in a row I was able to make a couple thousand per month. Although that wasn’t meeting my income goal, it was enough to show me that I could do this.
I talked things over with my husband and after lengthy, and passionate persuasion (on my end) he relented. My husband is the planner, the non-risk taker and I was helping with the family income. So me going off on my own into the unknown territory of entrepreneurship was a huge demonstration of trust and faith in me. I didn’t want to let him down.
It was go time. I was given the green light to put in my notice at my day job so December ended up being a month of preparation. I narrowed in on my messaging, cut my offerings down to 3 services, raised my prices, worked with a photographer to get me some brand photos and told my day job I was putting in my notice. My job asked me to stay til mid January so my last day would be January 10th.
The funny thing is, when I asked to quit, I had no clients on the roster. But I KNEW that I could do this and that I didn’t have to worry– this was the mindset shift that could only take place with action. I knew the Lord would provide for me and my mantra became “the right clients will come at the right time. I don’t need to worry.”
During those last few weeks at work, I never felt so confident in my life. I wasn’t stressed or worried that clients wouldn’t come, I wasn’t promoting my services everyday, I just relaxed and KNEW that it was going to be OK. Like I said, I had NEVER been so confident that it would work out in my entire life.
The week before I quit, I signed on 2 clients and leads began pouring in. I was shocked, relieved, and knew that this was the Lord taking care of me.
Right now as I’m typing this, I’m two weeks into my full-time entrepreneur status, and I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I am working from home, doing work I absolutely love and can’t believe my years of struggle, doubt, fear and “failure” have led me to this. I used to think it was a curse that it took me so long to grow a sustainable business but it was truly a blessing in disguise.
During the time in my side-hustle life I was able to :
Learn my target audience (who I love working with)
Gain confidence in my own voice and aesthetic
Streamline my services and learn the value I provide
Market my services in a non-sleazy way
Attract ideal clients
While I was growing my business on the side, it felt like an eternity but now that I’m here, it felt like it wasn’t that long. Weird, I know. As you can see I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but these “mistakes” have helped me grow, shown me how to be patient, developed trust with my audience and allowed my business to grow organically.
If you truly want a business that will support you and allow you to do what you love, it just takes stamina, embracing the lessons, and believing with confidence that you WILL get there.
I hope my story was inspiring to you. I would love to hear your thoughts on this post!
Can you relate to any part of my story?