What to do if your side hustle takes off
If you’re thinking about quitting your day job to pursue your side hustle full-time, read this first
Some people start side hustles to earn a little extra money. Other people build side hustles as parachutes, preparing for an eventual recession or a potential career change. Either way, many of these small-business owners are unprepared for what to expect — especially when their side hustle starts to take off.
That’s where we can help. Before you quit your job to pursue your side hustle full-time, take some time to learn what might happen — and take some advice from people who’ve been there.
We wanted to share a first-hand story from a successful side hustler, so we interviewed Ben Kuhl, CEO of Shelf Expression. “I’ve been remodeling homes, as well as building custom shelves, cabinets, and home decor items in the Charlotte, NC, area for the past four years,” Kuhl says.
A recent Facebook post reveals that since starting his business, Kuhl has shipped nearly 4,000 shelves to 2,000 homes in 7 different countries — all while working out of a 350-square-foot shop in a two-car garage.
We also wanted to share some tips from a financial expert, and were fortunate enough to connect with Nick Loper of Side Hustle Nation. “Since 2013, I’ve been helping a community of 100K people earn more money and build businesses they love,” Loper told us. “I’m the founder of an award-winning blog, podcaster, TEDx speaker, and author of six books dedicated to improving people’s finances.
Here’s what Ben Kuhl and Nick Loper had to say about building your side hustle, quitting your job, balancing work and life, reducing stress, and handling the responsibilities that come with small-business ownership.
In this article:
How can you balance your responsibilities as your side hustle grows?
“When your side hustle starts to gain traction, it can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time,” says Kuhl. “It’s crucial to manage the newfound responsibilities effectively to avoid burnout and maintain the quality of your work. Taking on too much too soon is a common mistake that can lead to exhaustion and stress. Therefore, it’s essential to set realistic goals and gradually take on new responsibilities as you build your skills and experience.”
Loper agrees. “This is the learning curve that everyone faces, and really the only way to do it is one step at a time. One common trait among Side Hustle Show guests is they enlist the help of mentors and members of their community for guidance and support.”
Having that support could make the difference as your side hustle grows — especially if you’re thinking about turning your side hustle into a full-time job.
“If you do decide to take the leap and turn your side hustle into a full-time venture, it’s important to be prepared for the financial and personal sacrifices that come with it,” Kuhl says.
“This includes being willing to invest your own time, money, and resources into your business, and to be prepared to face setbacks and challenges along the way. One way to prepare is to create a detailed financial plan and to set clear goals for your business. It’s also important to be patient and to understand that success may not come overnight.”
With that in mind, both Loper and Kuhl suggest keeping your current job for as long as possible — even if your side hustle is growing quickly.
“You often hear the quote that an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off the cliff and figures out how to build their parachute on the way down,” Loper told us. “That sounds terrifying! Building up your side hustle while still working is a great way to reduce that risk.”
“When your side hustle starts to gain traction, it can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time.”—Ben Kuhl, CEO, Shelf Expression
When should you quit your job and pursue your side hustle full-time?
“Here are a couple different frameworks to think about, if you’re thinking about quitting your job,” Loper explains. “The first is when you have a 3-6 month track record of revenue from your side hustle that at least covers your monthly expenses. By this point you have proof of concept and income coming in, you just need more time to scale it up.”
Not everybody may be able to wait until their side hustle is bringing in enough money to cover their monthly expenses — especially if they’re struggling with work-life balance or dealing with a difficult workplace. That’s where Loper’s second framework comes in.
“The second method is a bit more aggressive, and better suited to those who need to get out of a negative work environment quickly,” he told us. “If that’s the case, you can consider leaving your job after you have even just a little side hustle income, but can see a path to grow it given an extra 40-50 hours a week to dedicate to it.”
There is, of course, one more scenario in which your side hustle might become your full-time job. If you find yourself unexpectedly unemployed, you might decide to put your extra time and energy into your side hustle instead of filling out job applications.
“I started my side hustle in 2019,” Kuhl said, “as a way to make a little extra cash and supplement my 9-5 income. In 2020 I was let go from my full-time job. By that point, I had seen the viability of my side hustle and, as I was making as much from my side hustle as I was from my full-time job, I decided to pursue it full time.”
What are some must-do moves for people who want to turn their side hustle into a business?
“One must-do move for anyone looking to turn their side hustle into a successful business is to formally develop the business,” Kuhl told us. “This means legally registering the business and obtaining any necessary permits or licenses. It’s important to do this as early as possible to establish your business as a separate entity and protect your personal assets.”
On the subject of protecting your personal assets — make sure you keep all of your business financials and your personal financials separate. Setting boundaries means separate bank accounts, separate credit cards and separate bookkeeping.
“Keeping business and personal separate helps you better manage your finances, stay organized, and makes tax time much easier,” says Kuhl. “I learned this lesson the hard way when I didn’t separate my finances early on in my business journey, and it came back to haunt me during tax season.”
One of the best ways to avoid these kinds of mistakes is to hire people who can help you. There are many good reasons to work with a CPA, for example — but you may also want to bring on a marketing expert or a graphic designer.
“If you can’t afford to hire full-time employees, consider outsourcing some of your tasks to a freelancer,” Kuhl advises. “For instance, you could outsource customer service or marketing tasks. This strategy will help you focus on higher-priority tasks while freeing up more time to work on the business’s core aspects. By delegating smaller and time-consuming responsibilities, you can optimize your productivity and take the business to the next level.”
What mistakes do people make when they turn their side hustle into a business?
“First and foremost, in my opinion, is neglecting your health,” says Kuhl. This includes both mental health and physical health, and achieving work life balance between your personal and professional selves.
“When I first started my business, I was completely consumed by making it a success. While having a successful business is important, it’s equally important to prioritize your health and family. I made the mistake of overextending myself and neglecting my personal life, which resulted in burnout and negative impacts on my overall well-being. It’s important to strike a balance between work and personal life and to make time for self-care, even when you’re building a business.”
One of the best ways to have a healthy work-life balance that balance is by thinking of your side hustle as an experiment — and optimizing for the kinds of results that allow both you and your business to thrive. This could mean raising your rates, for example, just to see what happens. It could also mean letting go of the clients or jobs that drain you, to make room for the opportunities that energize.
“I position new projects as experiments in my mind,” Loper explains. “If they work, great, but if not, I’m not devastated by the failure since it was just an experiment. Tackle projects you find interesting and rewarding, and you’ll make great progress even if the financial results take longer than you’d like!”
Kuhl agrees. “Remember, you’re not just building a business, but also a life that you want to enjoy and thrive in.”
About Nicole Dieker
Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.Read more by Nicole Dieker
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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our editorial policy
Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.
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